Uzoma Dozie is known as a banker, tech-savvy investor and a gender and financial inclusion advocate. With the recently concluded Diamond and Access Bank merger, many are wondering what’s next for the former Diamond Bank CEO. In this interview with BusinessDay’s Lehlé Baldé, he talks about what’s next for his career. Excerpts
Your father was fondly known as PGD recently turned 80. Happy belated birthday to him. Can you tell us about some of the biggest business lessons you have learned from your father?
He has a few great phrases and one of them was when he started Diamond Bank. He would say, “This is not a SPRINT, this is a long RACE, so whatever we do, we are trying to make sure it’s sustainable into the future.” It wasn’t about quick profits, it was about building something that would last, so whatever we did, we knew it had to be sustainable.
The second is about contentment and not being too greedy: regardless of whatever the situation is, you should be confident and comfortable. Being comfortable and being content is a good platform for you to take the next step.
There was a time we worked together in the same office, I was in financial control and he was the CEO of the company. One day I rushed up into his office and I was complaining about something; and he said to me, “sit down, Uzoma, everything you’ve told me now, I already know, if only you can help me and tell me what the problems are and offer a solution.” That was a learning point for me. Being solution-oriented is something that he really passed on to me, that’s how Diamond Bank started, looking for a solution.
Many were taken aback with the announcement of Diamond Bank and Access Bank merger. Now that the merger process has finally been completed, what are your thoughts on the process and will you be taking up any role in the newly consolidated bank?
People would be surprised because I would say we were the leading retail bank driving financial inclusion, and new innovation and technology to create a customer experience, and so, people will ask if you are making this statement, then why are you now merging with another bank, is the bank distressed? Is there a problem? I’d like to take people back. Our objective was always to go beyond banking. We are trying to create a platform for our customers to access the market, and when you think of it, with the Diamond Bank and Access Bank merger, we are trying to create access (no pun intended), for our 17 million customers. With this merger, we are giving our customers access to the market in both a local and global sense. Access Bank has done well in creating and setting-up a footprint in areas following the trade route, so imagine your customer accessing a much wider trade route that extends beyond Nigeria, for export, and also the import of raw materials whether it’s in London, in Asia or Dubai.
We are following our ‘beyond banking’ ethos and thinking about financial inclusion and how to bridge the gap. It creates a one-stop shop for everyone, as we are still following that same status of going beyond banking, providing access for our customers and prioritizing financial inclusion. Access Bank has existing relationships with Airtel and Diamond Bank has an existing relationship with MTN. These companies are spread across Africa and for us, the dream is being able to connect people not just from city to city but from village to village across the continent. Connecting someone from a village in Nigeria to a village in Zambia, for example. Regarding my role, once the merger was successfully completed, I stepped down from my role as CEO.
You mentioned INNOVATION, you are obviously very passionate about TECH. You have a track record for leveraging tech to drive processes and people. Where would you say your passion for tech came from?
Tech is an enabler. Personally, tech helps me connect with people. When I was CEO of Diamond Bank, having the ability to talk to anybody in the organization empowered me; so instead of relying on people, I can actually connect directly and vice versa (people also can connect directly to me), and technology enables that open-door policy which is required for creativity and innovation.
Why is technology important, especially in Nigeria? There is no other way to include people without technology. Without technology, there is no inclusion; no inclusion for health, social or financial benefit. Before Diamond Bank turned 25, it took us 20 years to acquire 4 million customers in 300 locations, and in the following 5 years, we tripled that number just by using technology. Nobody came in person into Diamond Bank anymore, and they opened their account online by themselves. We took banking to the marketplace, created new opportunities, and that’s the beauty of technology. People talk about technology taking jobs, but on the contrary, we created new jobs, new opportunities, a new type of banker and we would never have been able to do so without technology. Financial inclusion is about scaling; scaling could even be cost-effective, and the only way to do that is a DIGITAL DRIVEN MOBILE strategy.
Diamond bank was a driver in the Financial Inclusion space when you were CEO, what were the biggest challenges you faced in implementing financial inclusion as a core focus?
The biggest blockage was people because you have to convince people to change and see where the future is. The mindset we adopted was that we were going to take from our existing capital and invest in financial inclusion because we needed to invest in the future, which is the excluded populations. We came up with a Beta proposition which targeted excluded populations and linked opening accounts an financial literacy for them. We opened about five hundred thousand accounts and we discovered that being financially excluded doesn’t mean you are poor, it just means that institutions have not provided an enabling ecosystem for them to be comfortable, to trust, to be convenient.
The second is REGULATION, the regulatory system has actually come a long way from the mindset of 5 years ago and we realized that without social inclusion, there is no economic prosperity because you are going to have bottlenecks. We need a new breed of people who will shift the paradigm from leadership to see that we have to take this risk, and the risk isn’t as precarious as it seems if you consider that the banking industry, as we know it, is long gone and it’s highly concentrated in terms of exposure. Less than 500 businesses count for over 80% of the exposure, which is highly concentrated. We need to diversify and build that capacity of the ecosystem. That’s where I see a lot of bottlenecks because the people that actually adopt technology and change how they do things are actually at the bottom of the pyramid. This is why technology is going to be an enabler in driving financial inclusion because there is no alternative, so when I look at what we did with the Beta proposition, we were just replacing one financial institution with another. One that provided certainty, one that provided more trust and the ability to save and transform lives.
There’s a growing number of Fintechs, how do you think Fintechs will change banking in the next 10 years?
It’s already changing it, that why we adopted a ‘beyond banking’ philosophy: it is not just about providing banking services, it’s about doing more for the customers. If we were just providing banking services to customers, that means we only know a fraction of his daily life, a fraction of what the customer does, and that’s why we implemented a mobile-first strategy. We designed our mobile app as one that is easy to use. Our competition was always going to be CASH, how fast can you make a payment or achieve an outcome with your mobile phone versus CASH. Your competition is always going to be cash. Part of it is also education, financial literacy and record keeping. If all records are there for you, when you want to borrow money from me, I don’t have to ask a lot of questions, I can actually see it, and create a profile for you.
Another thing Diamond bank was known for is that it’s a gender equal workplace, a bank where women occupied many top positions. How important is it to empower women in the workplace?
Nigeria is 50% women, Nigeria is also 50% Muslim and Christian, so if you don’t have a deliberate strategy to include everyone, if you are only providing solutions with male-led bankers, it means that you miss out half the population; so it has to be deliberate. We live in a society where men are supposed to wash cars and women wash the dishes, and we have to change that mindset. It’s about inclusion, it’s about ensuring we capture as much data to provide the right solutions for people. If women feel like they have an environment in which they can choose and decide whether they want to pursue a career only or pursue a career and a family, then there is longevity for them in that organization and it also leads to greater participation from women in the workplace.
Your show ‘TechTalks’ interviews some of Nigeria’s top tech entrepreneurs. In your opinion, what does the future hold for tech in Nigeria?
We have a lot of Fintech companies in Nigeria, my concern is always, once it gets to a critical scale, I hope that they would have put in what it takes to go through that phase, that is where they now become like an Access Bank, for example, whereby you have all the managerial issues, regulatory issues and how you put that structure in place to manage it. The Fintechs are making a lot of impact, people like Paystack, Flutterwave, are doing a lot of things that are actually making other players sit up and take note – both financial and non-financial organizations. The other concern is investment. Fintechs are filling important market gaps and collaboration as well as open systems are going to be key in the sustainability of these Fintechs. The CBN has come up with a great KYC (Know Your Customer) system, where KYC level one does not need anything to just open a bank account, and truly that’s how we opened 10 million accounts. Now if you want to reduce BVN (Biometric Registration) at that KYC level, they are just going to destroy the whole system and it’s not about just the regulatory bodies coming together and saying they want to achieve XYZ% this year, so how do you work together to do that? Bringing it from Tax laws that would now reverse any good work that any bank has done, especially when you have over 17 million unbanked small businesses, that’s where the engine of growth is in Nigeria. The opportunity to employ just one more person, if 17 million businesses do so, that accounts for 17 million employed people. The focus should be on SMEs.
How will you use your wealth of experience as the former CEO of Africa’s fastest growing retail bank and the platform that you stand on, to impact lives going forward? What’s next for you, what do you have in the works?
Inclusion is very key, and I think there is a lot of profit, both financial and non-financial, in investing in that space and building solutions in the financial inclusion space. Diamond Bank started by identifying a segment of the population that nobody wanted to bank because they thought it was too expensive due to their lack of literacy in technology. There is no economic prosperity without social inclusion. My plan is to create a platform that helps the disenfranchised segment and there are quite a few financially and socially excluded groups in Nigeria. People are socially excluded because they are not financially literate and also because they don’t trust financial institutions. The plan is to build a platform that goes beyond banking and incorporates solutions to some of the bottlenecks. A financial platform, a payment system, one that is focused on small businesses, focused on women because research shows if you look at the adopters of technology, women and youth make up a high portion of that segment. I want to go beyond a transaction, connecting to an outcome. People want to be happy, people want to feel safe. We need to start getting comfortable with things that are futuristic; future intelligence, blockchain, virtual reality, robotics, AI; those are the things that will help us include millions of people in a cost-effective manner. truly, you can’t do it any other way, you can’t use people. I want to play a role in building that platform, and I love competition. When we first started the retail game, we spoke to a CEO who said there was no business in retail banking here, but today, there is no bank in Nigeria that does not have a sale/retail strategy, because of that where the opportunity is. A corporate client can access money how they like, and they can even lend banks money.
What does Uzoma Dozie do in his spare time?
Now that I have spare time, what I try to do is play golf, I play tennis, read and I do a lot of photography. I have taken a lot of pictures I need to process, so I’m going to do that and take more pictures.
What do you photograph?
People, places, things, situations and I want to now dive into moving pictures. I also think that is what the future is too. People don’t read anymore, so if you want to connect to people, you need to do it virtually and it cannot be too long, as people no longer have the time. Anything more than 5 minutes is a waste of time. So, if you can do a brief movie indication in 1 or 2 minutes and teach people without actually interfering with their lives, you create a visual connection with them.
Using visual to tell a story makes a great impact, and that’s what we did at Diamond Bank; that’s where the leadership comes from.
As a tech enthusiast, what are some of the apps on your phone that you use every day?
Other than writing, I take a lot of pictures, If you go through my pictures, you will see what my day was like, and you can visualize it as well. I have my pictures in sections, I have my money folder, I have a social folder, then I have my office folder, then there is information in everything I find interesting), there is a whole folder for golf, and for media and photography as well.
Are you an iOS or Android user?
Six years back, I was completely 120% an iOS person, even if I saw a faster innovation coming from Google, it was innovation that wasn’t practical every day, so it was nice to have Apple that focused on what you need to have; very simple. Then I began to feel trapped, old system, not able to access the new innovations millennials try, and our business moved as we tried to do more things on mobile – we wanted to make sure we knew what our customers were using, like then Blackberry, then google, then iOS, we now have to start focusing on the apps, the system that people were comfortable using, because it was cost effective, which was Google, so I bought a Google phone. I moved out of the iOS ecosystem so I will actually be able to build an open platform. And if it’s not an open platform, I’m not interested. So now I use the iPhone for my personal lifestyle, photography and creative because that’s what they are good at. So for me, it’s iOS for my lifestyle and google for my business.
You seem to have a signature style, you wear all black. Can we expect to see any pop of color this summer?
I just can’t go wrong with black, there might be black with a hint of something, but essentially, my colour palette reveals my love of black; black is beautiful. Many colour pops that do creep into my signature style might reflect the essence of Nigeria.