Kafilat Araoye: Demonstrating passion to drive Islamic banking

Curriculum vitae is a platform to dispense with modesty and to blow your top, in terms of academic qualification and demonstrable career competencies, in order of to compete with an assortment of rivals for a position.

Even if you are, by nature, the reticent type, it is in your own interest to break from your self-imposed shyness and get boastful; to let all your positive qualities stand out.

So no one can blame Kafilat Araoye for sounding off in her 7-page CV in which she says of herself:

“A strategic and innovative executive who translates business vision into initiatives that translate into organisational performance, profitability, growth, and employee engagement.”

“An empowering leader with a unique perspective and appreciation that human capital is every organization’s greatest asset.

“A genuine influencer who thrives in tough situations and challenges, and translates visions and strategies into actionable, value-added goals and business success.”

The pioneer Managing Director/CEO of LOTUS Bank, the latest non-interest bank in Nigeria which is deeply rooted in ethical banking, committed to ethical investing and ethical prosperity, has had a meteoric rise up the ladder of banking in Nigeria.

The product of Lagos Anglican Girls Grammar School and Queens College, Lagos, Kafilat went to the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo), where she studied History, instead of Economics that was her favourite subject, because she was trying to run away from mathematics.

She worked for a chemical marketing company called Nigerian Hoechst then, now Nigerian-German Chemical, where she was also exposed to human resource management.

She earned a master’s degree in the Business Administration Faculty of the University of Lagos in Industrial Relations and Human Resource Management, coming top of the class and winning several awards. With various job offers, Kafilat chose National Oil, then partly owned by Shell Petroleum Development Company, where she was put on a fast-track of the management programme of Shell. At the time of her employment with Shell, the oil & gas giants were diversifying, which ignited her interest in Finance. She was deeply involved in account reconciliation in that era where there was little or no automation and processes were mainly manual.

She was soon headhunted by Guaranty Trust Bank as a pioneer staff to head the Human Resource department, at just 26 years old. To equip her with basic accounting, banking and finance skills, the newly formed Guaranty Trust Bank enrolled Kafilat into the maiden edition of their Training School – where every staff was required to update their skills. She graduated top five of her class and was rewarded with an accelerated confirmation.

Read also: TAJBank wins ‘Islamic Bank of The Year’ award

Barely two years into being head of Human Resources at Guaranty Trust Bank, she was moved to Foreign Operations, where she worked in International Settlements – on letters of credit, bills for collection and all the other trade products — a role she played for six years. She was moved from Foreign Operations back to Human Resources to help re-vision and restructure the bank. Four years later, she was moved back to Operations to oversee several sections of the bank’s core operations including e-Business (Digital Banking). She moved back to Human Resources in the same bank in 2011 and left the bank in 2015 to go into consulting.

Kafilat thus brought into the LOTUS Bank table, her experience working in Guaranty Trust Bank where she learnt “how to make a difference in the banking industry by simply looking at people’s pain-points and how to address them.” She recalls that when she began her career with the bank, “turnaround time for simple transactions in the banking hall was between two and three hours, but after we improved processes, our turnaround time reduced to five to 10 minutes.”

She’s determined to replicate this excellence in non-Interest banking, a new dispensation in Nigeria and, specifically, to make LOTUS Bank “the number one non-interest bank in Nigeria.” But, in achieving this, she is committed to serving the people in a qualitative way, “introducing at all times innovative solutions that will help advance business and mostly digital solutions that will help advance our stakeholders, being an enabler of business,” as she says in an interview.

She says this is attested to by the “Scan and open an account” message to be found in the wave of new branches of the bank in Lagos, Ilorin and Ogun states. She prides LOYUS Bank on its digital banking, solution provision, customer friendly services and partnering. “Partnering is the core of what we do. We partner, we progress with you and prosper with you. So our mantra is partner, progress, prosper — the three Ps that lead to a win-win,” she says.

While conceding tough operating environment, in view of Nigeria’s current economic challenges, she still believes that that the horizon is bright for non-interest banking. She explains the scenario:

“The truth is that we’re not just looking at the size of the Islamic banking market. It goes beyond that, because when you talk about the economy, there is no religion in it. Money is agnostic. You’ll be shocked that our first deposit came from a Christian corporate entity. What is really critical is what we want to put on the table.”

For her, the demands of people are not so deep. All they want is understanding. If one can empathise with them, show that it is a win-win situation, and truly proffer solutions to their problems by structuring transactions that will solve their needs, then such institution will be their first port of call. For every transaction, they’ll have to come there.

For Araoye, a testament to the bank’s commitment lies in the fact that that she says it can deliver all the services and functionalities of Fintechs, with the added advantage of a vault and taking in money. Added to this, the bank ca open letters of credit but Fintechs cannot because they don’t have the trade licence. Lotus has all these, including FX licence, plus the ability to do the payments that Fintechs do, and also agency banking. “We can reach the grassroots. Then why wouldn’t we grow,” she says.

She’s determined to learn some lessons from the challenges faced by non-interest banks before LOTUS Bank, saying: “We are going to marry some of the experiences we had working in the conventional bank and seeing what the customers want. Once you understand your customer, and know their needs, and you can fit products to address people’s needs, the sky is the limit. In a population of almost 200 million people, the opportunities are enormous. You’ve seen what has happened to the telecoms industry. They never dreamt of what they are getting now. That’s what population does if you channel those energies in the right place.”

On the strategy that LOTUS Bank intends to expand operations to non-Muslims, Araoye explains, that its first customer was a non-Muslim and the first risk financing customer is a non-Muslim. “What this means is that we’re educating people, letting them know that it’s simply banking. Part of what we are educating them on is that of the top 20 countries for Islamic banking, eight are non-Muslim countries. The UK and US are there. In fact, the US is the largest consumer of non-interest banking,” she says.

She further explains that in the UK, for instance, 80 percent of non-interest bank mortgage goes to non-Muslims. That, she says, shows there are no barriers in the business. Once people see that it is fair business that can meet their needs and fund them transparently, they will come. All that is to be done is educate, and market them. When they come in, they’ll see there is nothing to it, other than the fact that the bank is operating under Sharia guided principles which are fair and positive, she explains.

“Look at equity, justice and fairness. Why wouldn’t anybody want to embrace it? It’s a common denominator in any place. Non-interest banking is found in the Bible. We are not saying money should not be made off financial intermediation. We are only saying, fund the real sector, and do it in a fair and transparent way. Also, structure transactions to suit the lending,” she adds.

Although LOTUS Bank has been in existence for only four months, it has started making a mark, which Araoye evidences as people buying into her efforts to institutionalize the desired culture of ethical conduct in operation. Moreover, it is perceptibly expanding. “It’s not been easy, but like I told you, it has also been rewarding,” she says.

LOTUS Bank currently has 10 branches and has been able to brand itself “to the point where people tell us they love what we are doing and give us billboards for free,” says Araoye with relish.

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