• Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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My takeaways from Access Holdings AGM

Access Bank, Mastercard move to enhance cross-border transactions

By ETIM ETIM

I attended the second annual general meeting of Access Holding Plc last Friday mainly to discern the direction of its new leadership and pick up the strategic focus of the institution in the years ahead. The return of Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede to the board as chairman last month created quite a buzz in the industry and within the institution. I take an interest in studying leadership styles, so I was bent on attending this AGM. As a former staff member, shareholder, and student of strategy, I took in every moment of the two-hour meeting, listened to every word spoken, drew conclusions, and came away with six takeaways. Number 1: In all the comments, including the opening and closing prayers, it was clear that the shareholders have deep-seated faith in their new chairman, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, and the company’s leaders, Bolaji Agbede, the acting Group Chief Executive, and Roosevelt Ogbonna, the managing director and chief executive of the bank, as well as others.

There were loud cheers from the shareholders as the directors walked in, an understandable exhalation after a painful and mournful period. Aigboje himself went around, shaking hands and hugging the shareholders. It was clear that the investors harbour no apprehensions about the direction of their company—not a sense of it veering off from its time-tested traditions and the foundation that created the financial powerhouse that it has become. There is no doubt that they backed and passed all the resolutions overwhelmingly, thus paving the way for the bank to meet and surpass the N500 billion minimum share capital base.

Two, I could glean deliberate efforts on the part of the chairman to project Bolaji and Roosevelt as the new leaders of the banking group, or, should I say, he was careful not to overshadow them. I will mention an incident to buttress my point. After the meeting, Aigboje and Bolaji were facing two different cameras simultaneously, talking to two different groups of journalists. In fact, I think Bolaji had even started her press conference before the chairman was ready. The bank’s communication team moved back and forth between the two to ensure that everything went well. I took it all in, remembering my days as a reporter. I was a business journalist covering events like this for many years and, later, a PR executive managing things of this nature for a long time. I can’t recall seeing the chairman (least of all, an owner-chairman) and the CEO facing different cameras for a post-event media briefing. In fact, it is the CEO that would be running around gathering the press for the chairman, who would first appear uninterested before he saunters in with magisterial arrogance! I think Aigboje just wants to encourage and build confidence in the team as emerging global leaders, even if he has to step behind.

Three, and this is very important. Raising capital has never been a problem for Access Bank, and I can’t see it as one this time. Between 2004 and 2007, the bank raised an equivalent of $2 billion when Aigboje was the CEO in his 30s, leading the same team that is in charge today. Now, the bank is seeking to raise an equivalent of $300 million (N365 billion) from a significantly larger base. With a more visible brand and a bigger footprint across Africa and beyond, I don’t foresee Access not meeting this milestone within record time. Speaking to journalists after the meeting, Aigboje disclosed that Access Holdings will deploy digital technology to raise its capital. “In 2004, we went around Nigeria, and it led to the democratisation of the capital market. Other banks followed suit, and the number of banks’ shareholders increased manifold, and our capital market grew immensely. This time, we have the digital technology that we would deploy fully’’, he said.

Fourth, the group’s decision to go by rights issue signals its inclinations to protect the retail shareholders from dilution, and this is the promise Aigboje and Herbert made to them in 2002. They had told the shareholders then that they would always be carried along as the bank grew. Integrity is key in life. Five, there was a noticeably active participation of women shareholders at the AGM. In fact, the meeting commenced with the chairman requesting a shareholder, Mrs. Bisi Bakare, to step forward and decorate him with the bank’s lapel pin to symbolise his assumption of duty. That simple but touching task essentially set the tone for the rest of the event as the women shareholders participated fully and actively in the meeting. The roving microphone got to them more often than the men, or at least in equal measure, and the women expressed themselves loudly and clearly. The bank continues to lead in gender issues, just as in issues of sustainability and diversity.

Six, and this is my final takeaway: Access continues to dream big, and Access people sure believe in their dreams. When I joined as a staff member in 2008, the dream was to make the bank one of the five biggest in the country. It appeared as a pipe dream then. But only four years later, it was achieved! Now, by reiterating to the shareholders that Access Holdings will become Africa’s best banking group (benchmarked against the South African giant, Standard Bank Group), the chairman noted that the company will be Nigeria’s best stock in terms of returns in the near future. Another big dream! As one-time US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said, The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.