Nnamdi Okonkwo: Bequeathing legacy of ingenuity to Fidelity Bank

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Ime Akpan

Nnamdi Okonkwo’s tenure at Fidelity Bank Plc is gradually coming to a cheering end as he bows out in December 2020 after six years as the managing director and chief executive officer of one of Nigeria’s most enterprising banks.

Appointed to the board in April 2012 as an executive director and subsequently appointed the managing director and chief executive officer on January 1, 2014, Okonkwo has been successful in pulling the bank’s financial performances and appreciation of shareholders’ investment.

He has brought ingenuity, simplicity, and humanity to the bank and implemented cutting-edge strategies that have ranked Fidelity Bank sixth among Nigerian banks on most performance indices.

Some of his key achievements include profit before tax growth of 236 per cent, from N9 billion to N30.4 billion; return on equity increase from 5.5 per cent to 13.3 per cent; customer deposits growth of 68 per cent from N806.3 billion to N1,352.3 billion and savings deposit growth of 275 per cent, from N83.3 billion to N312.1 billion.

The other notable achievements include net loans and advances growth of 174 per cent from N426.1 billion to N1, 165.8 billion; customer base increase by 121 per cent, from 2.4 million to 5.3 million and digital banking penetration improvement from one per cent to 50.1 per cent, accounting for 28.4 per cent of total fee income.

Under his leadership, Fidelity Bank successfully accessed the local and international markets through the issuance of N30 billion corporate bonds in 2015 and $400 million Eurobonds in 2017.

As a bank chief executive, Okonkwo developed and maintained an effective marketing and public relations strategy to promote the products, services and image of the bank in the wider community, developed and maintained total quality management systems to ensure that the best possible products and services are provided to customers.

In many areas, he demonstrated these talents to keep the bank on the top rung of the ladder.

Look at the ingenuity he brought into the bank’s relationship with the SMEs operators.

During his tenure, the bank’s SME Managed Division adopted a unique way of approaching the SMEs funding. It adopted what Okonkwo calls “structured approach.”

He explained: “We do not want to bank SMEs haphazardly. We approach this from a structured perspective. That is why we have a general manager, heading the SMEs division. What we do is clusters, businesses that look alike. And their needs are similar. You pre-qualify them. Study what they do. And then you create financing products for them.

“If you take some examples, we have done successfully. In Aba, we have Aba shoes and leather clusters. In Abeokuta, there is Adire cluster. In Kano, there is tannery cluster. We study their peculiarities; we do the risks and mitigate; we do the analysis properly. And say, look all these people, if you go to say ASPAMDA, and you take the cluster of people that sells break fluids, you find out that their needs and risks are similar. Then, you create a product that helps them.

“Now as a bank, our loan portfolio to SMEs is about N60 billion that we have given as loans to SMEs. In terms of the customers’ count, for three million customer count, we have SMEs probably account for about 40 per cent. So we are definitely SME-supporting bank,” Okonkwo said in an interview.

He added: “This is an inspiration for everybody to know that you can start small and become a Dangote of your own in the future. We have a major component in our managed SME unit that helps entrepreneurs with business management skills. A lot of people may have capital and other things required to start a business, but they don’t know how to go about it. So, we created this unit to provide support services, complemented by a host of other resources that we provide.”

As of September 2020, the bank in its capacity as a participating financial institution in the Development Bank of Nigeria (DBN) on lending scheme for SMEs disbursed N21.9 billion to a large number of SMEs and small corporates playing in diverse sectors.

The SME Managed Division, it would be recalled was created within the bank structure to cater for SMEs by giving them a one-on-one advisory touch, accessing markets for their customers, and guiding aspiring entrepreneurs that do not have enough knowledge to run their businesses.

Financial inclusion

Under Okonkwo, Fidelity Bank Plc sought to improve financial inclusion as well as promote financial literacy among students by organising Campus Activation Programme at tertiary institutions.

The programme aims at bringing students to the formal sector because most of them do not have bank accounts.

It is also meant to lecture them on the importance of financial literacy and why they should bank with Fidelity Bank.

Besides the programme is a platform through which the bank engages students during major academic events such as matriculation, student week, convocation and others.

Besides, the students are not the sole targets as the bank also wants to meet the needs of the lecturers because some of them want consumer loans.

Still on campus programme, the bank has trained over 3,000 undergraduates from various tertiary institutions on various skills through its Fidelity Youth Empowerment Academy (FYEA).

It held skills acquisition programmes at various higher institutions including the University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Waziri Umar Federal Polytechnic, Birnin-Kebbi; Federal Polytechnic Oko, Anambra State; Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt; Bayero University, Kano and Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, among others.

According to Okonkwo, the empowerment programme was organised as part of the bank’s corporate social responsibility intervention adding that the programme “seeks to empower the Nigerian undergraduate with skills and enterprise training, which are relevant for self-reliance.”

“We in Fidelity Bank have targeted programmes on education, environment and youth empowerment. It is part of fulfilling our promises to the society.”

The FYEA, he said trains youths to acquire some skills to enable them to be self reliant and also make them to be employers of labour even while in school.

After the undergraduates’ education, the students could apply for soft loans from the Small, Medium Enterprise (SMEs) department of the bank.

Women empowerment

For Okonkwo, women play crucial role in achieving sound economic growth and poverty reduction. 

When they are empowered, he believes they contribute significantly to family income and consequently, poverty reduction.

He reasoned that women entrepreneurs around the world are major contributors to the economy as they are making a difference in the socio-economic arena.

However, he comes to the terms with the fact that all women-owned many micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) are unserved or underserved by the formal financial sector.

To change the narrative, the bank partnered and collaborated with organisations from across the spectrum of the public and private sectors to broadly empower Nigerian women and provide them with the knowledge and tools necessary to start and sustainably grow their own businesses.

To this end, Fidelity Bank signed a $50 million financing agreement with the African Development Bank in which 30 per cent of the sum ($15m) was disbursed to women-owned MSMEs.

“Even the AfDB understands what Fidelity is doing with SMEs in Nigeria and that is why the bank granted us $50 million…for SMEs. This comes with a proviso that 30 per cent of the funds should be for women entrepreneurs.

“Some women entrepreneurs attest that Fidelity Bank has supported them.

“In this industry, some of our colleagues have ‘owned certain segments’. Some concentrate on fashion, some on food and so on but at Fidelity we are inclusive. That is why we concentrate on SME generally. We are not focused on any specific segment because SMEs need that voice that is all inclusive,” Okonkwo stated.

Fidelity Bank on the laurels table

During Okonkwo’s tenure, Fidelity Bank won numerous awards including Best Green Partner by the Lagos State Government – 2016; Most Improved in Corporate/Investment Banking at the BusinessDay Banking Awards, 2017; Best Bank in Mobile Money Services at BusinessDay Banking Awards, 2017; Outstanding Bank of the year Award at the Brands and Advertising Excellence Awards, 2018; Best Bank in CSR at BusinessDay Banking Award 2018; Best Bank in Infrastructure Financing at the BusinessDay Banking Awards 2018; Best Private Bank in Nigeria at the Professional Wealth Management (PWM) Global Wealth Tech Awards 2019; Entrepreneurship Bank of the Year 2019 at DAAR Awards; Best Digital Networking Bank for Entrepreneurs at the Financial Times Tech Award, 2019, among others.

Okonkwo also won personal awards including Honorary Fellowship of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN) – 2014; The Sun Banker of the Year Award – 2018, Banker of the Year at the Brands and Advertising Excellence Awards – 2018

Okonkwo on the marble

“If you cannot impact people’s lives, you are not successful.”

“Always be prepared and leave nothing to chance.”

“You have to train for where you are going in life.”

“If you are a leader and can’t influence people enough to follow you and have your back, you aren’t a leader.”

“There is nothing you are trying to be that someone has not attained. Embrace mentorship.”

“You have to go the extra mile to accomplish and be distinguished.”

“Let your work be your bulletproof.”

“Our dreams inspire us to live life to the fullest; our sorrows guide us in learning and accepting who we are, wisdom is what we achieve from experiencing both…”

How it began

Born in Oturkpo, Benue State, Okonkwo attended Wesley High School, Oturkpo, Benue State in 1977 where he obtained his West African School Certificate Examination (WAASCE) in 1982.

Thereafter, he attended the University of Benin in 1984 and graduated with a first degree in Agricultural Economics in 1989.

Okonkwo also holds an MBA degree in Banking and Finance from Enugu State University of Technology, Nigeria.

In addition, he is an alumnus of INSEAD Business School, Fontainebleau, France, where he studied Advanced Management Programme.

Furthermore, he attended the Harvard Business School, Wharton Business School and Stanford Graduate School for business, leadership and management training programs.

Okonkwo who is married with four children began his banking career in 1990 at Merchant Bank of Africa, moved to Guarantee Trust Bank (GTBank) in 1993 where he rose to the position of a branch manager.

He worked in some other financial institutions before joining the United Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc where he served variously as regional bank head, Lagos; regional director, Federal Capital territory; project director, and head of corporate banking and multinational corporate division; managing director/chief executive officer, UBA, Ghana and finally, regional chief executive officer the bank’s West Africa Monetary Zone covering Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

In 2012, Okonkwo joined Fidelity Bank Plc as the executive director, business, southern operation.  He held the executive director position until January 1 when he was appointed the bank’s managing director and chief executive officer.

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