Ebenezer Onyeagwu
Onyeagwu

By Okey Onyeweaku

Business Hallmark Newspaper has named Ebenezer Onyeagwu, CEO at Zenith Bank Plc as its Banker of the Year.

Onyeagwu, an astute financial services player who has spent some three decades in the industry had taken up the leadership mantle in one of the foremost financial institutions in Nigeria and Africa in June 2019. He had joined the bank in 2002 and risen through the ranks over the years before receiving the captain’s band.

At his ascension, the statement announcing the appointment of Onyeagwu as the Group Managing Director/CEO of the bank, and subject to the Central Bank of Nigeria’s approval, had outlined that the choice was in line with the bank’s tradition and succession strategy of grooming leaders from within, a clear tribute to the fact that the house which Jim Ovia had led the team in building, and which has now clocked three full decades on the ledge, has evidently come into its own.

The banking czar was succeeding Mr Peter Amangbo as GMD. Amangbo had himself very successfully served his term of five years after he had succeeded the incumbent Governor of the Central Bank, Mr Godwin Emefiele.

On his part, Emefiele, had also done a yeoman’s job at the saddle of Zenith Bank after stepping into the expansive shoes of the financial institution’s founding CEO, Mr Jim Ovia.

Clearly one of the most successful of the then new generation banks that had cut their teeth during the economic reforms of the Ibrahim Babangida era, right from when the bank began operations in 1990, Zenith Bank’s profitability trajectory has very clearly been unmistakable even as it has equally continued to remain on the upswing.

During the era of the founding Group Managing Director, Mr. Jim Ovia, the financial institution grew its Profit Before Tax position by 19,629%, with the numbers moving from N245.4million in 1994 to N50.114bn in 2010.

Continuing from there, Mr. Godwin Emefiele grew the bank’s PBT by 139%, up from 50.114billion in 2010 to N119.796bn in 2014.

Emefiele’s successor, Mr. Peter Amangbo – continued with the now established pattern, growing the bank’s PBT by 103% from N119.796bn in 2014 to N234.294bn in 2019.

Enter Onyeagwu

And underscoring the fact that the Zenith money machine is indeed a quiet sturdy bull, the incumbent GMD, Ebenezer Onyeagwu, even in the midst of the dislocations of the COVID-19 pandemic – where firms and countries were posting decidedly negative outcomes – has been able to maintain the growth trajectory and push the bank’s PBT by 5.1% from N243.294bn in 2019 to N255.861bn in 2020.

It is a similar expression of resilience that has continued even till date as the bank has presently grown its Profit Before Tax (PBT) numbers by 3% in H1 2021.

According to the details gleaned from the financial institution’s audited half-year financial results which it presented to the Nigerian Exchange (NGX), the Group posted a year on year improvement in its actual profit before tax numbers from NGN114 billion reported in H1 2020 to NGN117 billion in H1 2021.

Not to be outdone, other performance indicators were equally upbeat.

These include a 9% spike in non-interest income from NGN116 billion in June 2020 to NGN127 billion in June 2021 as well as a 26 per cent reduction in interest expense.

The Group similarly increased total customer deposits by 8% to close the period at NGN5.77 trillion, and specifically at the retail end, deposits grew by NGN38.2 billion from NGN1.72 trillion to NGN1.76 trillion year-to-date (YTD). As for savings balances, they maintained a marginal 2% uptick YTD from NGN1.16 trillion to NGN1.18 trillion as at December 2020.

Though operating expenses grew by 10% YoY, the Group, however, improved its Earnings per Share (EPS) in the same period. This grew 2% from NGN3.30 to NGN3.38 for the half-year ended June 2021. And in line with the dynamics of the season, total assets grew marginally to NGN8.52 trillion as at 30 June 2021 from the NGN8.48 trillion recorded as at 31 December 2020.

At the same time, gross loans were up by 3% YTD, from NGN2.92 trillion to NGN2.99 trillion even as the bank maintained a low Non-Performance Loans (NPL) ratio of 4.51%, a reduced cost of risk of 1.3% and above threshold liquidity and capital adequacy ratios of 69.9% and 22.0%, respectively.

And the investors are smiling

The positive performance of the bank has notably also impacted on the fortunes of its shareholders. In the half-year ended June 30, 2020 for example, the bank paid interim dividends of 30kobo on each share held by its subscribers.

Indeed, in the last 10 years, the bank has paid out quiet princely sums of money to its shareholders.

It paid N0.85 per share in 2010 and a bonus of one for every four shares held, even as it paid N0.95 per share in 2011. Again, shareholders received N1.60 per share as a dividend in 2012, N1.75 per share in 2013, N1.75 per share in 2014, N1.80 per share in 2015, N2.02 per share in 2016, N2.02 per share in 2017, N.75 per share in 2018 and N2.80 per share in 2019. Now there is another N0.30 per share that has just been disbursed in the half-year 2020.

In the reckoning of a statistician, within this period, a N2 million investment in the shares of Zenith Bank has cumulatively now earned N3 million compounded.

And underscoring that this is a long-running feature, the bank’s dividend yield in 2011 was 6.83 per cent of its share price, while it was 8.1 per cent in 13. Going further, it stood at 9.51 per cent in 2014, 14.23 per cent in 2015, 12.20 per cent in 2016, 7.88 per cent in 2017, 11.93 per cent in 2018 and 16.72 per cent in 2019.

A galaxy of awards

The Business Hallmark award is coming to sit on the heels of other honours and awards for Zenith Bank. The financial institution was voted as Best Commercial Bank in Nigeria in the World Finance Banking Awards 2021, Bank of the Year (Nigeria) in The Banker’s Bank of the Year Awards 2020, Best Bank in Nigeria in the Global Finance World’s Best Banks Awards 2020 and 2021, and Best in Corporate Governance ‘Financial Services’ Africa 2020 and 2021 by the Ethical Boardroom.

At the same time also, the bank emerged as the Most Valuable Banking Brand in Nigeria in the Banker Magazine Top 500 Banking Brands 2020 and 2021, and Number One Bank in Nigeria by Tier-1 Capital in the “2021 Top 1000 World Banks” Ranking by The Banker Magazine.

Zenith Bank has also been recognised as Bank of the Decade (People’s Choice) at the ThisDay Awards 2020, Retail Bank of the year at the 2020 BusinessDay Banks and Other Financial Institutions (BOFI) Awards, and Best Company in Promotion of Good Health and Well-Being as well as Best Company in Promotion of Gender Equality and Women Empowerment at the Sustainability, Enterprise and Responsibility (SERAS) Awards 2020.

These, industry watchers say are quite deserving for what is evidently a rock solid financial institution that was as at 31st December, 2020, Nigeria’s largest financial institution by tier-1 capital, with shareholders’ funds at that point, of NGN1.1 trillion.

The Man Onyeagwu

Ebenezer Onyeagwu is a vastly experienced banker and financial expert who has trained in reputable institutions of learning in Nigeria, the United Kingdom and United States of America.

An accounting graduate from Auchi Polytechnic where he obtained the Ordinary National diploma in 1984 and Higher National Diploma in 1987, Onyeagwu qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1989 while he was still undergoing the compulsory National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) post graduation and was named a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (FCA) in 2003.

He is an alumnus of the prestigious University of Oxford, England, from where he obtained a Postgraduate Diploma in Financial Strategy, and certificate in Macroeconomics. He also undertook extensive executive level business education in Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia Business School of Columbia University, the Harvard Business School of Harvard University (all in the United States) and Lagos Business School of the Pan African University, Nigeria.

He has nearly 30 years’ experience in the banking industry in Nigeria. He joined Zenith Bank Plc in 2002 as a Senior Manager, in the Internal Control and Audit Group of the bank. His professionalism, competence, integrity and commitment to the set objectives of the bank saw him rise swiftly between 2003 and 2005, first, as Assistant General Manager, then Deputy General Manager, and eventually as General Manager of the bank. In these capacities, he handled strategies for new business and branch development, management of risk assets portfolios, treasury functions, strategic top level corporate, multinationals and public institutional relationships, among others.

A thorough-going Zenith man, as Deputy Managing Director, Mr. Onyeagwu had oversight over the bank’s Financial Control and Strategic Planning, Risk Management, Retail Banking, Institutional and Corporate banking business portfolios, IT Group, Credit Administration, Treasury and Foreign Exchange Trading, as well as general administration of the bank, among others.

He was subsequently to be named Executive Director of the bank in 2013, and put in charge of Lagos and South-South Zones as well as strategic groups/business units of the bank including Financial Control & Strategic Planning, Treasury and Correspondent Groups, Human Resources Group, Oil and Gas Group, and Credit Risk Management Group, etc. And it was from there that he was named Deputy Managing Director of the bank in 2016.

Mr. Onyeagwu has been on the board of Zenith Bank Ghana, Zenith Pensions Custodian Limited, Zenith Nominees Limited and African Finance Corporation (AFC). In AFC, he serves on the Board Risk & Investment Committee (BRIC) and Board Audit & Compliance Committee (BAAC). At Zenith Bank Ghana, he chairs the Board Credit and Governance Committees.

Plaudits for a winner

Commenting on the performance of Onyeagwu since mounting the saddle, the CEO of Halemarc Ventures Limited, who was formerly Chief Economist at Zenith Bank, Mr. Marcel Okeke said:

‘‘Onyeagwu is doing well. Of course, it is the performance of the bank that used to assess the quality of its management. If you look at the figures, Zenith Bank remains a great bank. The figures are soaring under Onyeagwu instead of otherwise. It remains a peaceful bank because it has maintained good corporate governance. The bank has stuck to it’s long term strategies of growing organically. Onyeagwu has sustained it.’’

On his part, the Managing Director of High Cap Securities Limited, Mr. David Adonri, told Business Hallmark that the management of Zenith Bank has not only continued to be focused but that it has also utilized the advantages of technology and digital incursions to push its operations, especially in this Covid-19 period.

Kudos to the winner.

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