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Ebenezer Onyeagwu: Bowing out when ovation is loudest

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Ebenezer Onyeagwu: Bowing out when ovation is loudest

On Friday, May 31, 2024. Dr. Ebenezer Onyeagwu, honorably bowed out of office, after five years of raising the bar of leadership at Zenith International Bank Plc. as the Group Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer.

His glorious exit could not have come at a better time than a few days after he was named the Best Banking CEO of the Year in Africa at the International Banker 2024 Banking Awards for the second consecutive year.

The Tier 1 lender had about two months ago announced that the five-year term of the accomplished banker would expire on May 31, 2024, consistent with the bank’s executive transition tradition, succession plan and a strategy to groom leaders from within.

Exactly five year ago, when Onyeagwu stepped up to the peak of his banking career to assume the mantle of leadership of Zenith Bank, there could not have been a better person for the top job than a vastly experienced chartered accountant, knowledgeable and astute financial expert, who had over 29 years of experience in the banking industry in Nigeria, out of which he had spent 17 in Zenith Bank.

It was even more so with his specialised training from reputable institutions of learning in Nigeria, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, after studying Accounting at the Auchi Polytechnic, Edo State.

Before his appointment, Onyeagwu had been the bank’s Deputy Managing Director since October 2016. He began his banking career at the defunct Financial Merchant Bank in 1991 and later held several management positions in the erstwhile Citizens International Bank Limited until 2002.

He then 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 objectives of the bank saw him rise swiftly between 2003 and 2005, first, as Assistant General Manager, then Deputy General Manager, and eventually, General Manager of the bank.

Onyeagwu was appointed Executive Director of the bank in 2013, 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 among others.

He was named Deputy Managing Director of the bank in 2016. In that capacity, he deputized for the Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the bank. He also had direct oversight of 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.

He was appointed GMD/CEO of the bank on June 1, 2019, to replace Mr. Peter Amangbo, whose tenure expired on Friday, May 31.

A successful tenure

Onyeagwu is leaving behind a brand that had maintained upward trajectory of the major performance indicators of a financial institution throughout the five years of his captaincy.

The bank’s share price appreciated significantly from N18.60 per share when he took over as GMD/CEO of the bank to N38.65 per share as at the end of 2023. Also, Zenith Bank’s market capitalisation, which was N584 billion when he took over in 2019, rose significantly to N1.213 trillion as at the end of 2023.

Under his watch, the bank’s gross earnings climbed significantly from N2.462 trillion in 2019, to N6.101 trillion as at the third quarter (Q3) of 2023; customer deposits increased to N13.383 trillion as at Q3 2023, higher than the N4.262 trillion it was in 2019; total assets also leapt to N18.160 trillion as at Q3 of 2023, up from the N6.347 trillion it was in 2019; Zenith Bank’s cash and short-term funds which was N2.635 trillion in 2019, also jumped to N8.513 trillion as at Q3 2023, while its shareholders’ fund stood at N1.919 trillion as at Q3 2023, from N942 billion in 2019.

Besides, while its gross earnings, which was N662 billion in 2019, jumped to N1.329 trillion as at Q3 2023; the bank’s profit before tax also rose from N243 billion when Onyeagwu took over, to N505 billion as at Q3 2023; non-interest income climbed from N232 billion in 2019, to N607 billion as at Q3 2023, even as its earnings per share has risen from N6.65 to N13.82.

Era of laurels

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During his tenure, the Delta-born astute banker led the bank to achieve significant milestones in financial performance, financial inclusion, corporate governance, and sustainability.

These achievements have earned the bank numerous local and international awards, including being named best bank in Nigeria four times in five years from 2020 to 2022 and in 2024 by the Global Finance World’s Best Banks Awards and Best Bank for Digital Solutions in Nigeria by the Euromoney Awards 2023.

It was listed in the World Finance Top 100 Global Companies in 2023 and recognised as the number one bank in Nigeria by Tier-1 Capital for the 14th consecutive year in the 2023 Top 1000 World Banks Ranking published by The Banker Magazine.

Zenith Bank was honoured as the best commercial bank in Nigeria for three consecutive years from 2021 to 2023 by the World Finance Banking Awards; Best Corporate Governance Bank in Nigeria by the World Finance Corporate Governance Awards 2022 and 2023; Bank of the Year (Nigeria) by The Banker’s Bank of the Year Awards in 2020 and 2022; and Best in Corporate Governance Financial Services Africa for four successive years from 2020 to 2023 by Ethical Boardroom.

Other recognitions include Most Sustainable Bank in Nigeria at the International Banker 2023 Banking Awards, Best Commercial Bank in Nigeria, and Best Innovation in Retail Banking in Nigeria at the International Banker 2022 Banking Awards.

Commenting on the exploits of the outgoing Zenith Bank’s helmsman, the Executive Vice Chairman of Highcap Securities Limited, Mr. David Adonri noted that Onyeagwu appears to be one of the best in the banking industry given his achievement in the last three years as GMD of Zenith Bank.

‘’Under him, Zenith Bank has been performing very well, which also extends to his success in building the bank. All the fundamental indicators of the bank have been very positive under his management. To that extent, he has met the expectations of both the depositors and the investors in the bank.

‘’Onyeagwu is, in fact, one of the best in the industry given the fundamentals of Zenith Bank as of today. All those managing the tier one banks have performed very well given their third-quarter results’’, Adonri said.

Reacting to his latest award, published in the Spring 2024 issue of International Banker Magazine, United Kingdom, Onyeagwu through a statement issued on Monday (May 27) by the bank, expressed delight at the award.

He said, “It is indeed an honour to be recognised as the ‘Best Banking CEO of the Year in Africa’ for a second consecutive year. This award is a testament to our team’s collective efforts and our commitment to innovation, growth, and delivering value to our customers and stakeholders.

“It also reflects our dedication to sustainability and high ethical standards, which are integral to our overall strategy. I am immensely proud of our accomplishments and look forward to future opportunities for the bank as I hand over the baton to my successor and begin the mandatory regulatory cooling-off period.”

However, not many are envious of Dr. Mrs, Adora Umeoji, as it will take doing a lot more than the ordinary to step into the big shoes of a trailblazer. But, like Onyeagwu, Umeoji is a product of the system, well-groomed for the top job.

With shimmering academic credentials and 26 of her impressive 30 years of unblemished banking record spent at Zenith Bank, where she rose through the ranks, Umeoji does not look any less equipped to maintain the tempo

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