By Okey Onyeweaku
Upon his assumption of office as GMD at Zenith Bank Plc, on 1st June 2019, Ebenezer Onyeagwu knew that even without being told, he would have to do everything to ensure that the bank continues to sustain its place at the zenith of the banking sector in the country.
The banking czar who has been engaged in the financial system for three decades, two thirds of which has been spent in Zenith Bank, 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 very big shoes of the financial institution’s founding CEO, Mr Jim Ovia.
Underscoring what had come to be a register point for the bank, 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.
Central to the Zenith Bank success story is the fact that right from when the bank began operations in 1990, its profitability trajectory was clearly unmistakable and has since then continued to remain on the upswing.
Jim Ovia, the founding Group Managing Director, GMD ran the financial institution for 20 years before bowing out of that particular role in 2010.
During that time, it is to his credit that he grew the bank’s Profit Before Tax position by 19,629% as evidenced in records that outline that the numbers moved from N245.4million in 1994 to N50.114bn by the time of his formally delinking himself from the GMD role in 2010.
Taking it from there, Ovia’s immediate successor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele grew the bank’s PBT by 139%, up from 50.114billion in 2010 to N119.796bn in 2014.
Next, Emefiele’s successor, Mr. Peter Amangbo – building on the pattern already established – then proceeded to grow the bank’s PBT by 103% from N119.796bn in 2014 to N234.294bn in 2019.
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 recently 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.
As with other previous years overall, other performance indicators were equally upbeat.
This included 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.
Standing up for the Champion
For its achievements, Zenith Bank has equally continued on the path of clinching honours and awards. It 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.
Man in Focus
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.
Primed for the Task Ahead
Discerning watchers of the Nigerian business arena note that the business environment did indeed take a massive beating in the past two years. At the moment however, the indicators are that things are beginning to look up. Oil prices have been rising, inflation rates, from official data, steadily dropping and the business environment generally becoming slightly more upbeat. It is at a time like this that well-primed players like Ebenezer Onyeagwu get to push their game, and from all the evidence on the table, it is almost clear that the Zenith money machine is set to keep rolling on.
Commenting on the banks’ impressive performance, 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.
“Returns from Zenith Bank is higher than those of others. That is the attraction’’ he also said