UK Eke, Group Managing Director, FBN Holdings

By OKEY ONYENWEAKU

With over three decades of corporate experience in the banking sector, Elder Urum Kalu Eke is a very strong and accomplished player in the nation’s banking landscape.

This was to be firmly re-established in 2015 when the consummate banking sector professional assumed the office of Group Managing Director, GMD of First Bank Nigeria Holdings, FBNH, the parent company to Nigeria’s longest surviving banking brand, FirstBank PLC. He has in that position continued to drive the organisation’s strategic coordination efforts as well as forays into new and emergent business segments and processes.

Responding to the generations

One of the impressions many have about First Bank is that it is a bank of an era gone by. It is a burden that the management at FBNH is well aware of and which it continues to work around.

For one, the mere fact of advancement in age is not exactly negative. However, with the continent’s median age being put at less than 30, what is clear is that mass-market business like FBNH must take some special interest in these young demographics.

In a strategic sense then, Eke and his colleagues in management are pushing to reverse the image of FBNH as not being a brand for the younger generation and one place where this comes out is in the social media space where the bank is driving to be seen as being online real-time. Along this line, regular users of twitter may have by now noticed that the bank is quite assertively out there pushing its message, addressing customer queries and announcing new initiatives and engagements.

For example, on June 12, a twitter user, [email protected], had posted this complaint:

@FirstBankngr

Hello I used POS on the 12th of April, it was declined & I was debited #3200 Acc number: 3050005472 Please kindly do something about it.’

Not long after that, [email protected]_help responded:

‘Hello

@hernu67563956

, efforts are in place to fix this as promptly as possible and you will be notified once a resolution is provided. Please accept our apologies. #YouFirst’

On the same day, Prince [email protected] had posted:

@FirstBankngr

pls, I would like to know why my BVN has not been linked to my other accounts as any attempt to use it I keep getting a response or does not exist? 3056848831.

Before long, FirstBank [email protected] posted a response:

‘Hello

@jojotham

, enquiry shows BVN is linked to the account provided. Kindly state the exact challenge to enable us to assist. #YouFirst’

The genesis of the holding structure

It was in the financial year ended December 31, 2012, that the migration to the Holding Company structure took place at FirstBank.

At that point, First Bank was the largest banking corporation by assets size in sub-Saharan Africa and as explained during that season, the new structure was put in place to ensure more seamless coordination of its diverse interests in commercial banking, investment banking and asset management, insurance and other financial services, including microfinance banking.

Of course, while the plan was clearly to ensure that each of these interests would continue to be pursued and milked as best as was feasible in the overall interest of the group, a note was also taken of the fact that the commercial banking business was indeed the group’s cash cow.

In 2012 for example, the cognate commercial banking business accounted for N262billion or 91.5 per cent of net revenue. This was itself an improvement on the N220.7billion that the same commercial banking business had brought to the group’s coordinate revenue table in the previous year.

This then necessitated a move by management to also accommodate a renewed visionary focus on running the commercial banking business through Strategic Business Units, SBUs that was broken into the Corporate Banking, Institutional Banking, Private Banking, Public Sector and Retail Banking segments.

Even back then also, the vision was defined as one to maintain size advantage and deepen efficiency metrics and it delivered a string of results.

As clearly one of the biggest banks in the country then, First Bank, though it had begun to come under pressure from younger and somewhat nimbler competitors, was still pulling its weight fairly reasonably/ For example, public sector deposits were still contributing as much as N614.2b or 28.3 per cent of total deposits in 2012. It had been 28.5 per cent in 2011.

On its part, retail banking contributed N1.015 trillion of deposits or 46.8percent of total deposits. In the preceding year, the tally had been N901.07billion which came to about 50.5 per cent of the total deposits that the bank secured in the same year.

Earnings and profits

It’s indeed been a journey of the continuing growth of sorts at First Bank. As the gross earnings record show, for example, gross earnings in 2012 was N313.822billion. This was in itself higher than the N251.312billion that had been recorded in 2011 and the N209.187billion garnered in 2010.

On the profit table, Profit after taxation came to N71.144billion in 2012, an improvement on the N23.052billion recorded in 2011 and the N32.123billion grossed in 2010.

The Eke years

At Eke’s entry ad GMD of FBNH in January 2016, Dec 31, 2015, Gross earnings had been put at N503.79 billion. It, however, moved to N583.006billion in 2016.

Going further, it was N598.184billion in 2017, and by 2018, it was N587.406billion and then N627.008billion in 2019

It is however when we come to the arena of profit that we come to grips with the Eke magic. This is because, within the same period under reference, profit grew from N12.24billion in 2016 to N37.7billion in 2017, N58.23billion in 2018 and then N73.66billion in 2019

The man Eke

Elder UrumKaluEke, who is popularly referred to as UK Eke was born in November 1964 in Lagos. He attended Comprehensive Secondary School, Aba, Government College, Umuahia, the University of Lagos and the Federal University of Technology, Owerri.

He has also attended several Executive Management and Board training programs at Harvard Business School, Stanford Business School, IESE Barcelona, China European International Business School Shanghai, China, International Institute for Management and Development Lausanne, Switzerland, Wharton Business School and the Lagos Business School.

He began his working like in 1986 as a youth copper with the chartered accountants, Deloitte Haskins & Sells International and served there for five years, from where he moved on to Diamond Bank Plc where he spent some 19 years and rose to the position of Executive Director. Upon his coming over to First Bank, he also served as Executive Director, Public Sector, South before moving up to become the Group Managing Director, FBN Holdings Plc.

A Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants and Fellow of the Institute of Directors, he is also a board member at the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA), an Associate, Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria and a Member of the Federal Republic, MFR. He is equally the Chairman Advisory Board, Lifeforce International High School, Ibadan.

What the people say

A most respected professional, the word out that is almost unanimous: Eke is a banker’s banker and one that can be trusted to deliver at any time and moment as long as the subject under consideration is banking.

Hear DavidAdonri, the Chief Executive Officer of Highcap Securities:

“He (UK Ekeh) has done well. I remember at the time he took office, the bank faced very serious challenges, principal of which was the position of the non-performing loan which had set the bank on the part of losses. As there were statutory provisions that had to be made, the losses that accompanied this were such that the bank could not pay dividends. In fact, within that season, the dividends that the FirstBankGroup was barely able to pay to shareholders were not coming from the bank but the subsidiaries.

“It is to his credit that he has been able to complete the management of those provisions for the bad loans exposure due to the overexposure of the bank to, most notably the petroleum industry. He has successfully written off those bad debts. We understand that from this year, the bank will be profitable and will be in a position to pay dividends to investors, and probably be able to match the kind of dividends it was paying in the past. You know FirstBank used to operate along with the same level as Zenith Bank and Guaranty Trust Bank in terms of dividends paid. However, as a result of those bad loans, they couldn’t maintain that level. But sooner or later, they will start rising to the level, all due to the competence, sagacity and capacity being displayed by the current management.”

For OnyenweEzeagu, CEO, Solid Rock Securities and Investments PLC, Eke’s string of successes can be explained:

“I’ve had cause to interact closely with U.K Ekeh and he comes across to me as an amiable and intelligent man who has a perfect understanding of the environment in which he operates. He was able to dissect the facts behind the figures of the holding company in a way that showed he’s on top of his game. I’m not surprised that FBNH has done well under his watch”.

The testimony from Sir Sunny Nwosu, former President, Independent Shareholders Association of Nigerian (ISAN), is not any different:

‘UK Eke is a fine gentleman who has proved to be dependable and professional.

Right from his days in Diamond Bank, many have had good testimonies about him

Now that he is the Group Managing Director of FBNH, he has also been very nice and humble.

He is a very respectful and respectable gentleman.’

In his assessment, Dr Olufemi Omoyele, a financial and management analyst said:

“FBN Holdings under UK Eke has assumed a new lease of life. Before coming there, he has had broad exposure at various reputable concerns, including Deloitte Haskins & Sells International, a firm of chartered accountants, where he began his chequered career in 1986. Before he took over as Group Managing director of FBN Holdings, 2016, the company under Maccido had several legacy risk asset issues, but under Eke, these have been largely resolved.

He has also succeeded in increasing the group’s earnings capacity which has now transformed into higher returns to shareholders.”

On his part, HarunaKebira, a stockbroker said:

‘Under Eke, this holding company has become a huge success, thanks to the management ingenuity of Eke. I believe his long experience spanning 18 years at Diamond Bank has also had a hugely positive effect on him and through him, the fortunes of FBN Holdings.

“The stock is indeed one of the bellwethers at the bourse. Nevertheless, it has also had a huge dose of non-performing loans which has affected the return on investments of shareholders significantly.”

He, however, observed that it was most evident that the holding’s management under Eke has tackled this challenge headlong such that at the close of the financial year ended December 31, 2019, it had a very rich recommendation of heartwarming dividends to shareholders.

As for Kola Oye- Igbimo, a stockbroker, Eke has done quite well

 ‘Under him, FBN Holdings has had improved financial performance. It posted better performance in the year ended 2019 as it declared gross earnings of N627 billion in 2019, compared with the N587.4 billion it had garnered in 2018, meaning that it was able to sustain an increase of 6.7 per cent. He has done well.’

For the final word, we will yield the floor to the former president of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN), Okechukwu Unegbu:

“U.K Ekeh is a good official. He’s a nice guy, ever-smiling, always ready to partner with people. He doesn’t have enemies.’

We have nothing else to add.