By OBINNA EZUGWU
After nearly nine long years, Mr. Emeka Emuwa will, this week, bow out from his position as Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of one of Nigeria’s oldest banks, Union Bank of Nigeria Plc, bringing an end to what has been an eventful reign.
On March 31, Emuwa will officially hand over to his appointed successor, Emeka Okonkwo, a seasoned banker with 30 years of experience. Okonkwo joined Union Bank in 2013 as an Executive Director to lead the Corporate Banking and Treasury business.
For the outgoing CEO, it’s been perhaps unforgettable eight years in a bank he joined with a clear mandate to return to profitability.
Afflicted by the pandemic, the bank’s 2020 audited report, which came in with a gross earnings decline to N156.89 billion in contrast with N159.86 billion achieved in the corresponding period of 2019, means that he won’t be leaving the stage when the ovation is loudest.
But even as he may not be ending on a high, Emuwa’s time at the over 100-year-old lender, all considered, has been impressive. With respect to the 2020 report, regardless, there were positives. Profit before tax went up 2.8% to N25.4 billion from N24.7 billion in 2019.
Profit After-tax rose by 1.2% to N24.7 billion compared to N24.4 billion in 2019. And Net operating income after impairments went up 8.3% to N103.4 billion, from N95.5 billion in 2019. But ultimately, the pandemic and a number of the factors impacted negatively, the bank’s full year revenue. 2020 does not, however, tell the whole story.
When in 2012, Emuwa was appointed to lead the bank’s management it was at a time its books were in dire straits. Still battling the impact of 2009 banking sector crisis; a year whose nine months to December 31, 2009 ended with a loss after tax of N281 billion, it was one of nine lenders that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) spent N620 billion to bail out after it judged they were grossly under capitalised.
The apex bank would subsequently temporarily hand over its ownership to the Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON). In 2010 the lender sold a 60 percent stake to a group of institutional investors led by African Capital Alliance private equity for $750 million to help it recapitalise.
That year it showed positive signs, posting pre-tax profit of N3.55 billion for the first quarter ended March 31, 2010, and after tax profit of N3.33 billion as against a massive revenue loss in the corresponding period of 2009; all on the back of gross earnings of N34.235 billion for the three months.
But things soon headed downhill. The bank subsequently ended 2011 with a whooping N107.68 billion revenue loss, mostly on account of write down of bad debts. It then became imperative to find capable hands that could return it to financial stability and profitability.
In November 2012, Emuwa joined the bank following a $500 million investment by Union Global Partners, with a mandate to transform and restore one of Nigerias oldest institutions back to its rightful position as a respected provider of financial services.
Emuwa, with years of experience in credit risk management, strategy, negotiating, leadership and people management in addition to treasury, corporate finance and cash management product training, fitted the bill.
He had a 25-year career at Citibank, rising through the ranks from Management Associate in 1986 to Managing Director, Citibank Nigeria Ltd, and Citi Country Officer, Nigeria. In addition to serving as Citi Country Officer in Cameroon, Tanzania, Gabon, Congo, Ghana and Niger, and in 2005, he became the first Nigerian to be appointed as Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of Citibank Nigeria Limited.
The experience, with a B.Sc. in Finance from the University of Lagos and M.Sc. in Management from the Krannert School of Management, Purdue University, USA to boot, he took up the challenge of reviving the troubled lender, and the result came thick and fast.
The bank ended 2012 with pre-tax profit of N9.06 billion, back to a semblance of profitability from the N107.68 billion loss a year earlier. Gross earnings rose by 33 percent to N112.79 billion, from N85.1 billion in 2011. It never looked back. The Emuwa era had begun. And eight years later, observers say, he has done a commendable job.
“I know the numbers have improved under his watch. You know Union Bank was very challenged at some point. There was a time it had the issue of capitalisation and so on,” said Dr. Boniface Chizea, ex banker and CEO, BIC Consultancy. “The bank went through turbulent times, even some of their subsidiaries were taken over; some were distressed. But he has improved things in the bank, and that’s commendable.”
By the end of Emuwa’s first full year at the helm, 2013, the bank’s gross earnings had further grown to N121.398 billion from N112.79 billion in 2012, while post tax profit rose to N3.836 billion. A year later in 2014, the bank’s gross earnings grew to N135.897 billion from N121.398 billion in 2013, while pretax profit came to N27.708 billion.
The improvement, Emuwa had attributed to reforms undertaken under his watch.
We optimised our talent base, making significant hires into key roles and ensuring we have the right people in the right functions, and aligned our staff compensation and overall costs to be competitive within the industry,” he had said.
We also overhauled operations and processes in order to consistently deliver quality service to our customers, and established a Central Processing Center to provide streamlined, cost efficient and consistent processing of branch operations. Notwithstanding the significant investments in these initiatives, we stabilised our cost line and kept expenses flat.
In 2015, the bank reported gross earnings of N117.2 billion, and profit before tax came in at N14.9 billion. This was followed in 2016 by gross revenue of N126.6 billion and 6% improvement of PBT to N15.7 billion. Indeed, within the first six years of Emuwa’s leadership, the bank’s revenue grew from N79.6 billion in 2013 to N105.9 billion in 2017, while profit after tax rose from N3.8 billion to N14.3 over the six-year period.
Fast forward to 2018, the bank grossed N145.5 billion in earnings, and N18.5 billion profit before tax. Profit after tax on the other hand, rose came in at N18.09 billion. A year later in 2019, the bank recorded a 10.3% growth in profit, improving profit before tax to N20.35 billion from the N18.45 billion achieved for the corresponding period for 2018.
In the same vein, the profit after tax for 2019 rose 9.8% to N19.87 billion, against the N18.09 billion that was recorded for the corresponding period for 2018. The gross earnings for full-year 2019 stood at N166.54 billion as against the 2018 figure of N145.5 billion.
In 2020, the year of the pandemic, would be Emuwa’s last full year at age old lender. And as he prepares to leave the stage this week, he said he is proud of what his team has done.
I have enjoyed the significant challenge of leading Union Bank over the last eight years. I am extremely proud of the management team and what we have been able to accomplish during my time as CEO. Today, we have a strong bank that is well positioned to compete and deliver on its vision to be Nigerias most trusted and reliable partner.
With a clear strategic direction, a growing and loyal customer base and a strong brand, this is now the natural time for the next generation of leadership to take Union Bank forward and deliver further value,” he said while commenting on his retirement few days ago.
“In over three decades of banking, my time at Union Bank has been one of the richest experiences in a long and fulfilling career with a treasure of work and life lessons to carry into the future. Together as a team, we scaled many hurdles and accomplished significant feats and I would like to thank my Executive team, senior management and every one of our employees for their integrity, support and hard work that have brought Union Bank to where it is today.
I would also like to thank the Board for the opportunity to lead this storied institution that has impacted generations of Nigerians for over a century and for supporting our efforts and vision during my tenure.
As we begin the transition into a new era of leadership under Emeka Okonkwo, a consummate professional with the right experience and values, I know that Union Bank will continue on its path as a value driven organisation that is deeply committed to our customers and the communities we serve.