Opinion: Herbert Wigwe’s panacea for better banking in post-COVID-19 era

In many industries like banking, it’s often difficult for many to discern any measure being put in place by industry leaders, and this could well be the reason why quintessential banker, Herbert Wigwe is being misunderstood on certain steps he proposed to be taken by his bank, given the stark reality of the novel COVID-19 pandemic, and this is the meat of this endeavour.

He sure needs no introduction about his formidable exploits in the Nigerian banking sector, virtues of which have earned him a name that is firmly entrenched in the public consciousness.

Herbert Wigwe, the Group Managing Director of Access Bank, is one of the pioneers of modern banking in Nigeria, and a veritable business leader reputed for his commitment to solving teething banking problems.

For Herbert, leadership is a platform that must be leveraged to meet societal needs and instigate change. Under Herbert Wigwe, Access Bank’s character has changed and its sphere of influence expanded and ranked among the top five banks in Nigeria and also ranked in 2015 as one of the top 500 banks in the world by The Banker’s magazine which was accredited to the transformational leadership of Herbert Wigwe as the reason for the turnaround.

The bank has attained a status that enables it to offer more than banking services, to change developmental agenda, and to instigate social change. Apparently misconstruing the bank MD/CEO’s core message, the media recently alleged that Access Bank Plc, one of Africa’s largest retail banks by retail customer base was embarking on pay cuts, a mass sack of workers and shutdown of branches. This ‘misinformation’ has since been appropriately repudiated.

Herbert Wigwe and Pascal Dozie
Herbert Wigwe and Pascal Dozie at the merger between Access Bank and Diamond Bank.

But with traditional business models and banking metrics being upended by the post-COVID-19 global operating environment, only audacious innovators in the sector can remain relevant. Clearly, banking remains a relationship business.

Herbert Wigwe was only showing transparency in his handling of issues the bank is bound to address at some point. Transparency is his second nature; Wigwe did the right thing in addressing the issues and being transparent about it for that matter. He led by personal example and took a 40 percent pay cut. He is not the kind of professional who stays tamely at the receiving end of policy prescriptions. He covets knowledge-driven innovations, proactive engagement with stakeholders, policymakers, fluid operating environments, and sure-footed action.

These dimensions are boldly mirrored in his nimble leadership of one of the continent’s banking behemoths. Wigwe, a chartered accountant, financial economist, and banking and finance whiz deployed his unassailable skills in the management of strategic uncertainties into action. Not only has he improved the bank’s balance sheet, but he has also restored investors’ confidence in the bank, shoring its brand equity, and giving shareholders more reasons to believe.

In less than two decades, Wigwe and his crew have pushed Access Bank far beyond the frontiers of Nigeria with a network of over 600 branches and geographical spread spanning three continents (Africa, Europe, and Asia), over 12 countries and boasting employee pool of over 30,000. Access Bank is deliberate and intentional in its choice of employees. And this has much to do with the leadership. He has positioned the bank to consistently maintain acquired advantage over the competition through its unrelenting churning out of a potpourri of banking products that meet customers’ needs and expectations.

One thing many don’t know about Herbert is that he likes to drive young people and pushes them to challenge themselves. He believes that innovation is the engine of growth, the ladder to reach the top, and exactly what he is doing with H.O.W (Herbert Onyewumbu Wigwe) foundation, where he took his leisure to mentor and tutor the young children and how to become better in life and to society. Herbert got to the top at a very tender age and he’s not afraid to mentor many young people as he could find and help them hit the summit of their callings.

With his brilliant and outstanding performing record over the years at the driver seat of the bank, this has made the stakeholders to pass a vote of confidence on him several even during the merger of the defunct Diamond Bank. Wigwe and his team deserve not only applause but a deep study of the whys and wherefores that kept them riding gloriously the cusp of acquisition.

When the CEO is a young and target-driven smart man, it follows that other employees must, as a matter of routine, be smart (both street-smart and book-smart). Wigwe has engineered a culture of strategic recruitment, a recruitment culture that focuses on today and tomorrow. One of his innate strength is his capacity to forecast the market. This helps immensely in deploying the right people using the right technology to achieve and sustain a competitive position in the marketplace.

Bolatito Adebola, a journalist, and Public Relations expert, writes from Lagos.

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