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Meet Women Steering Banking wheels

If the banking sector were a runway, the visionary women leading 10 of the nation’s top banks would compete favourably with anyone across the globe. But it is not just their beauty that they are applauded for. They are brains mixed with beauty. Before now, Managing Director (MD) and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) positions in the Nigerian banking sector seemed to be the exclusive preserve of men. The tide is turning in favour of women who have steadily climbed the ladder of chief executive officers in banks. CHINAKA OKORO and EVELYN OSAGIE write.

More than ever before women are bringing their A-Game to the table of their career. While distinguishing themselves in diverse sectors, they are breaking records in fields formerly the exclusive preserved of men. One of such sectors is banking.
Currently, Nigeria has 25 major banks with the number of female chief executives soaring from just one in 2019 to 10 in 2024. This represents 36 per cent of Nigerian major banks’ chief executive officers. Welcome to the age of the banking Amazons.

Women are taking over
Happily, over the past two decades, the Nigerian banking landscape has undergone a remarkable transformation, catapulting many industry players onto the global stage. Amidst this dynamic shift, marked by two recapitalisation exercises and a surge in foreign investments, one of the most profound changes has been the recalibration of human capital. This transformation has opened doors for female bankers to assume leadership roles, steering banks to unprecedented success.

At a time when the notion of a female bank CEO was but a distant dream, pioneers such as Cecilia Ibru of then Oceanic Bank shattered the glass ceiling. Since then, a wave of exceptional women, including Funke Osibodu, Sola David-Borha and Bola Adesola, have followed suit, ascending to the helm of some of some leading banks.

It is now becoming appealing and commendable to have more women in top management positions. The sector is sure to see more women in top management positions in banks, giving gender-mandated regulations by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), which recognised the positive impact of gender parity on the economy.

However, experts have maintained that advancement towards gender equality and inclusivity in corporate governance in the sector mark a welcomed exodus towards an improved balanced and diverse leadership landscape.

Meet women steering the wheels in banking sector

Currently, 10 of the country’s top banks are led by visionary women, embodying strong leadership qualities and driving exceptional financial performances. Among them are Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe of Fidelity Bank, Yemisi Edun of FCMB, and Miriam Olusanya of GT Bank, each leaving an indelible mark on the industry.

Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe of Fidelity
Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe, a lawyer-turned-banker who was appointed as the CEO of Fidelity in 2021, has steered Fidelity Bank towards unprecedented heights. Under her leadership, the bank has maintained high asset quality and a robust balance sheet, consistently earning accolades from leading rating agencies. Fidelity Bank’s financial statement for 2023 was nothing short of impressive. This remarkable growth is a testament to Onyeali-Ikpe’s strategic vision and unwavering commitment to excellence.

Fidelity Bank’s recently released condensed unaudited financial statement for 2023 was very impressive. The bank has expressed its desire to play in the international market. And most notably, in 2023, it acquired the United Kingdom subsidiary of Union Bank to show its intent, even as it reiterated plans for further acquisitions on the Continent.

Hear what Onyeali-Ikpe told Bloomberg: “The strategy is for us to move our footprint outside Nigeria and compete favourably with our peers. In the next three years, we should be able to be in six countries by doing at least two yearly.”

This strong financial performance has endeared the bank to capital market investors as reflected in the sustained interest in its shares on the NGX.

Yemisi Edun of of FCMB Group
 Following her appointment in 2021, Yemisi Edun wasted no time in making her mark as the leader of FCMB Group. She has a background in finance and extensive experience in the banking sector. With a staggering 72 per cent growth in Profit before Tax in 2022, Edun’s strategic acumen has propelled FCMB towards unprecedented success. In the 2023 financial year, the group achieved gross earnings of N516.8 billion, representing an 82.6 per cent growth over the previous year.

Edun’s leadership has not only consolidated the bank’s liquidity position but has also created new avenues for growth and expansion. FCMB recorded a 206.9 per cent growth in net income in the 2023 financial year to N95.52 billion as against the N31.13 billion recorded in 2022. Total assets grew by over 48 per cent to N4.41 trillion from N2.98 trillion. Edun has consolidated the bank’s liquidity position and exploit growth opportunities.

Miriam Olusanya of Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB)
In July 2021, Miriam Olusanya made history as the first female to direct Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB), ushering in a new era of innovation and growth. Olusanya’s leadership prowess was on full display as GT Bank posted remarkable financial performances in Q3 2023, reporting a 155.2 per cent Profit before Taxation of N433.2 billion. With a dual listing on the Nigerian Exchange Group and the London Stock Exchange, GT Group’s metrics speak volumes about Olusanya’s foresight and operational excellence.

Bolaji Agbede of Access Holdings
Bolaji Agbede, acting group CEO of Access Holdings, took over on February 13, following the death of Herbert Wigwe, the company’s former GCEO. Agbede has worked in banking operations, customer relationship management, and human resources management departments for over 27 years. Beginning her career in 1992 as an executive trainee, she worked her way up to manager in 2001 at Guaranty Trust Bank, where she also held various positions such as vault custodian and relationship manager. She subsequently served as CEO of JKG Limited, a business consulting firm, in 2003. Agbede joined Access Bank in 2003 as an assistant general manager and was responsible for managing the bank’s portfolio of chemical trading companies. She also headed the bank’s human resources department between 2010 and 2022 and was appointed the company’s founding executive director, business support, in 2022. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Statistics from the University of Lagos (1990); and obtained a Master of Business Administration degree from Cranfield University in 2002.

Adaora Umeoji of Zenith Bank
In a more recent indication that women are inching steadily toward achieving gender equality in Nigeria, another female from Zenith Bank, Dr. Adaora Umeoji, is the latest to shatter the glass ceiling as she assumes the role of Zenith Bank’s first female Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Those who have close contact with her have said that her journey showcases the strength and capability of the girl-child, urging for their rightful inclusion in every sphere of society.

Adaora’s ascent within Zenith Bank is said to be evidence of her unwavering determination and exceptional abilities. From her humble beginnings as a youth corps member in the 90s, she showcased unparalleled prowess by securing significant business deals that propelled Zenith Bank’s growth. Her achievements, which surpassed the expectations of her peers and superiors alike, underscored the indispensable value of talent and merit, regardless of gender.

These women CEOs, alongside their male counterparts, exemplify the transformative power of inclusive leadership. As Nigerian banks continue to harness the full potential of their human capital, irrespective of gender, they pave the way for a more equitable and prosperous future for all.

Ireti Samuel-Ogbu of Citibank Nigeria
 Ireti Samuel-Ogbu, appointed in September 2020, doubles as the CEO of Citibank Nigeria and Citibank’s country officer for Nigeria and Ghana. Before being appointed CEO of Citibank Nigeria, Samuel-Ogbu was the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) head, payments and receivables, treasury and trade solutions (TTS) under Citi’s institutional clients group (ICG) based in London, UK. She has also served as a non-executive director on the board of Citibank Nigeria Limited. For the past 32 years, Samuel-Ogbu has held various posts across Citi’s businesses in the UK, Nigeria and South Africa – having worked in each of the countries twice.

Samuel-Ogbu obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Finance from Middlesex University, UK, and has an MBA from the University of Bradford, UK.

Halima Buba of SunTrust Bank
Halima Buba, MD/CEO, SunTrust Bank, was appointed the MD/CEO of SunTrust Bank in January  2020. Halima Buba, is a seasoned banker with over 22 years of cognate experience obtained from working in All States Trust Bank, Zenith Bank, Inland Bank Plc, Oceanic Bank Plc, and Ecobank Nigeria Limited. Buba was co-founder and former executive director at Taj Consortium — an organisation of young dynamic technocrats and financial advisory experts, from 2017 until 2020 — before her appointment to SunTrust Bank. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management from the University of Maiduguri and an MBA from the same university.

Yetunde Oni of Union Bank
Yetunde Oni, in January 2024, was appointed by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as the MD/CEO of Union Bank of Nigeria. Until her appointment with the bank, Oni was a financial services leader with a successful career spanning over 30 years, holding senior positions in international and local banks, and focusing on emerging markets. Before she made it to the top, Oni had an 11-year stint at Ecobank Transnational Incorporated as a relationship manager, from 1994 to 2005.

In September 2014, Oni held the position of pioneer head of commercial clients at Standard Chartered Bank Nigeria Limited, before becoming the lender’s MD and country head of commercial banking in West Africa in 2017. In January 2021, Oni achieved a significant milestone by becoming the first female MD/CEO of Standard Chartered Bank in Sierra Leone. Oni is a University of Ibadan graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Economics and has an MBA from Bangor University, Wales.

Kafilat Araoye of Lotus Bank
Kafilat Araoye was appointed in 2020 as the MD/CEO of Lotus Bank. She started her career in 1988 at National Oil and Chemicals Marketing Company Plc (now Conoil Nigeria Plc), and moved in 1990 to GTBank, as the pioneer head of HR.

Her last position at the firm was general manager and group head, human resource group — a position she exited in 2015. Subsequently, Araoye moved to XYZ Outsourcing and Management Consulting Limited, from 2015 to 2020. Araoye holds a first degree in history from the Obafemi Awolowo University and a master’s degree in industrial relations and personnel management from the University of Lagos — graduating as the best student in her class.

Tomi Somefun of Unity Bank
 Tomi Somefun was appointed MD/CEO of Unity Bank Plc in August 2015. Before her appointment, she served as the executive director overseeing the Lagos and south-west business directorates, and the treasury department of the bank. She has 35 years of experience in the private sector, 26 of which are in the banking industry.

From 1982 to 1986, she worked as a senior audit assistant for KPMG, which was the beginning of her nearly 40-year journey to become the formidable banker she is today.

After working for a few more years as a senior auditor at Arthur Andersen, she left in 1989 to become an associate at Ventures & Trusts Limited.  Veering into the banking sector, she began working with Credit Bank Limited, before joining UBA Group, where she served as the MD/CEO of two significant UBA subsidiaries, including UBA Pensions Custodian, a start-up company, which was founded with her as the pioneer.

She graduated from Obafemi Awolowo University in 1981 with a bachelor of education in English language. NATION

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