Sep. 21, 2015

Jim Ovia


Jim Ovia

Chairman, Zenith Bank

"Zenith is continually seeking opportunities to expand and tap into profitable business ventures at home and abroad."


Jim Ovia is the founder of Zenith Bank Group, a bank at which he is the largest individual shareholder with a stake of about 9.3%. He is also an investor in real estate across Nigeria. His other assets include Visafone, a mobile telecommunication outfit. In August 2014, he commenced the construction of $1.5 billion petrochemical complex in Akwa-Ibom State Nigeria. Forbes listed Jim Ovia as the 30th richest man in Africa in 2014.

Zenith Bank is now among the top banks in the world. How has your philosophy as its founder driven the institution's investment?

Zenith Bank is simply built on the core values of people, technology, and service. A super synergy between these values has been the backbone of Zenith Bank from inception to date. Zenith thrives by attracting excellent people and putting the right people in the right places. Zenith Bank staff receives the best training available, which has helped to build a strong corporate culture of goal-oriented activities. By the continuous training of our staff and exposing them to best practices in all aspects of banking, our people are empowered to be creative, innovative, and, at the same time, operate at the highest level of efficiency. All these have contributed to a stable and highly motivated workforce in Zenith. As a result of the training and exposure we give to our staff, we have been able to innovate, create, and lead a banking revolution in Nigeria, leveraging cutting-edge technology. Our practice at Zenith is to continually seek ways of improving existing banking practices while constantly challenging benchmarks. The combination of highly motivated staff and state-of-the-art technology produce excellent customer service, which has been our point of distinction within the Nigerian banking landscape. Our ability to meet and exceed the expectations of our customers over the years has made our bank attractive to major businesses home and abroad. As a result of being satisfied with our services, our customers have rewarded us by being our ambassadors as they continue to market us and give us references. This has challenged us to continuously seek ways of making our customers happier. This partly explains why Zenith's markets share of the Nigerian banking business is on the increase.

Zenith has been a standout bank since it was founded. How has democracy enabled enterprise in Nigeria?

As a Bank that believes in putting the right people in the right places, Zenith has, since inception, attracted and retained seasoned professionals in all areas of our organisation. This has helped Zenith to build a reputation of a compliance conscious bank, which has made it easier for us to work with governments at all tiers and the several regulatory agencies in Nigeria and other countries. Naturally, democracy has helped us to grow as a bank by enhancing confidence and encouraging entrepreneurship. As a Nigerian bank with international footprint, we have supported and will continue to support the programs and policies of government in jurisdictions we operate. As a reward to our conscious efforts on compliance with laws and regulations, and support of government programs, we have received significant support from government in Nigeria and outside and we will continue to work cordially for more support. The consolidation exercise that resulted in having big Nigerian banks has enabled Nigerian banks to compete comfortably with other banks in the world. As players in the banking industry, we expect the new administration to continue to support the growth of Nigeria banks as this helps the banks to create jobs, wealth, and expand into other countries.

Zenith has a UK subsidiary, and this year opened a branch in Dubai. What degree of international expansion is appropriate for Zenith, and how has the prevailing macroeconomic situation at home and abroad affected your assessment of expansionary moves?

Zenith is continually seeking opportunities to expand and tap into profitable business ventures at home and abroad. Dubai is actually a branch of Zenith UK. Despite the seeming global economic downturn, there are numerous untapped business opportunities especially in Africa and Asia, which Zenith is watching closely.

Payment systems are a significant development in East Africa, and are gaining momentum in West Africa and Nigeria. How do you plan to integrate them into Zenith's business model?

Yes, you're right, especially if you look at what M-Pesa by Safaricom is doing with mobile money transfers. As a technology driven bank, Zenith has been at the forefront of process automation and championed several projects that resulted in the adoption of electronic banking. Zenith has deployed several platforms that have made banking services seamless and more efficient for customers. Using technology to facilitate payment has always been an integral part of Zenith banking model and with the CBN's drive for cashless Nigeria, Zenith will continue to work with other stakeholders for a more efficient and secured payment system.

The CBN has tightened monetary policy in 2015 by imposing FX restrictions on certain imports, a move that some analyst predict will cause inflation in the long term. How have monetary conditions affected Zenith's business, and what, in your opinion, is needed to stabilize the market?

This is a brilliant idea. Oil prices have plummeted by almost 50% since September 2014 and have recently dropped to below $45 per barrel. You know as well as I do that the Nigerian economy is overtly import-dependent and this has led to significant loss of foreign exchange. Therefore, the imposition of FX restrictions on certain imports would not only help in foreign exchange management by saving the country FX haemorrhage but would also help in promoting local industries with its attendant spill-over effect on employment generation as well as wealth creation. The current monetary condition is a fallout of dwindling oil prices and drop in government receipts. The implication is that the CBN is not able to meet all the FX needs of every customer. However, Zenith is coping very well with the current situation by FX rationing to meet the needs of our customers while ensuring compliance with relevant laws and regulations.

The banking system is a key piece of Nigeria's future, but SMEs still have difficulty finding capital, and only 32.5% of Nigeria's have access to formal financial systems. What key policy changes in the public sector and strategic changes in the private sector could result in great access to financial services throughout the Nigerian economy?

Access to finance is no doubt challenging especially for SMEs because of high interest rate due to high-cost of sourcing deposits. However, that circumstance is gradually changing since the introduction of various intervention schemes, particularly the Micro Small and Medium Enterprise Development Fund (MSMEDF) with single-digit interest rate by the CBN. It is expected that funding for SMEs will be more accessible than it used to be.

What are your expectations for the year ahead?

The outlook for the remaining part of the year is bright given the public confidence in the current government since government policies affect businesses to a reasonable extent. Nigeria, being the biggest economy in Africa, is the preferred investment destination for everyone looking to maximize their return on investment.