AT THE PEAK

Nigeria 2016 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Jim Ovia, Chairman of Zenith Bank, on the bank's place in the global banking sector and fiscal policy in Nigeria.

Jim Ovia
BIOGRAPHY
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 a $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 investments?

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 produces 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 at 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 market 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 its inception, attracted and retained seasoned professionals in all areas of our organization. This has helped Zenith to build a reputation as 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 an international footprint, we have supported and will continue to support the programs and policies of government in jurisdictions where we operate. As a reward for 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 n banks, as this helps the banks create jobs, wealth, and expand into other countries.

The CBN has tightened monetary policy in 2015 by imposing FX restrictions on certain imports, a move that some analysts 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. The Nigerian economy is overtly import-dependent and this has led to a significant loss in foreign exchange. Therefore, the imposition of FX restrictions on certain imports would not only help in foreign exchange management by saving the country FX hemorrhage, but would also help in promoting local industries with its attendant spillover 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.

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.