AN UNCONVENTIONAL APPROACH

Nigeria 2018 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Ifie Sekibo, Managing Director & CEO of Heritage Bank, on achieving generational stability, changing the national business mind-set, and viewing everyone as a potential customer.

 Ifie Sekibo
BIOGRAPHY
Ifie Sekibo is an alumnus of Harvard Business School and a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria with over two decades professional experience across the financial services and energy sectors. He is a tenacious entrepreneur, passionate game changer, and result-oriented professional with a proven track record of turn-around management. In 2003, he led a team that acquired Global Assurance Company Limited. As Executive Vice Chairman, he steered the new institution, International Energy Insurance, which emerged as a frontline insurance company in Nigeria, undertaking a successful listing on the Nigerian Stock Exchange. In 2009, he transformed Societe Generale into Heritage Banking Company Ltd., where he serves as managing director.

Can you provide more background into Heritage Bank's operations and its major achievements?

We looked at the business foundation of Nigeria when forming Heritage Bank and developing our business model, and observed that no family-owned Nigerian business had successfully transferred local ownership beyond the second generation. The complete business lifecycle of Nigerian businesses was only three generations: the first started operations, the second oversaw the decline, and the third buried the business. We asked ourselves what we needed to do differently to correct this and allow Nigerian businesses to thrive from generation to generation. If we could show that generational banking is the bedrock of economic development, we could have a real impact. Amongst SMEs in Nigeria, there has been too much of an individual focus rather than a holistic or intergenerational focus. There is not enough focus on partnership amongst Nigerian SMEs, and this causes ventures to fail. We need to expand this mindset to allow the Nigerian economy to thrive in a sustainable way. Business leaders can create a powerful legacy this way. Our contribution to this effort has been to change the mindset of business leaders in Nigeria. We have emphasized the need for businesses to change their approach toward their ventures, starting with simple yet fundamental things such as ensuring that financials are in order, a board is in place, that risks are shared, and that proper governance mechanisms are in place. This is why we focus so much on technology. With technological innovation, we can drive business. We have to think completely differently as the environment has truly changed.

What has been behind Heritage Bank's recent success?

Truthfully, it is our people. This business is about the next generation, the young graduates. We started a graduate training program where we take in recent graduates and put them in a six-month training program. They develop ideas and concepts that we had never even considered, and that allows us to drive innovation from the bottom up. We want to instill in our people a recognition that it is not about short-term profitability but about creating a legacy. When people think about Heritage Bank, we want them to think about all the qualities that define who we are and what we do, and that process begins with having the best people. By extension, this means that strong and visionary leadership is paramount. Every week we discuss leadership and things that matter when serving people. We do not perceive our customers only as those who have accounts with us. We view everyone as a potential customer and treat them as such.

What are Heritage Bank's expansion plans?

Our philosophy does not rely on traditional banking metrics like growth in the number of accounts. It is based on how many businesses we can help develop in the next three years. We want to help develop these companies to the point where they are able to publicly list on the primary and secondary markets. We want to put businesses in a position to thrive, and from this, our account numbers will increase. In the next five years, we want to see our clients develop from SMEs to being publicly listed on exchanges. We invest in companies that have ambitious visions because we want to see them develop into large and thriving firms that can bring transformative development to Nigeria. We work with our clients to develop plans tailored to their specific growth needs. If we facilitate the success of our clients, then we are succeeding. This is not a conventional approach for a bank. Of course, we recognize the importance of sound business fundamentals; however, if we can help our customers develop, then we can be stronger and more profitable. Rather than money, we place our customers first because in the long term, they are the best investment.