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Nigeria 2018 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Jim Ovia, Founder & Chairman of Zenith Bank, on becoming the largest bank in Nigeria, the role of banks in economic recovery, and his outlook for 2018.

Jim Ovia
BIOGRAPHY
Jim Ovia is the Founder & Chairman of Zenith Bank. Known as “The Godfather of Banking” (Forbes Africa, June 2013), Jim Ovia grew Zenith Bank to be the 325th largest bank in the world (The Banker, Top 1000 World Banks, 2016). The Bank is the largest in Nigeria by shareholders’ funds. A dedicated philanthropist, Jim Ovia founded James Hope College, a co-educational boarding school in Delta State, providing scholarships to 50% of its students. Over 1,500 youths have graduated from universities under the scholarship scheme of Jim Ovia Foundation. He is an alumnus of Harvard Business School (OPM), the University of Louisiana, and Southern University, Louisiana.

In September 2017, you were recognized among Africa's top business leaders. What is your advice and encouragement to your industry peers to be successful abroad?

I was honored by the AfricanAmerican Institute with the award for Outstanding Business Leadership and my pioneering success in the establishment of Zenith Bank as well as the philanthropic work through the Jim Ovia Scholarship and ICT Entrepreneurs Program. Though the recognition is good, I have never done anything for the accolades. What I do, especially in the area of philanthropy, I simply do it for the uplifting and betterment of mankind. Most of my peers are all doing extremely well, so they do not need any further advice. I would like to encourage them, however, as there is a serious need for more cooperation between us. Entrepreneurs in Nigeria are committed, dedicated, and focused on their business, and I encourage them to continue to display a high level of integrity and endeavor to promote governance and superior business ethics. On top of this, as businesspersons, we must respect and trust the regulatory agencies.

In 2017, Zenith Bank overtook FBN as Nigeria's largest bank. What do you think was the key to last year's excellent performance?

We are currently the largest bank in West Africa and one of the largest in the continent in terms of shareholders' funds and total asset base, which currently stand at NGN807 billion (USD2.64 billion), and NGN5.5 trillion (USD18 billion), respectively. We were also recently ranked 430th out of 1,000 top banks in the world by The Banker magazine. We have been able to leverage technology to boost our efficiency while striving continuously to exceed industry standards. I must also give credit to the enabling environment. Nigeria is very favorable for business success. The success of banks, and their profitability, is the measure of the success of any country's economy. If banks are not doing well, they will not be in the position to support industries or the economy. They will not be in the position to support economic growth or even manufacturing companies. Banks should be encouraged by government and regulatory authorities to continue to do well. It is a sign and a measurement of the progress of the economy of that particular country. There is general agreement that banks have an enormous role to play in the recovery of the economy.

How would you describe the impact of Zenith Bank's operations on the Nigerian economy?

Banks all over the world are catalysts that encourage the private sector as engines of growth in their role in providing support and financing. Zenith Bank is well entrenched within the fabric of the economy of this country. Our operations in and outside Nigeria have facilitated a whole lot of commerce across the globe, which has directly contributed to the economy. As a trusted financial institution and reliable brand looked up to by both local and foreign businesses, Zenith Bank has impacted the lives of so many people in Nigeria. The bank's reputation and excellent customer service has also contributed immensely to boosting confidence in the banking sector. This has resulted in more people engaging in formal financial services, in turn further building the economy.

What is your outlook for Nigeria in 2018?

We are all pleased that Nigeria has fully recovered from the recession and that the economy is now on track for growth. I am very bullish on Nigeria's macroeconomic outlook for 2018 for the following reasons: the global oil price has exceeded USD60 per barrel in the past several weeks, CBN has announced that foreign reserves have hit almost USD40 billion, and the employment rate has also begun to rise. These are all positive indicators that suggest a bright outlook for the nation in 2018. There is tremendous opportunity in Nigeria. It is arguably one of the best countries in which to do business and succeed. The economy is exciting; therefore, I will use this opportunity to invite and welcome prospective investors to do business in Nigeria.