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“Integrity in whatever religion, tribe, gender, stands tall” – Mrs.Patience Akyianu

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Ghana’s banking industry is beginning to experience a new sigh of relief of the male dominance and this jinx was broken when the first female CEO appointed in Ghana was a foreigner. Ghanaians started questioning, when will our female executives demonstrate their leadership prowess? All of a sudden, the quake began and the country’s female leaders began to assume their positions.

She rose through the ranks of the industry, garnered experience and became the first female Ghanaian CEO of an international bank. Mrs. Patience Akyianu, who currently heads the team at Barclays Bank Ghana as the Managing Director robs shoulders with the men in the men’s world.

Patience Akyianu, is one of the torchbearers in bringing change to this strategic sector and through her open, firm, fair, decisive judgements, she’s led the bank to regain its position as the number one bank in both revenue and profitability in the 2017 accounting period.

In this revealing, more insightful and captivating engagement, the Vaultz Magazine tells her story.

The Business of Banking in Ghana

TVM: How would you describe the business of Banking in Ghana currently?

MPA: The banking industry, is an intensely competitive sector and remains exciting. In recent times we’ve had a few challenges and the regulator has responded by instituting measures like the increase in the minimum capital requirement. You may be aware a few banks have been taken over by the central bank but, the regulator has assured all of us that the worse is over and the public shouldn’t be unduly worried. As a bank, our focus is on exploring the new innovative opportunities that are emerging with non-conventional players like the Telecommunications companies and FinTechs coming into the game.

TVM: Ghana’s banking landscape has, for some time, been experiencing various reforms including new capital requirement, stricter governance policies etc. What impact(s) do you think these have on the industry in the near term as well as the long term as a whole?

MPA: There is a lot that the banking industry can do to drive economic growth in our country. So, you will understand the importance of having well capitalized and highly liquid banks. What the regulator is seeking to do is to strengthen the environment and setting a higher capital requirement is one of the ways that would lead to having stronger banks in our country. I think the regulator is in the right direction and it’s to the benefit of the banking sector and the country at large if we end up having stronger banks. The new corporate governance guidelines recently issued by the central bank and the Deposit Protection Bill which was passed into law by Parliament in July 2016 to protect depositors from unforeseen circumstances that may result in loss of funds, should all contribute to creating a more robust banking sector and restoring confidence.

TVM: Lending to SMEs and Corporate organizations is a big part of banks’ duties. So, why is it difficult for these institutions to access loans from these banks to boost their operations?

MPA: Interestingly, a lot of people when they think about looking for finance just think of banks. But there are alternate sources of finance and, for me, if debt which banks do is not suitable for them, businesses must go out there and look for other solutions. For us banks, we take into consideration the repayment ability of the entity we are considering lending money to. We are very much sensitive to the high risk of most startups because we take depositors money and need to ensure we use it wisely.

For instance, assuming you entrust your money to me and I take a risky decision and gave your money out and lose it, will you be happy? You would not be happy right! So, we need to be careful. Many of these SMEs are startups and it’s very difficult for them to convince the banks to lend them money. In addition to that, those that are not startups may not have the kind of structures that give banks comfort to lend to them. A lot of these SMEs don’t have the right governance structures in place. Also, most of them have one man making all the decisions and banks look at key man risk.

For example, if the owner or the CEO were not to be around, what would happen to the business? The bank needs that kind of comfort. The more SMEs invest in building the right structures in their organizations and putting the right governance in place, the better it will be for all of us. We would then, as banks, have confidence in them and their businesses will also grow in a sustainable manner.

TVM: The Capital Market is becoming attractive to debt issuers as a channel for raising debt capital due to pricing and repayment terms. Do you think the introduction of the Ghana Reference Rate positions the banks to provide competitive pricing to corporate debt issuers?

MPA: I think it’s a step in the right direction. Yes, we all understood the parameters that we had to consider in deriving the base rates in the previous system. But, how are you able to explain one bank’s base rate being 17 and another one being 24. Except that probably the one with the higher base rate may have sourced their funds at a higher cost and they have higher operating expenses. This means that sometimes you price your inefficiencies into the lending rate at which customers borrow.

With the introduction of a reference rate, which is uniform across board, banks just have to add on a risk premium which will have a range. This will ensure more transparency as banks will clearly spell out how they came up with the bands. For example, if you started with a Ghana reference rate of currently 16.74% and added 5% as the risk premium, the regulator will need to understand why you added 5 percent. This kind of transparency is bound to lead to a very developed market for banks, lenders and borrowers altogether. This is definitely the way to go.

TVM: Does Barclays Bank Ghana participate in the Ghana Reference Rate?

MPA: Oh yes. It’s the regulator’s policy directive and we as players need to conform as well as collaborate with them to help further develop the sector.

TVM: Does Barclays Bank Ghana participate in purchasing corporate debt on the Capital Market?

MPA: It’s a question of whether we want to take the credit risk on the particular corporate in question. Depending on our view of the corporate, we will participate. We are committed to developing the capital market and in various ways we’ve played our part in driving market development. For instance, we took part in the recently issued ESLA Bond (the energy sector bond) even though we were not the ones that led the transaction. When the bond came onto the market, we bought our fair share. Depending on the credit worthiness of the corporate in question, we will participate in corporate bonds.

TVM: The advent of Technological innovations and financial disruptions has become more of a complement than a bother in the activities of the financial sector. How do you see the future of banking as a business entity in the wake of these disruptions?

MPA: It’s exciting if you ask me. I hear lots of conversations around telecommunications companies (telecoms) coming to eat the cake of banks and the questions of who should be afraid; telecoms or banks? I see an opportunity. Banks traditionally, do not invest heavily in technology in the same magnitude as telecommunications companies. If a bank doesn’t have the funds to do that, you can always partner with telecoms or fintechs to tap into the vast, currently untapped opportunity.

Ghana’s unbanked is actually about 60% of the population. That is opportunity starring at us and that’s where the telecoms come in, bringing into the formal sector what hitherto banks did not have the capacity to tap into. For us, as banks, cost to serve is very important. We’ve talked about financial inclusion, mass market etc. but if it doesn’t make financial sense it becomes a difficult task. Partnering with telecoms and fintechs would actually bring down the cost of doing business with the masses and it becomes a win-win for the industry.

TVM: How well positioned are banks?

MPA: We at Barclays are very well positioned to partner Telecoms and Fintech companies to explore the growing opportunities to deliver innovative services to our customers beyond what we are already doing in the area. It will be unfortunate for some banks to feel telecoms are taking away their business because the data and the trend that we see don’t support that kind of feeling. We need to understand that the regulator has not given banking licenses to the telecoms. Some even argue that a telecom can form a bank.

Of course, to the extent that they can meet the minimum capital requirement and the regulator gives a license, nobody can stop any telecom that wants to set up a bank from doing so. But, there’s more than enough scope to partner with telecoms in the current environment in which we are in.

Barclays Bank changing to ABSA Bank

TVM: Barclays Africa Group is transitioning to ABSA Group and shall reflect in all regions of operations including Ghana. Your aspiration as a bank, by 2020, was to see about 70% of your banking activities digital. What happens to this aspiration in the wake of this change?

MPA: It’s even become more real. Currently, we have three priorities as unveiled in our new strategy. On the 1st of March, our Chief Executive released to the market, information about what our new brand was going to be and also a bold new strategy. This strategy includes three key priorities: we aim to build a thriving organization, regain leadership in core businesses and to be digitally led. So you can imagine the amount of investment currently going on to make us more innovative into the future. The focus is to make doing business with our clients very easy.

TVM: Currently, Barclays Africa Group is rebranding to ABSA Group. Also, there’s an ABSA Bank that operates as an entity in South Africa. What is the correlation between the two?

MPA: ABSA is the brand name that the Barclays Africa Group business in South Africa uses. ABSA and Barclays have been in the same family, since 2013 when Barclays PLC combined its business operations in Africa through a special transaction to form Barclays Africa Group Limited, which is listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. ABSA together with our operations in 11 other markets – Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, including representative offices in Namibia and Nigeria, therefore, form the Barclays Africa Group. The formation of the Barclays Africa Group gave Barclays Plc a 62.3% shareholding in the group.

In the recent sell down, the shareholding for Barclays Plc in Barclays Africa Group Limited is now 14.9% and as a result of that there is a need to rebrand or change our brand. Effective, 11 July 2018, Barclays Africa Group Limited will be rebranded to Absa Group Limited. The rest of us outside South Africa, have up to June 2020 to rebrand to Absa. Being a strong brand that is already part of the Barclays Africa Group family, it makes sense to leverage on this existing brand, given the eminent brand change.

The change in shareholding has therefore given us the opportunity to roll out a brand that reflects our identity in Africa and unites all our operations on the continent behind one name. But this is not just about a name change. It is about building a banking group that all of Africa can be proud of; a forward-looking African business, rooted in Africa and recognizing our African heritage.

TVM: How, as a bank, do you intend to address the challenges this change comes with, especially with those who are ‘obsessed’ with the previous brand name “Barclays Bank”?

MPA: Barclays is a well-respected brand. It is well loved by many and we understand just how attached our customers, clients, colleagues and other stakeholders are to the Barclays brand. It is a brand that has been in the hearts of Ghanaians for over 100 years. However, changing to ABSA provides a great opportunity for us to do things differently; a truly pan-African Bank with our destiny in our own hands. What this means is we are now better positioned to pursue opportunities that make us more relevant to Ghana and the continent at large.

We have a rich heritage in Africa as Barclays across the region and we actually have a strong network with over 42,000 employees, 10,000 ATMs and about a 1200 branches across Africa. We are going to leverage our strengths and even become more daring because our purpose currently is ‘bringing your possibility to life’. So, we will stretch ourselves and challenge each other to bring our customers, clients and stakeholders possibilities to life.

TVM: Banking business is currently facing a number of challenges such as new technology, changing demographics, and tighter regulations such as we’re experiencing in Ghana. How does the new brand intend to position itself to continue the legacy Barclays Bank Ghana was known for in terms of its technology-savvy?

MPA: With the unveiling of our bold new strategy, we intend to go out there in the market and take it by storm. We are investing very heavily in technological innovations and we will be digitally led. This is a space to watch as we partner with telecoms, fintechs and technology companies to make our service offering even better and our brand even stronger.

TVM: In a recent interview, you stated that “… a new brand for a new banking group”. What new experiences does the new brand bring in the wake of its change?

MPA: Although we have been doing some great things in the digital space I’m sure there is much more we can do. Our new brand is closely associated with innovation, digitization and customer-centricity. Our customers should be ready for new experiences as we build a thriving digitally led business and introduce pioneering propositions.

TVM: Barclays Bank Ghana currently posted a strong financial performance in the 2017 financial year results – raking in GHc 550m of profit before Tax. What can you say accounted for such an immense performance?

MPA: This is due to our ability to spot opportunity and go for it, and that’s why opportunities excite me. We did a number of big trades; some with the government, some with our customers and that culminated in that impressive performance. Our impressive financial performance was also driven by a strong revenue growth and an operating cost which reflected our commitment to pursue efficient banking operations that deliver value for our customers. We also kept our strategy simple and concrete whilst focusing on executing the agenda to be the bank of choice for our chosen customer segment.

TVM: Your vision in the next five years after rebranding in 2020 is to double your share of banking revenues on the continent. How do you intend to achieve this considering the rather highly homogeneous and very competitive industry you find yourself?

MPA: By becoming more relevant in the markets in which we operate. We are going to build a thriving and commercially driven entrepreneurial organization. Our goal is to lead in our core businesses: retail, corporate and market. Our plan is to deploy the right solutions to our customers and lead in our core businesses.

Personality Profile

TVM: Undoubtedly, you are the first Ghanaian female CEO in Ghana’s banking industry. So, we would like to know; who is Patience Akyianu and how was growing up as a child like?

MPA: I’m the first of three girls. I lost my mother quite young so I was raised by my father. Actually growing up I never thought that, as a lady, I should do less or I should think of myself as inferior to men. My father just expected the best from us. He never encouraged any thought of us being softer because our standards were lower and all that. So when I grew up and interacted with other people, I realized that not everyone had it the same way we did, I was surprised. I thought everyone had equal opportunities to be the best that they could be. Unfortunately, my father is no longer alive; I wish he were so I could show my appreciation to him.

TVM: What is your earliest memory as a child?

MPA: I was actually very competitive from day one in school. I really liked being among the top three if not the number one. Any time that didn’t happen, I was pretty miserable. I recall a time in my lower primary days, after working very hard to be the number one, the teacher whilst calling the high performers, for some reason, rather called me for the third position. I was quite upset and I have never really forgotten this incident.

TVM: It has been observed that while growing up you went through most difficult times as a child. What influence did this path have on your early development?

MPA: Having lost my mother at the age of eight, I was the de-facto mother of the house and was expected to look after my two younger sisters. Without knowing, this placed in me a position to take up responsibilities and it developed in me a sense of ownership. So naturally, wherever I go and whatever I do, I actually feel responsible for whatever has been entrusted to me. I therefore usually step up as the leader and take up the responsibility wherever I am.

TVM: You currently operate in an area formerly seen to be the preserve of men. You mentioned in an interview that your “entry into banking was not a premeditated one”. What was your initial aspiration while growing up?

MPA: To be the best at whatever I did. By some twist of faith or divine guidance, it ended up being banking. I say it was divinely guided because I trained as an accountant with the Coopers and Lybrand. I did an MBA and then joined Ernst and Young. Then I got an opportunity in Lincoln School. While there as Finance Manager, I realized that there was more to me than just finance. I wanted more; there was a hunger for more.

So, after the expiry of my contract with the school I informed them that I was not renewing it. This came as a shock to them because they were very happy to have me. Through my network, one of my colleagues at Coopers and Lybrand informed me of an opportunity in Standard Chartered in the Finance department and suggested I put my Curricular Vitae (C.V) through which I did. We had a conversation and one thing led to the other. I worked there for a couple of years and became the Financial Controller. Later I moved on into the business functions and here I am today.

TVM: If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?

MPA: Not much frankly! Because I think the finance path that I took played a huge role in getting me to where I am today. Well, I know that not every accountant has an aspiration to become a Managing Director or will be a Managing Director. But what this did for me was to give me the skills, the experience, the education and helped me build the competencies that got me where I am.

TVM: You defied all odds to rise to where you are today. Can you narrate how the journey to the top of your career has been?

MPA: Hard work has been very key. In addition to that, is having the right networks and striving to be outstanding in your given task most importantly. Hard work needs to be combined with other important variables and that’s what people call providence. But when opportunity and being prepared collide it gets you where you aim to be.

TVM: You strongly believe that being committed to an idea or a company enhances the prospects of success. What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?

MPA: I think the greatest is what we’ve been able to achieve as a team, bringing Barclays Bank Ghana to number one in profitability once again. I recall those days when I was at Standard Chartered, looking at Barclays and wondering, what do they do to earn so much revenue. Barclays Bank was known as the number one bank, then we went through some difficult patches and we dropped in both our revenue and profitability position. Now, I feel a sense of pride in the fact that we’ve led this business together with our committed staff to regain our past glory in the market.

TVM: How will you describe your leadership style?

MPA: Open, Firm, Fair, Decisive!

TVM: What are your ideals in life?

MPA: My ideals include having “a sense of ownership”. It surprises me how many people lack ownership. Once you’re given a task, know that everyone is looking up to you to bring it to completion. However, you often find people expecting somebody else to take it up or to do some bit of it. No! Just understand that you’re the only one responsible from start to finish. With that kind of attitude and mindset, people are bound to choose you because you know how to execute.

The second thing is integrity. Maintaining integrity irrespective of one’s religion, tribe or gender is important and that’s what makes success. People will want to work with those they can trust, people whose word they can rely on, and people who will do the right thing whether you’re looking at them or not. Respect! There are certain times you have to make hard decisions. There are certain times that people will not like your style but the foundation of every human relationship, is respect. Showing respect whether the person is younger than you, older, senior, more junior than you, is the key to successful relationships.

In addition to that is Humility. There’s nothing that we have that we’re not given. The Bible accounts that “what do you have that you were not given”. So, what’s the reason for being proud? Reflect on it. In every relationship if humility undergirds your actions and interactions, you’ll have a successful relationship. Next is excellence. Whatever you do, put in your best and do it well. Standout! If there are five people standing here, you should be the best and the one that’s chosen because of your excellence. So, these are a few of my ideals in life.

TVM: Sitting at the top of affairs of an international brand like this simply connotes busy work-life. Describe how your typical day looks like?

MPA: Normally, it’s interesting and a mix of many things. I do a lot of travelling as part of my role, especially to our Group office in South Africa, to give account, participate in strategic sessions and also request for some support to help drive our strategy. Being part of a group also means there are a number of group decisions that can impact local operations; therefore, there are some networks that I’ve had to develop internally as well to be able to get things done easily.

However, when I am in Ghana, I’m the face of the bank so I represent the bank at a number of stakeholder functions, events and engagements. This also enhances the brand and makes it more visible. My roles also include dealing with customers, clients, the regulator and other important stakeholders like the government. Together with my colleagues, I go on customer visits and attend business meeting with our strategic partners to build and deepen our relationship and sometimes negotiate business deals.

The big part of what I do also is engaging with staff and working together with colleagues to create the kind of environment that’s conducive for the growth, development and progress of employees as well as the business. We create that together with unions, staff representations etc. I also engage with colleagues from Head office, branches, and across the entire business sharing our vision and strategy with focus on driving performance because our license for doing business is to remain sustainably profitable.

Lastly, being in charge of the business, I chair and attend several committee and adhoc meetings to understand the direction our business is taking and give a strategic guidance to keep it on track. So, I cannot predict completely what the day will bring except I have meetings lined up. Apart from scheduled appointments, I engage in all these things that will move the business forward; which maybe either planned or ad hoc to occupy my day.

TVM: What skill or expertise do you feel you’re still missing despite your position?

“Once you’re given a task, know that everyone is looking up to you to bring it to completion.”

MPA: Well, I’ve grown a lot in the role as the Managing Director. When I took over the role, to be honest, I was surprised at the reservoir of skills, strengths, competencies that I had acquired overtime. Therefore, from Finance Director to Managing Director, it almost felt as if that was what I was being prepared and groomed for all along. I just fitted in naturally and started running much to my surprise. I was a typical finance person and “cost, cost” was all people thought I knew and so they thought I’ll struggle with the engagement that comes with the breadth of interactions with being in a role as the Managing Director. But, I rose to the occasion and hit the ground running. The only thing that came as a bit of a surprise to me was how much media attention it came with. But, I’ve come a long way in my engagements with the media.

TVM: You averred your husband is your greatest cheerleader which is interesting to know. So, who is your role model, and why?

MPA: Yes, of course! He is my greatest cheerleader. In terms of role model, one of the things that a lot of us, growing up as ambitious females, missed was having the right role model. I recall my next door neighbor being Mrs. Sylvia Boye, who was the Head of Examination Council, inspiring me very early on in my life. Maybe, through my interactions with her, seeing her to be a strong female leader and being one of the few in those days, I probably unknowingly acquired from her the desire to standout and lead. It was an indirect and an unplanned sought of relationship. In retrospect, I can say she influenced my path towards female leadership and where I am today. Apart from her, I haven’t intentionally picked out anyone as a role model but broadly I see people doing great things and I aspire to be where they are.

TVM: What do you do in your leisure time?

MPA: I like spending time with my family a lot. By the nature of my work I spend a lot of hours outside home. I have a lot of engagements outside the office like accepting invitations to business events and other important functions. Travels, also take me away from home quite often. So when I have time on my hands I like to spend it with my family at home doing anything you can think of that mothers do, because I’m a wife and mother first before anything else. I’m concerned about their academics so I go through their school work with them. I travel with my kids, I shop with them, eat together and all the other things that families do. I’m also a very active person in church. So, I do a lot of church work as well.

TVM: Do you have hobbies or sport you engage or love most?

MPA: Not really. But I’ve tried golf couple of times, nevertheless, I cannot say I’m an avid golfer.

TVM: What genre of music do you listen to?

MPA: I like gospel music a lot. I also like inspirational things; things that uplift the spirit. So if the music is positive, inspirational then I like it.

TVM: What kind of a wife/ mother are you?

MPA: I love my family to the extent that I try to spend all the time that I have available with them. I’m the first they all call on when they are in some form of trouble. I think they value me as a mother or as a wife. I don’t want to mark myself and say I’m a good mother so I leave it at that. I know I’m not perfect but I try my best.

TVM: What advice and message would you give to Young Female Executives as well as aspiring female executives?

MPA: They should just focus on delivery and excellence and the rest will follow. In my personal experience, I have not felt that I’ve been discriminated against in my work place on the basis of my gender. If you ask many managers, heads of organizations or leaders, they will tell you that the most important thing is excellent delivery. And whether you are a woman or a man, once they can count on you to come to the table with the values you bring and contribute significantly to the performance of the organization, you will rise. So for my female colleagues out there, I think we are too consumed with being female. If you want to progress in any organization, go for delivery and show them how good you are and your being female will not matter!

TVM: What message would you give to Customers of the bank?

MPA: These are exciting times and we are on a growth trajectory. They should watch out as the story unfolds …we are bringing possibilities to life!

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Profiles

“Technology, though very important, thrives on distinguished Customer Service” Mrs. Marufatu Abiola Bawuah (Regional CEO, West Africa 1, UBA )

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Coming from “not a best of background”, experiencing diverse adversities, selling toffees just to make ends meet greeted her whiles growing up but today, she has weathered the storms to become a regional CEO of a prestigious bank and the first indigenous CEO of a Pan-African bank as well as the first female to be appointed CEO of a bank in Ghana. Under her supervision as the Regional CEO for UBA West Africa 1 are six countries namely Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin and Burkina Faso.

Her story is a true reflection of “from grass to grace” and she’s always quick to be grateful to God for bringing her this far.  Coming from an upbringing that birth a resilient achieving spirit in her to a place that gives her the opportunity to rope and encourage others into her success story, Mrs Marufatu Abiola Bawuah (MAB) believes that “whatever we go through in life, good or bad, is usually a platform for tomorrow”.

As the Regional CEO for UBA West Africa 1, she reveals “Banking is borderless and that banking is no longer beautiful walls with paintings”.

Now, forging forward to move her bank to greater heights she embodies a ‘people first rule’ where she strongly has confidence in ensuring that, her customers are topmost priority and her staff are entwined with the vision of the company to give their utmost performance.

Industry (Economy) Focus

TVM: With your vast experience in banking on the continent. What is your overview of Ghana’s banking industry compared to other African countries?

MAB: Unfortunately, I’ve not been to all the African countries. However, the banking sector as far as I know has developed. Today, we have a lot of foreign banks in the country and looking at the various interventions of Bank of Ghana, I think Ghana is among those recognised to have a very sanitised environment if I must put it that way. There’s been clearing of a lot of banks and other things, the balance sheets are stronger and so gradually we are getting a lot of foreign investors who are interested in participating in our market. So, in all, I think it’s good.

TVM: As you rightly said, the banking industry has been sanitised and currently left with only 24 of them. The utmost consideration of the sanitisation process was to boost the minimum capital in order to make the banking industry bigger and better. How has this new minimum capital impacted on the operations of the banking industry?

MAB: Of course, positively! What has happened now is that banks’ capacity is bigger; shareholders have been forced or asked to increase their base. For instance, if the banks’ working capital was GH₵2, now it’s GH₵4. With that increase in Balance Sheet, a bank can now lend more and do more. Prior to that recapitalisation, banks could only do GH₵15 million but now can do GH₵30 million. Before this, when people came for loans to the tune of GH₵20 million, banks declined because there was a ratio of the capital that one could lend to just one person called the single obligor limit. Currently, however, bank’s single obligor limit has become bigger and as such can only get better.

TVM: Now that banks have become bigger and better with higher single obligor limit, how is the industry curtailing the issue of Non-Performing Loans as single individuals’ can now have access to higher facilities and higher tendency to default?

MAB:  There’s been a lot of development in that respect. Currently, there’s the XDX Data that collates information on customers that banks are lending to and Bank of Ghana is monitoring that. Also, banks are collaborating more with one another; can write and can find out about one another. As a result, it’s working better and hardly can any one person owe all the banks because information is available and every bank is expected to feed into that data. So, Non-Performing Loans can only reduce in the books of banks.

TVM: A lot of the people have lost confidence in the banking industry as a result of the crisis experienced between the 2-year period. How is the “new crop of banks” managing this challenge in order to restore confidence in the people?

MAB: I think otherwise. Rather, more people are getting into banking. Today, we have a lot of online products; a lot of digital products. People who prior to now may not want to come to banking halls for one reason or the other now bank on their phones, bank on their tablets or their computers. So banking rather, has expanded and instilled more confidence in the people. For instance, in our banking halls, you won’t find queues but that doesn’t mean we are not transacting businesses every day. Today, one can open account without entering a bank and this simply signifies that banks have come of age and financial inclusion has come to life.

TVM: Currently, there are about 7 Pan-African Banks operating across the continent and UBA happens to be one of them. How has these PABs contributed to the course of banking and the various economies they operate in on the continent?

MAB: In Ghana, for instance, UBA was the first Pan African Bank (PAB) to enter the market and that was the first time Ghana had what we call revolutionary banking. It was UBA that introduced it. It was the first time we witnessed banking moving to customers; usually it was customers that came to banks. So, Pan-Africanism of banking started in Ghana with UBA. It was the first bank to implement accounts opening without any money (deposit). Prior to that, accounts opening required GH₵50 to GH₵100 (₵500, 000 to ₵1, 000, 000 in the old currency). It was during UBA’s entering strategy that the bank said no, one did not need money to open an account; if one didn’t have money but wanted to open an account, one could still go ahead. And the bank opened accounts for huge number of people without initial deposits. The Pan-African Banks that also came afterwards are banks that have strong “parents”, so whenever there were transactions that ordinarily a PAB could not handle as a “local branch bank”, its parent bank came to its support.

On contribution to the various economies, UBA for instance, has supported governments in a number of ways and also the Central Banks. In Ghana, for instance, the bank has supported a number of projects including road constructions. There was a time the bank gave the government of Ghana an amount of 350 million dollars for road network; one can’t discount that. The minimum anyone of these Pan-African Banks have employed is 600 Ghanaians in each of their institutions and that also one can’t ignore. These staff are paid, their families are taken care off and just imagine the ripple effect. So, I think that PABs have done a yeoman’s job and should be encouraged.

TVM: You mentioned earlier that presently the banking system is expanding as a result of the introduction of technology and other innovative mediums that allow people to easily transact their banking activities. Contrary to that, it is evident that the rate of banking in Africa remains extremely low, with only 43 per cent of adults having a bank account according to AfDB and even more worsening in Ghana. How does the banking industry, especially in Ghana, intend to address this worrying trend of banking among the populace?

MAB: Today, banking is not coming to banks because it’s gone beyond that. There are a lot of people who use digital banking and have their accounts on their phones. One can’t tell me that is not banking. So, if a farmer has all his money on his bank card or his phone; that is not banking? Banking is no longer account opening, cheque book, savings book; no! Banking is borderless! In fact, banks are looking at ways of not even opening branches. So, one can be in Wa and be a bank’s customer without the bank not necessarily positioned in Wa; one can also be in Brong Ahafo as well and so on. UBA banks so many people in regions that it’s not present physically. At UBA, we can credit any customer anytime anywhere and the customer can spend the money in his or her account whiles in south Africa, in Holland and so on. That is what UBA has brought; digitalization of banking. Banking is no longer beautiful walls with paintings; no! In fact, banks are trying to break down those walls, so the figures may not be the correct reflection of what is on the ground.

Business Focus

TVM: When UBA initially incorporated in 2014, it was known as Standard Trust Bank. When did the change of name take place, and how has the bank performed over the years, since its incorporation?

MAB: Standard Trust Bank became UBA simply because the latter acquired the former in 2005; it’s as simple as that. I think the bank has done relatively well; we’ve done very well I must say. The bank has remained very relevant to the economy of Ghana; supported the government in various sectors, employed numerous Ghanaians, supported a lot of businesses, and among its peers the bank stands tall. Above all, Bank of Ghana has always rated the bank as stable for a very long time. So, the bank has no problem with stability. The bank had met its capital long before the deadline and it’s poised to do more. UBA Ghana is poised for growth and it seriously believes that, in the next few years it should be strategically very important to the Ghanaian economy.

TVM: The business strategy of the bank is built on being the bank of choice for businesses across the African continent. How has the bank been able to achieve this over the period or how does it intend to continue to achieve this?

MAB: We will continue to achieve. The Group just opened Mali last year and so today UBA Bank outside of Nigeria is in 19 countries. The Bank has presence in the UK, US, France, among others and it will continue its expansion works. Moreover, the bank’s strategy is to become a top three bank in every country it operates in. That’s what we are all working at and we will get there.

TVM: In 2014, UBA Cameroun launched the ‘UBA Connect’ in the CEMAC region for customers in that region. Currently, the idea of the single currency for the West African region which is moored to the single European currency is expected to be operationalized in 2020. In your opinion, what will be its impact on the banking sector in the sub-region?

MAB: I don’t foresee this to be negative because today I manage three francophone countries that use the same currency and have the same central bank in Senegal and there’s no problem on their economy. So, I don’t foresee the introduction of the “ECO” as collapsing economies; it can only make the sub region stronger. I anticipate growth in trade across the region, easy movement across the region and once there is growth in trade and easy movements, its banks that will thrive. So, for me, I look forward to a positive impact.

TVM: “Our people remain our most valuable assets” states the Bank. Why are people the most valuable assets and not anything else such as technology?

MAB: Can machines work without people? Can technology function without people? Can customers be served effectively and efficiently without people? All these place people as premium and the most valuable assets at UBA. Once you get the people right, technology that has been implemented will function. If the person in charge of that technology decides not to do what he or she is expected, the machine is useless! You will invest so much and the customers will still not be happy. But when your staff is happy and you have good technology, your customer will be happy. Technology, though very important, thrives on distinguished Customer Service. So, I think that the fundamental of everything is the people. That’s why at UBA, we think our people should come first.

PERSONALITY PROFILE

TVM: There’s a description of your journey in life that states “from a table-top groundnut seller to a regional CEO of the prestigious bank and the first indigenous CEO of a Pan-African bank as well as the first female to be appointed CEO of a bank”. Beyond all this, who is Marufatu Abiola Bawuah?

MAB: Marafatu Abiola Bawuah is a lady. I started primary school in Aflao and progressed to Datus International School, then proceeded to Achimota School. I read Actuarial Science at the University of Lagos, and had my MBA from University of Ghana. I started banking in 2001 and UBA Bank is my fourth bank. I initially traded on Ghana Stock Exchange briefly before joining the banking industry. I’m married with three kids. I joined UBA Ghana as the Deputy Managing Director in 2013 and later became the MD/ CEO in 2014. Sometime last year, I became the Regional CEO for UBA West Africa 1 and presently manage six countries namely Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin and Burkina Faso.

TVM: Sources have it that you underwent a lot of challenges whiles growing up. How were you able to weather the storms you experienced in your growing up moments?

MAB: Determination and Grace! Because, there are times when I look back I can’t understand why I took some decisions or how I survived such decisions; some of them are difficult to explain. But, I think generally, I’m a very determined person. In life, if you don’t know where you are going, you must know where you’re coming from. I do acknowledge I don’t have the best of background and so whatever I do now is a privilege. I keep saying that whatever one finds to do, one must do it well because one just never knows the outcome. One’s work must surely announce him or her no matter what. Thus, whatever I find my fingers doing, I do it well to my satisfaction as if there couldn’t have been any better opportunity.

TVM: As a result of your upbringing, do you reminisce any fondest childhood memory?

MAB: I didn’t enjoy my growing up because I had to sell and look after my siblings and such I was too serious minded. I didn’t know how to have fun. I couldn’t think of anything other than work and school. If there was anything fun, maybe after I had passed my common entrance. Even that, I will still decline. At form 1, I had to sell toffees, had to pay school fees; just too busy to make ends meet. I didn’t attend any entertainment program while in school. But, I’m grateful to God for bringing me this far. The sweetest memory I can recall in my life was the day I graduated from the university with a second class upper. Most of my mates thought I wasn’t going to graduate because of the challenges I was going through and moreover, the difficulty of the course but I ended up the best in class. It’s worth mentioning.

TVM: Can you briefly share one significant childhood experience that has contributed immensely to the woman you are today?

MAB: I think whatever we go through in life, good or bad, is usually a platform for tomorrow. When I look back, the resilience I developed through the sales I undertook whiles growing up has contributed to what I am now; definitely! As a result, I love marketing; I love to sell, I love to achieve, I love to conquer and I love customer service. It’s not something I joke with and I think it has taken me from one level to another. In terms of also being frugal; I think that those upbringings have helped me to manage myself as far as finance is concerned; I don’t strive for what I don’t need. I have learnt to stay where I am. Truly, they have helped me.

TVM: Growing up in a rather challenging environment where the only person ‘the community’ saw as a role model was a messenger. What was your aspiration for the future in those moments?

MAB: Well, the community then just saw a smart guy who was well dressed, walking smart, moving every morning and the women wanted to greet him. They referred to him as “the most learned” but when I got to form 4, I realised the man was a messenger. By then I was enlightened and more educated.As a result of my education I then knew the difference between good and bad so I was already on that pedestal to go forward.

At Achimota, I had gained more exposure after mingling with the children of the affluent and elite. But there was still a pull and push effect between myself, the elite and my background. Fortunately, my friends’ mothers stood in and encouraged me to stay and spend time with them. Despite the force of home pulling me, they tried to pull me also though they didn’t know what I was going through. I started observing their ways of life. As children, we were all thinking of hotel management, air hostess because we wanted to be in the air. Then along the line, I realised I had more flair for Mathematics so I wanted to do Actuarial Science, Mathematics or any of the mathematics related courses. Thus, I ended up studying Actuarial Science in the University.

TVM: So, when did the thought of coming into the banking industry come in?

MAB: It was by default. After graduating, I tried getting employment with the insurance companies but to no avail. I tried other avenues including SSNIT but also to no avail. Then a friend revealed to me that government was recruiting for NADMO to undertake a survey; so I started with NADMO. I performed my task diligently as expected and presented my findings. After presenting my results, I was invited and asked what I studied. I responded and that was my first job breakthrough that earned me an accountant and investment officer with a law firm. From there, I moved on to a stock exchange company where I traded on the stock exchange as an Authorized Dealing Officer or Broker. After a while, for personal reasons, my boss disclosed he didn’t need my services any longer. So, I had to hit the streets again sharing my CVs. Whiles sharing my CVs, then fortune smiled on me and CAL Bank employed me. So, it was by default that I joined the banking industry.

TVM: When people acknowledge you to be successful, you decline by saying “no, I am a product of grace”. Referencing your memoir “Chosen from Darkness”; Why do you see your success as a product of grace and not a dint of your hard work?

MAB: Success is not a lift that one stands in and gets to the top and says I am done. It’s a step by step event and I think I’m still en route, climbing and hoping that grace will take me there. Since, I haven’t gotten there I will not assume I have arrived so I need more grace. Truly, one needs to work hard for grace to beautify it but there are people who also work harder than I and they are not where I am and also there are people who are not working as hard as I am, but are in higher heights. So, it is a combination of the two; you do your part and leave the rest to divinity. I just don’t want to put myself in such an assumption. It’s not as if I don’t appreciate such comments, I really do. I think that, even if I’m not where I’m supposed to be; I’m en routing and I know I’m on the right path and I’m working at it every day. Consequently, I don’t want to pollute my system and get that into me and think that, after all, I’m the first woman here; No! I don’t want that. I’m still moving.

TVM: Your book, “Chosen from Darkness”. What informed your decision to put together this book?

MAB: The reason is simple: To put my story out there to encourage a lot of young girls. It has encouraged a lot of men, a lot of boys, and a lot of women also. It highlights four things everyone needs to understand about life. Firstly, it talks about one not needing to have a good background to be where he or she wants to be. Secondly, it reveals everybody needs to hold somebody’s hand. I wouldn’t have been here just because my parents wanted me to be here but because people lent a helping hand. So, in this our ecosystem, especially women, look around and you will find a lot of people you can hold their hands. If everybody can hold everybody’s hand, we will have a very developed country. Thirdly, one doesn’t need to bend his or her values or principles in life to be able to make it. One doesn’t have to do that! And finally, people must know that the road to the top can be rough, and the fact that you are in a valley today, does not in any way make you a failure. These are the simple messages I tried to put across in the book.

TVM: You are so passionate about girl-child education and that has led to the establishment of the Abiola Bawuah Foundation. How is the foundation helping to change the girl-child education challenges in the most deprived communities?

MAB: We are in the deprived communities and I have people all over the places: villages, deprived communities, rural settlements and so on across the country trying to identify such girls. We have a lot of girls in our books now that we are supporting. I don’t know them from anywhere. We support also people in the hospitals, helped some to go back to school, supplied books, paying school fees, buying wheels, buying chairs; doing everything for them to make sure they are in school. Unfortunately, the resources are limited. The only one who is paid is the young lady who is running the errand; I am not paid and I don’t take money from the NGO. I strongly believe that if I get more support, I will be able to do more than I’m doing currently.

TVM: Being at the helm of affairs and having oversight on UBA Plc West Africa 1, your transformational leadership style is expected to come to the fore. What do you hope to achieve in this new position?

MAB: With this new position, we will take over the West African market; we will become the strongest bank!

TVM: How?

MAB: To become the most systemic and important bank in all my jurisdictions. So, for any decision to be made in any of those countries, we would have to discuss it first.And it will happen. I’m embarking on that.

TVM: In a previous interview you said “When I focus on the people and I show interest in the people and they connect to my vision, while I’m sleeping they’re working”. Can you explain what you meant by the statement?

MAB: Once you get your people right, they dream about your vision. As a leader, part of my responsibility is to make sure that those who work with me buy into my vision and when they do, their energy levels go up. Hence, they are willing to go the extra miles; they want the vision to come life, they want to replicate what you do. Therefore, beyond believe– conviction is what a leader needs to get his or her people to go the extreme to actualise a dream. It is when you move your staff to have conviction that they go to work when they should be resting. They will be willing to go the extra mile; they don’t have a closing time, they don’t have weekends; you didn’t ask them to do it; you don’t need to tell them; if you start asking them, then you don’t have them. So that’s what I mean by that statement.

TVM: There’s nothing on leadership journey that can be attributed to only the leader” you averred; how will you describe your leadership style?

MAB: I’m not permissive. I am a disciplinarian but also believes in reward system. I am an amiable leader as well and have an opened door policy but at the same time what binds my colleagues and I or what is common to us is the institution. So, I would not allow one to destroy what he or she finds in the organization. One must do his or her work. But in doing his or her work, I shouldn’t abuse him or her, I shouldn’t misuse him or her, I shouldn’t destroy him or her; He or she should grow in his or her own personal life. Thus, I show interest in them and they must also go the extra mile for the job. We should not compromise on the work that binds the two of us. And so far, it has worked.

TVM: What is your management philosophy? 

MAB: Reward the people! Reward what you want. What gets measured is what is done. If somebody has done something, reward the person; if someone has done it wrongly, punish the person. In all, my philosophy is “what gets measured gets done”. Most often leaders are quick to punish but slow to say thank you. We need to reward what we want. If it is coming early, reward those who come early and all the others will follow. If it’s sales, or whatever you seek to get into your staff, you need to reward for it.

TVM: Growing up, did you have any mentor or mentors that influenced your thinking in life?

MAB: I once worked with a boss called Andy OJ; he was my MD at Zenith Bank Ghana where I worked some years back. He was a fantastic boss and in my dealings today, I try to put myself in his shoes and try to imagine how he will deal with situations and I think he is one of my mentors. Another is my current Chairman, Tony Elumelu. He is outstanding; his leadership qualities are wow! He’s a realist; one just knows where he or she belongs and he tells one exactly how he feels. He celebrates everyone, and so if there’s anybody who has tapped the apex of my energy, he is the one; so he is my foremost and priceless mentor.

TVM: What enduring principle(s) guide you in all facets of your life?

MAB: Hard work works! One may not reward me today but I believe somebody is looking at what I am doing and at the right time, he or she will reward me. All the cheatings I have suffered from my previous boss(es) or firms, the new person or company will recompense me for them.

TVM: What do you do outside of work to release the stress you experience at work?

MAB: I love to watch crime documentaries. I watch TV a lot also and I love to be with my children and my family. I love to be with my kids at home so I do a lot of ‘sit home’ when I’m not travelling or not working. I love to be home and want my family around me. I like cooking as well.

TVM: What kind of books do you read; is there any particular book that has significantly shaped or influenced your life?

MAB: I love reading leadership books. One book I read and continue to read is a book written by Bill George; it’s about authentic leadership. I just love reading leadership books.

TVM: What is your favourite meal??

MAB: I like the swallows; Tuo Zaafi, a meal mostly known to the northerners in Ghana, Banku, fufu. I love my banku with okro soup. I also love fresh tomato jollof rice.

TVM: What genre of music do you listen to?

MAB: I’m a lover of jazz.

TVM: What kind of sports do you love?

MAB: Football

TVM: Which team is your favourite?

MAB: Arsenal.

TVM: When it’s all over in your working career, how do you want to be remembered?

MAB: I wish to do hundred girls a year. I wish to go to the most deprived, poverty stricken areas, bring people without hope and give them hope and long after I’m gone, some of them will be Managing Directors, others too will be top government officials; positions they wouldn’t have been able to attain but for that education; that seed sewn, they were. That is what I want to be remembered for. They will be able to tell my children “oh your mother found me”. Ghana will reap the benefits afterwards and say “we have 90% of our ladies in schools” because I believe those girls will also cater for some others, and as such we’ll be able to say that majority of girls are graduates; that is my dream!

TVM: What does the future hold for you beyond UBA and banking?

MAB: Beyond UBA and banking, I want to focus on my NGO. I want to concentrate on that when I leave banking.

TVM: What advice would you give to banking industry players?

MAB: Whatever they are doing, they should do it well. Well, there is still a lot of collaborations to be done among banks. Banks need to come together instead of fighting one another in order to manage the loop holes’ customers capitalize on. Banks still need to be able to share information and continue to support government’s initiatives, especially the plan to have an all inclusion system and to continue to reach out to the local communities. Banks also need to continue to come out with products that will serve humanity and cause the banking space to become more relevant than it is now. But above all, banks should find a way of stamping out the unhealthy competition where when a staff commits crime in one bank, goes to the other bank and is accepted. I look forward to healthy competition among the banks.

TVM: You once said “failing is part of the story”. As a mentor to many young women and girls, how would you advise them to cope and deal with challenges and failures in life?

MAB: Accept it and take responsibility. It’s not about crying; it’s not about condemning oneself. Yes, some are mistakes; purely one’s mistake and so must take full responsibilities for them. It should not be about anybody or a blame game. One needs to ask questions and see how he or she can move forward. Therefore, the most important thing is to take yourself less seriously, take responsibility, and always look for that small light in that darkness and move towards that direction. In a short while, one will find fulfilment.With failing, those who condemn themselves will never be able to get up. That’s my story!

TVM: What is your advice to the current youth of Ghana?

MAB: Hard work works; there’s reward in hardwork so work hard.

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