After, thirteen years of operations, Access bank still grappled with capitalization and corporate governance challenges until Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede stepped in with his team. Almost 2 decades later, the bank’s assets have grown unimaginably, and the bank which was once ranked 65 is now ranked among the top 5. Meet the man who led the team that changed the narrative.
Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede was born on 24th of September 1966 in Ibadan, present-day Oyo State, though he hails from Sabongida-Ora, present-day Edo State. He had his early education in Kaduna and later in Lagos State, before enrolling for a degree in law at the University of Benin, Edo State, Nigeria.
Early in his life, Aigboje had decided that he was not going to work with the civil service. Both of his parents were civil servants – His mother was the first curator of the National Museum of Nigeria after independence, and his father later became the Minister for Culture. He would recall that this was a period in Nigeria where the best talents went into the civil service to pursue a career.
However, the military’s entry into the civil service turned things around as they did not seem interested in investing much there. “For people like me, I saw the impact on great men and women, and the almost decimation of their relevance and importance of their contribution to the governance, and I decided that I was not going to work for the government,” Aig-Imoukhuede said.
Having struck out what was then the most viable option for the best talents, Aigboje had to decide where he wanted to pursue a career. Multinationals were among the best companies in the private sector at the time, and the idea of working at the helm of one of them held appeal for the young Aig, and he later stated that his decision to study law was based on his observation that the foremost multinationals were then headed by lawyers.
“I felt that law was a good way to get into the hallowed boardrooms,” he later said.
In 1987, he was called to the Nigerian Bar, and served his compulsory National Youth Service Corps, working as a lawyer with Chase Merchant Bank during his NYSC year. Owing to stories he had previously heard from friends who had experience in the banking sector, he had been encouraged to work with the bank and he soon got involved in core parts of the business of banking. In his words, “Very soon I discovered that I enjoyed making deals more than doing legal work so I made the transition to core banking.”
The switch in career paths would normally have needed some sort of retraining but not for Aig. He had to learn on the job, and due to his efficiency in getting things done, he was not the kind of staff the management was willing to allow to go for any prolonged training.
“I was doing things at the age of 22, that most people did when they were 35 to 40 years. My life has been one where people look at my talent and basically, put me at things,” he said while speaking at the OXFORD Business Africa forum 2019.
Having shown great skills in closing deals, he joined Guaranty Trust Bank as a pioneer staff, driving his career over the next decade to become a top executive there. He, thus, had the best point grooming his skills in what had become one of the best banks in Nigeria.
Despite being an Executive Director with enough challenges on his plate, Aigboje wanted more. He was both restless and dissatisfied, despite having a career most people would break an arm for.
He did not figure out the missing link until he went to the Harvard Business School at the age of 32 years, for an Executive MBA.
At this time, he read the book Buyout, written by Rick Rickertsen a corporate buyout specialist. It was a Eureka moment for Aig, where he realized, “I wanted to become an owner-manager.”
There and then, he resolved to buy a bank upon his return to Nigeria.
Founding Access Bank
Buying a bank turned out to be more difficult than was envisaged. Although Aigboje had set his eyes on the top-tier banks, he found that even after pooling resources with his trusted partners, they still could not afford to buy controlling shares.
They eventually had to move down the rung, and look for something they could afford.
“We were both worth about two million dollars, and even then, our $2 million plus $8 million worth of leverage got us 52% of the bank,” Aig recalled.
Access Bank was incorporated on February 8, 1988, as a privately owned commercial bank and commenced business operations on 11 May, 1989 after obtaining its licence. It later converted to a public limited liability company on 24 March, 1998, and by November of the same year, was listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange.
Dealing with several boardroom squabbles in its years of operation, and the challenges of undercapitalization based on the apex bank rules, Access bank was then rated number 65 among Nigerian banks.
“I was betting my financial future and that of my family on this move, but I had a burning desire to transform our bank into a world-class financial services provider. What was more important to me was that this was the beginning of something, but not the end. I was going to buy the bank but I had no plans to tie my life around the bank so I knew we needed a framework for continuity. I wanted it to continue irrespective of what happened to me” he later said.
Having recapitalised the bank, the team had a 13-point plan to turn around the fortunes of the bank, and have it listed as one of the top 5 banks in the next 5 years. This became the aim of the team led by Aigboje as pioneer MD.
Though they did not meet this target, in 2006 exactly 5 years after recapitalising the bank, Access Bank won the Thisday ‘most improved bank’ in Nigeria, and was classified by Augusto & Co, a respected rating agency, as a tier 2 bank alongside Diamond Bank, Afribank, Fidelity Bank, Bank PHB and the Nigerian International Bank (Citibank).
The bank also expanded into other African countries including Gambia, Cote D’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Zambia and Sierra Leone.
Notwithstanding, the change in ownership and management of the bank was visible in the balance sheet from the first year. In 2002 alone, the bank posted an impressive N1 billion profit before tax, much more than the cumulative profit made by the bank in the previous 12 years.
This also marked the beginning of what would be a six-year record triple-digit growth trend. Similarly, earnings per share had rebounded to 21 kobo from a negative 2 kobo position, leading to a declaration of a 5 kobo dividend to shareholders for the first time in three years.
When the team embarked on its first capital raising exercise in July 2007, it turned out very successful with an oversubscription of over 300%. The public offer comprised an Over-The-Counter GDR placement of US$250 million which was similarly oversubscribed by 700%.
Access Bank today is now the largest bank in Nigeria, and Africa’s leading bank by customer base. It has a network of more than 600 branches and service outlets, across three continents, 12 countries and 36 million customers.
Reflecting back, Aig would say that his experience in Chase Merchant Bank prepared him in advance for the task of owning and running a bank.
“One thing you will find about many of the men who have founded great banks in Nigeria is that they have worked for banks that crashed. That way, you learnt what not to do in banking,” he said while speaking at the presentation of Jim Ovia’s Africa Rise and Shine.
He recalled also how Jim Ovia, founder of Zenith bank, had advised and mentored him when he took the driver’s seat at Access bank, and stated that this played a great role in the success of the bank.
Leaving Access bank for higher call
After 12 years at the helm, Aig handed over to co-founder, Herbert Wigwe as MD.
Leaving the bank gave Aig the time to pursue other passions. He founded Coronation Capital Nigeria Limited, an Africans focused private equity fund manager, whose aim is to invest and create value for multiple stakeholders who believe in Africa. He also founded the Africa Initiative for Government (AIG), a non-public institution established as a catalyst for high public sector performance in Africa, and is the chairman.
He has won many awards including the EY entrepreneur of the year.
Apart from his philanthropic ventures, he sits on many boards including Marina Securities Ltd, Global Business Coalition on HIV, and Petralon Energy Ltd.
He is an alumnus of Harvard Business School Executive Management Programme and graduated as Class Speaker PMD 75. He has also attended several other business schools and institutes including, the Citicorp Institute of Finance, Euromoney Capital Markets Bootcamp, and IMD Lausanne, Switzerland.
He is a member of the sub-committee of the Banker’s Committee on Professional Ethics, Harvard Business School Association of Nigeria, as well as on the boards of FATE Foundation where he assists in inspiring entrepreneurial driven youths to realize their potential. He is also a Fellow of ASPEN Leadership Initiative.
He is a Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON), and has also won the National Productivity Order of Merit Award in 2009.
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He is a member of the Presidential Committee on the establishment of the African Investment Bank, a honourary member of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, and a Governing Council member of the Financial Institutions Training Centre.
Aigboje is a pastor of the Promised Land Ministries in Lagos, and is married to Ofovwe Aig-Imoukhuede; they have four children together.