As challenger banks step into the scene to compete with traditional banks, the spotlight is also beaming on Chief Executives of these challenger banks, who are churning out results no one would have thought possible a decade ago. Nonso Okpala, GMD/CEO of VFD Group of VFD Group, is the focus of this week’s profile.
Nonso Okpala was born on December 12, 1978 in Uga, Anambra State, Nigeria. He spent a couple of years there with his family before they relocated to Benin City, then Bendel State (current day Edo State). He had his primary education in Benin City and went to Imo to attend the Merist Brothers Juniorate, Uturu, Ekigwe for his secondary education.
He proceeded to bag his first degree in Marketing from the University of Nigeria, Enugu in 2003, then did the compulsory one year National Youth Service Corps programme.
The beginning of a fulfilling career
Nonso Okpala started his career working with KPMG Professional Services, Lagos as Senior Auditor from 2004 till 2008. Working as an auditor with the firm required that he had to be a chartered accountant, so Nonso got his ICAN certification. He had a brief stint with United Bank for Africa (UBA) and then went to BGL Plc, where he served as Special Assistant to one of the Executive Directors. He also joined the corporate finance team of the investment company.
BGL is one of the foremost Investment banking companies in Africa, with its head office in Nigeria, offering first-class financial advisory, corporate finance and private banking/asset management services to an expanding clientele comprised of institutional, corporate, government and ultra-high net-worth clients.
About his work experience at BGL, Okpala once recalled that it gave him a better understanding of how businesses were run and how funds required for business operations and investments were raised. This experience was very helpful in his next career stop at Heirs Holding, where he served as a Chief Financial Officer from 2010 to late 2015.
“Every aspect of my career has been challenging, but I would say I hold very dear to my experience in Heirs Holdings – I learnt a lot there. But I think the challenges of my previous places of work were quite different from that. I would say that KPMG was where I got my B.Sc., BGL was where I got my M.Sc. and Heirs Holdings was where I got my Ph.D. in that order.
“KPMG was difficult in its own right because it was the start of a career and I had to focus a lot on learning, and those skills I picked up in KPMG serve me till today and they were very crucial. BGL gave me significant market exposure with the understanding of how companies are run, the mindset of an owner and a push toward entrepreneurship. At Heirs Holdings, I mastered the art of managing, controlling and running a company,” Okpala said about his career.
In 2015, he moved to VFD Group as its pioneer CEO. VFD Group is a financial services proprietary investment company, spreading its investment wings into basically every sector within the financial services industry. Over the last six years, Okpala has led a team of diverse professionals to get the business off the ground, and the group now has interests in foreign exchange, debt investment, international remittance, real estate and payment businesses.
In an interview, he admitted that he brought a bit of his marketing and accounting background into his role as CEO.
“From the marketing perspective, you get a good understanding of who your customers are, how to target these customers, what strategies you need to deploy to stay ahead of the curve, your competitors and the likes. With accounting, you know to a great level of detail what is happening in the company, what the financial health is and its profitability, the gearing ratios, and every other finance type indicators of the company. These aspects are two critical aspects of any business and having such background at your fingertips is very crucial,” Okpala stated.
The V bank app, which was launched in March 2020 as a digital bank, has already acquired millions of users spread across Nigeria. In addition to the VFD Group Plc, Okpala is a board member of Dynasty Real Estate Ltd and Drelugs Ltd.