Can he set up shop in every African nation?
By Ada Anioji
In a matter of hours, the captainship of the United Bank for Africa, UBA will be formally passed on to Mr Kennedy Uzoka. As Group Managing Director, GMD of ‘Africa’s global bank,’ he would be expected to do three things, among others.
One, he would be required to continue to grow and sustain the brand in the presently very challenging Nigerian business terrain where its operations are headquartered.
Two, he will need to continue to ensure seamless coordination of very functional UBA subsidiaries spread across 18 countries in Africa and elsewhere, with a view to ensuring that they contribute more and more to the green columns of the group’s balance sheet.
And three, he would also be required to pilot the currently disclosed plan by the bank to set up shop in seven other African nations in the first instance, preparatory perhaps to, someday soon, running operations from each of the 54-member states of the African Union, AU.
Indeed for the UBA Group, the Rubicon has since been crossed and it is very clear now that the bank has most ambitiously tied its fate and fortunes to that of the continent.
This much was outlined at its first ever Senior Leadership Forum which it had convened to reflect on the strategic importance and growth potential of its pan-African business.
UBA Group Chairman, Mr. Tony O. Elumelu convened the Forum to review what he termed the impressive growth that the bank’s African network had made over the past 11 years and to provide a platform to reaffirm and embolden its strategic goals.
As events have since come to confirm, the move by the bank to develop a strong pan-African berth back then was indeed more than a statement of fad. Like had been re-enacted earlier in the push by the relatively smaller Standard Trust Bank, STB component of the merger to ‘swallow’ its bigger UBA partner, this was also another strong and determined visionary undertaking by Elumelu.
The Forum brought together 90 participants, including the Board of UBA, Chairmen and CEOs of UBA subsidiaries across Africa and the United Kingdom and it was timed to coincide with the bank’s Annual General Meeting and Group Board Meeting.
“We are one bank, the United Bank for Africa,” Mr.Elumelu said as he opened the Forum. He added: “Bringing together our senior leadership talent from across the continent and the distinguished leaders who chair our subsidiary businesses is a powerful demonstration of our commitment to forge one bank for Africa.”
“As long-term investors and, may I say, pioneers in pan-African commercial and investment banking, we are deeply committed to the markets in which we operate and to harnessing the potential represented by the wider African economy. Our intention is to be the leader in African financial services, and our recent transactions show this. We see clearly the potential of Africa.”
UBA subsidiaries operate in 18 African countries and now contribute more than 25 per cent to Group operating revenue. UBA is increasingly recognised as a strong pan-African brand, hailed for democratising banking in its countries of operation whilst participating in landmark financial transactions, including:
*A USD$1.2 billion oil financing agreement with NNPC and Chevron where UBA will provide funding for Chevron and NNPC to develop 36 new oil wells that will significantly expand Nigeria’s oil production capacity.
*A USD $315 million facility to the Government of Ghana for road projects on the strength of Road Fund levies domiciled with UBA Ghana.
*A US$250 million Crude pre-payment facility for Democratic Republic of Congo-based Orion Oil representing the largest reported transaction structured by an African investment bank in 2015 involving fresh capital within the African market.
*A 234 million Euro oil and gas financing deal with Société Africaine de Raffinage (SAR) of Senegal, which underscored its capacity to fund big ticket transactions across Africa
*A USD $180 million to Delta Energy Zambia for the procurement and supply of petroleum products to marketing companies in Zambia
*A USD$90m University of Dakar hostel construction project financed solely by UBA Senegal – African capital, building African infrastructure for African education
“We have done a lot but in many senses we are only beginning to reap the rewards of our network and potential. We are a truly pan-African institution and after this period of consolidation, we know that the continuing expansion of our Africa footprint is a key goal. We must ensure that we have presence in at least 25 countries in the near to medium term, starting from the UMOA and CEMAC zones,” said Mr.Fogan Sossah, Chairman of UBA Senegal during the Forum.
In keeping with the objective of creating an institution worthy of the patronage of clients and the trust of regulators and governments, the three day forum focused on the critical issues and drivers for success across the continent. Seminars were held on Corporate Governance, Corporate Institutionalisation, Board Effectiveness, Compliance and Accountability
Speaking on the breadth and depth of the Forum’s individual sessions, Mrs. Gisele Mudiay, Chairman of UBA Democratic Republic of Congo said: “Our aspiration for the next five years is to pool knowledge of our individual operating environments and leverage that knowledge to help our customers realise their business goals.”
Noting the difficulties that exist in operating in the diverse economic environments across the African continent, Mr.Ekoto Mukete, Chairman UBA Cameroon said: “While we operate in challenging business environments, we benchmark ourselves against global standards, which means we are able to add real value to our stakeholders. This forum has ensured that we are an army of one, working in each corner of Africa and driving toward one common goal.”
The approval of additional injection of capital into its East African subsidiaries in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania was communicated at the forum as the group re-affirmed its commitment to growth in its countries of operations across the continent. Observers see this move as most timely given the sub-region’s position today as perhaps the fastest growing in the continent.
And when it came to his own turn to speak on the importance of consolidating pan-African financial expertise, the new ‘kid-on-the-block,’ the incoming Group MD/CEO and previous head of UBA Africa, Kennedy Uzoka said: “I have experienced the potential of our pan-African businesses. I know that we can and I commit to ensuring our leadership across Africa. The Senior Leadership Forum reaffirms UBA’s ambition to be the leading pan-African Bank across key indices – brand equity, human capital, customer service and profitability.”
Underscoring this strong focus on the continental and global, other items on the agenda at the forum that included Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) policies and compliance standards across the Group were also discussed within a pan-African frame. The Group Compliance Officer Uche Ike stated that “compliance is non-negotiable. We operate as a global bank, in global centres. We have seen how swiftly internationally and within Africa banks have lost hard earned reputations through laxity in policy compliance and we will not tolerate this in UBA Group.”
As at now, there is no cause for alarm, and hopefully going forward too. UBA reported strong financial results in 2015, in what is largely recognised as a challenging macro environment. Gross earnings were N315bn whilst operating profits stood at almost N70bn. UBA Africa operations currently contribute approximately 25% of these earnings but are expected to grow significantly and over time contribute as much as 50% to overall Group profitability.
So UBA moves on into the Uzoka era. From Elumelu to Oduoza, the bank has demonstrated considerable strength and gumption that is difficult to overlook. Uzoka had better hold on to the baton most firmly until his own successor will come. And the place to begin if you ask this writer is to go back to his notes on the Senior Leadership Forum and begin to chart the agenda for even more than 50 per cent profits from its pan-African holdings and the expansion of the bank’s current presence and spread into all of Africa.