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Ebenezer Onyeagwu: A global brand taking Zenith Bank to the zenith

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Managing a global financial institution requires much more than being book-smarts. Ingenuity, creativity and discernment are indispensable.As such, the emergence of Ebenezer Onyeagwu as Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer (GMD/CEO) of Zenith Bank Plc, a global brand, didn’t come to many as a surprise.

The Bank had announced the appointment of Onyeagwu as its GMD/CEO with effective June 1, 2019. The appointment is consistent with the bank’s tradition and succession strategy of grooming leaders from within. He
replaced Mr. Peter Amangbo, whose tenure expired on May 31, 2019.

Besides a proven intellectual capacity, Onyeagwu, over the years, has displayed robust managerial and problem-solving skill sets in the banking industry, making him a natural fit to oversee a behemoth financial institution of international repute.

He is an experienced chartered accountant and astute financial expert trained in reputable institutions in Nigeria, United Kingdom and United States of America.

A graduate of Accounting from Auchi Polytechnic, widely recognized as an institution that has produced some of Nigeria’s most renowned Chartered Accountants, he obtained the Higher National Diploma in Accounting in
1987, finishing as the 2nd best graduating student in Accounting with a “Good” grade (Upper Credit) which is equivalent of a 2nd Class Upper.

He qualified as a Chartered Accountant (ACA) of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) in 1988/89, a feat he achieved almost immediately after graduation during his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) year. He was the first among his graduating class to qualify as a chartered accountant.

He subsequently became a Fellow (FCA) of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), in 2003. He has over 29 years of experience in the banking industry in Nigeria, out of which he spent 17 in Zenith Bank Plc.
Before joining Zenith Bank Plc, he worked at Citizens International Bank Limited between 1991 and 2002. He was one of the most outstanding branch managers in the bank, winning multiple awards and recognitions for his
brilliant, excellent and highly professional performance on the job.

He joined Zenith Bank Plc in 2002 as a Senior Manager, in the Internal Control and Audit Group of the bank. His professionalism, competence, integrity and commitment to the objectives of the bank saw him rise
swiftly between 2003 and 2005, first, as Assistant General Manager, then Deputy General Manager, and eventually, General Manager of the bank.

In these capacities, he handled strategies for new business and branch development, management of risk assets portfolios, treasury functions, strategic top level corporate, multinationals and public institutional relationships, among others.

He was appointed Executive Director of the bank in 2013, and put in charge of Lagos and South-South Zones as well as strategic groups/business units of the bank, including Financial Control & Strategic Planning, Treasury and Correspondent Groups, Human Resources Group, Oil and Gas Group, and Credit Risk Management Group, etc.

Onyeagwu emerged Deputy Managing Director of the bank in 2016. In that capacity, he deputized for the Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the bank. He also had direct oversight of the bank’s Financial Control and Strategic Planning, Risk Management, Retail Banking, Institutional and Corporate banking business portfolios, IT Group, Credit Administration, Treasury and Foreign Exchange Trading.

Onyeagwu is an alumnus of the prestigious University of Oxford, England, from where he obtained a Postgraduate Diploma in Financial Strategy, and a certificate in Macroeconomics. He also undertook extensive executive
level education in Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia Business School of Columbia University, the Harvard Business School of Harvard University, in the United States.

At Wharton Business School, he undertook the CEO academy and leadership training programmes. His strategic skills were further nurtured and honed at Columbia Business School strategy training programme. At the Harvard Business School, he acquired capabilities in negotiations and critical decision-making.

In the last six years, Onyeagwu has been on the board of Zenith Bank Ghana, Zenith Pensions Custodian Limited, Zenith Nominees Limited and African Finance Corporation (AFC). In AFC, he serves on the Board Risk &
Investment Committee (BRIC), and Board Audit & Compliance Committee (BAAC).  At Zenith Bank Ghana, he chairs the Board Credit and Governance Committees.

Within the market, he is highly respected for his consistent and impeccable character, brilliance, deep knowledge and insight of the market, as well as for his strong professional and ethical principles, which have continued to endear him to all stakeholders.

Specifically, Onyeagwu proved his re-engineering expertise by driving the astronomical growth of the profitability of Ikeja Corporate Group of Zenith Bank, with very high-risk assets quality.

At Citizens Bank, he turned around the fortunes of the Warri Delta Branch which was on the verge of being closed due to strings of losses and frauds, making it one of the most profitable and multiple award-winning branches in the bank at that time.

He started his working career as a Management Accountant in 1989 at HFP Engineering Limited, a top developer of residential, commercial and industrial property in Lagos and a major player in the national construction sub-sector.

He was in the team that conceived the business plan for the actualization of the landmark, highbrow and trend-setting Victoria Garden City Residential Estate.

Still, while his ascension to top of Zenith Bank attests to his tenacity, the task that lies before him will put in focus his ingenuity and broad understanding of the financial system.

Managing a global brand from within Nigeria’s rewarding but convoluting business climate isn’t a task for the faint-hearted. Onyeagwu’s leadership of one of Nigeria’s apex banks clearly puts him in the spotlight of a banking sector that grapples with critical challenges.

First, he must deal with the issue of weak capital base in the banking sector. A few years ago, the Central Bank of Nigeria gave a directive to all Nigerian banks to raise their capital base from 1 billion naira to at least 25 billion naira by December 31, 2005.

At the time, most banks did not have enough money to meet the requirement, leading to a foreclosure of over 70 percent of banks. Out of 89 banks only 25 emerged after meeting the 25 billion naira benchmark.

With the evolving financial climate, prospective spike international loans and the desire of the bank to engage new frontiers, the drive to constantly shore up the capital base, will be crucial.

The new Zenith Bank boss also has the task of entrenching ethical standards and broadening professionalism not just within his immediate financial sphere but in the larger financial community.

In recent times, the Central Bank of Nigeria has been intervening to investigate fraud, greed, insider abuse, etc. These were the succeeding results of unethical behavior from both bank staff and management.

What’s more, issues of poor corporate governance practices, over expansion, corruption of bank officials and improper risk management, implementation of the full abolition of commission on turn over policy, inaccessibility of banks in rural areas are issues that he must deal with within the banking community.

On another level, factors like slow Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth, recession, regulatory pressure low oil prices and dwindling availability of foreign currency, have remained topical in the banking sector which he will be confronted with.

To underscore the magnitude of the challenge, slower economic growth and lower risk appetite from banks will continue to translate into subdued credit growth and weak core earnings generation soon.

From the benefit of hindsight, Nigeria had a dwindling economic growth since the end of 2015, the rate dropped to an estimated 3.0% which adversely affected the Nigerian banking industry.

Nonetheless, for many watchers of the banking sector, Onyeagwu, having grown through the ranks and have become refined through the rigours of the banking system has the depth, creativity and discernment to not just
navigate and dominate the thorny landscapes of the Nigerian banking sector but  emboss the Zenith brand on the global financial community in the evolving dispensation.

-Additional information by PointBlank News

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