There are bankers and there are bankers, but the group managing director and chief executive officer of Polaris Bank Limited, Mr Adetokunbo Mukhail Abiru, is arguably one of the most successful bankers Nigeria has produced in recent times.
Mr Abiru is a rare breed. We are familiar with individuals who take over bourgeoning establishments and further increase their worth on face value along the line. But it sounds like a fairy tale to have a professional who takes over a near-comatose organization and almost makes a corporate giant out of it. This has been the lot of the former Skye Bank Plc, now rechristened Polaris Bank Limited.
In just a little time after the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), and the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria, AMCON took over Skye Bank and renamed it Polaris Bank which saw the emergence of Mr Abiru as its managing director cum chief executive officer, Polaris Bank’s narrative changed to a financial institution to reckon with.
Recall that on July 4, 2016, the Central Bank of Nigeria intervened in the management of the Skye Bank Plc by reconstituting the board of directors, shoring up the bank with N100 billion capital injection. The regulatory action on the bank led to the resignation of its chairman, all non-executive directors on the board, as well as the managing director, deputy managing director, and the two longest-serving executive directors on the management team.
Two years down the line, (precisely, September 22, 2018), the CBN again intervened in the ailing Skye Bank and the operating licence of the bank was revoked to give way to Polaris Bank Limited, a bridge bank former created in consultation with the Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC) to assume the ownership of the assets, all deposit liabilities and some other liabilities of distressed and defunct Skye Bank. The bank’s share capital had run into negative territory due to bad loan deals. It was also in urgent need of recapitalisation which its shareholders could not enable.
Accordingly, the apex bank gave the board a clear mandate to turn the institution around positively. Expectedly, the Tokunbo Abiru-led team has not disappointed.
Under his leadership, the bank has witnessed significant transformation in market competitiveness. The financial institution has roared into the limelight, with the many brilliant strides and policies executed since he took over.
He is easily one of the best banking brains and business leaders on the continent – evident in his immense contribution to the African banking industry. Mr Abiru’s story is a remarkable one and his journey up to this point is enough blue print for anyone looking to achieve success in their path.
This is a man who has used his Midas touch to turn things around for the financial institution within a very short space of time.
On assumption of office in 2016, Mr Abiru drew up a holistic and integrated approach to business modernization which elevated the bank to deliver a superior customer-centric experience. The impact of this change has been reflecting positively on the bank’s report card, which restored customers’ trust and confidence in the system.
Since becoming the managing director of the lender, the game-changer has spearheaded several growth initiatives which have placed the bank on upward trajectory. The Abiru-led Polaris team has continued to implement the July 2016 regulatory intervention to include entrenching sound corporate governance and risk management practices and transforming Polaris into fully fledged retail and commercial bank with strong digital backing.
The miraculous transformation experienced by Polaris Bank which was almost a dying entity a few years ago is a testimony of the leadership and managerial qualities of Mr Abiru.
The bank has invested significantly in technology with copiously integrated service models enabling customers enjoy banking services through a wide range of channels.
Today, Polaris Bank can boast of a strong market share going by several transformative business initiatives.
Mr Abiru has successfully implemented cost management initiatives which have enhanced liquidity and efficient service delivery to the bank’s customers.
Through his aggressive recovery initiatives, the bank has been able to recover over N200 billion of outstanding bad loans within a shortest period.
Under his watch, the bank has been able to reach settlement and restructuring agreements with many of the chronic bad debtors resulting in substantially improved payments and prospects of future recoveries.
In line with the bank’s broad mandate which includes cost management and optimisation, as well as divestments to improve the institution’s financial position, Mr Tokunbo Abiru has embarked on several initiatives aimed at restructuring and repositioning the bank.
Some of the initiatives embarked upon by Mr Abiru include: branch rationalisation, review of service contracts and cash management operations which have resulted in hundreds of millions of financial savings. Also, through some of the initiatives, the bank has successfully settled many matured trade and bilateral obligations and restructured outstanding balances with the relevant institutions and counterparties.
Under Mr Abiru’s watch, the bank has divested from four local subsidiaries releasing total cash value of N6.2 billion.
Mr Abiru is also known for his no-nonsense approach to service delivery which keeps members of staff on their toes always, but doesn’t hesitate in wielding the big stick when necessary in order to achieve the desired growth goals of the brand, while rewarding outstanding members of staff.
Polaris Bank under Abiru has also continued to promote the CBN’s National Financial Inclusion Strategy aimed at reducing the number of eligible adult Nigerians that are excluded from the formal financial system from 46.3 per cent to 20 per cent by the year 2020. The lender has been remarkable, strutting the length and breadth of Nigeria to promote financial inclusion.
Polaris Bank has also made available different credit and funding options to small scale entrepreneurs and business owners, operating in the informal sector, in order to bring them into mainstream financial system.
The bank has also employed interactive financial literacy sessions as a platform to empower students with money management skills in schools across the country. So far, the bank has organised interactive sessions on financial literacy in schools across seven states namely; Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Ebonyi, Zamfara, Oyo, Bauchi and Benue. The sessions were facilitated by 155 employees of the bank led by the managing director/CEO. At Offot Ukwa Secondary School, Calabar, Cross River State and four other schools in Akwa Ibom State namely; Uyo High School, Bright Future International School, Nigerian Christian Institute and Redemption Academy, the students took lessons on managing and saving money.
To underscore the importance of the initiative, Abiru taught the students ways to be thrifty and start saving for the future, urging them not to spend all monetary gifts they get buying things, but rather learn to keep a part of it in the bank and watch it grow.
Overall, about 6,000 students have benefited from the training.
Similarly, in its bid to ease access to banking services and to reach the unbanked, Polaris Bank recently entered into a strategic partnership with the Niger State government by ensuring participants in the supply value chain of the National Home-Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP) open bank accounts with less hassle.
The NHGSFP is an initiative of the Federal Government designed as a deliberate act to encourage mass education among the underprivileged and the most vulnerable.
Since the feeding programme commenced in 2016, over 7,500 people across supply value chain had been engaged in Niger State while Polaris Bank has opened bank accounts for 1,500 cooks.
The bank has also launched its revamped mobile banking application upgraded with new and exciting user-friendly features for a more convenient banking experience. Customers can now enjoy many benefits and access self-service options, such as, easy account opening, convenient self- booking and liquidation of fixed deposits, an expanded list of bill-payment options and easy activation of standing instructions & recurrent future payments.
These and many other moves leveraging technology and building a culture of innovation is fast repositioning the bank.
Today, Polaris Bank’s branches are fast becoming a hub for transactional activities witnessing a huge footfall of customers trooping in to carry out transactions, open bank accounts and experience the innovative trends that the bank has introduced to its business. This overall experience has also been boosted by the enhancement of staff morale which inherently drives the commitment to serve their customers better.
Not resting on his oars, the seasoned banker has said that he would love to leave with a sense of satisfaction that he delivered on the mandate the CBN by taking Polaris to the top.
Abiru, is an alumnus of Harvard Business School (Advanced Management Programme) and Lagos Business School (Senior Management Programme). He holds a B.Sc. (Economics) from Lagos State University and is a Fellow of The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and an Honorary Senior Member of The Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN).
The seasoned banker has had a distinguished career in banking spanning about 30 years, ten of which were spent in the formative years of Guaranty Trust Bank Plc. He thereafter spent about 14 years with First Bank of Nigeria Limited, where he functioned as executive director, Corporate Banking between 2013 and 2016.
During his banking career, he was at various times between 2013 and 2016 a non–executive director in the following companies: Airtel Mobile Networks Limited; FBN Capital Limited (now FBN Merchant Bank Limited); and FBN Bank Limited, Sierra Leone.
While serving as the Commissioner for Finance in Lagos State, it is to Tokunbo Abiru’s credit that the state successfully floated an N80 billion bond, earning it the EMEA Finance’s Best Local Currency Bond Award for 2012. Under his leadership, Mr. Abiru made the state’s tax efforts yield maximum results; and the discovery of over 5.5 million tax evaders in 2013 opened up the discussion regarding taxation in Lagos State. Mr. Abiru’s efforts also led to increased Land Use Charge revenue generations to the tune of N6.2 billion.
Financial experts believe the sky is the limit for Tokunbo Abiru at Polaris Bank. One of them, Tunji Omotosho said: “His achievements are eye-catching and enviable in all ramifications. He has set a pedestal for aspiring financial managers to want to beat, but it is difficult to reach it, let alone beat it.
“Tokunbo is definitely a rare gift to the financial sector, and a miracle to the country’s development goals. A lot of us are learning so much from his experiences and how he manages them successfully.”
N5.5bn Debt: Ecobank Floors Honeywell At Supreme Court
Ecobank scored a major victory at the Supreme Court on Friday as it won in a N5.5 billion debt dispute against Honeywell and its sister firms, Anchorage Leisures Ltd and Siloam Global Ltd.
The Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by Honeywell Flour Mills Limited challenging the judgement of the Court of Appeal in the debt dispute with Ecobank Nigeria Limited.
The five-member panel of the Supreme Court, led by Justice Tijjani Abubakar, delivered the judgement that Honeywell, Anchorage, and Siloam were indeed indebted to Ecobank.
In the lead judgement delivered by Justice Emmanuel Agim, the Supreme Court declared the verdict of the Court of Appeal, which said Honeywell and its sister companies are still indebted to Ecobank.
“I affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeal, setting aside the decision of the Federal High Court, granting the reliefs claimed for by the appellants (Honeywell).
“I hold that the appellants’ claim at the trial court fails, and it is hereby dismissed. “The appellants shall pay the cost of N1 million to the respondent (Ecobank),” Justice Agim said.
By the instant judgment of the apex court confirming the indebtedness of the named customers to the bank, the lender can now proceed to recover from the debtor customers the total outstanding debt of N5.5 billion, including all the accrued interest from 2015.
In the wake of the legal tussle, Mr Oba Otudeko, Honeywell Group chairman, had told a Court of Appeal that the sum was owed by individual companies. These companies include Anchorage Leisures Limited, Siloam Limited, and Honeywell Flour Mills Plc.
Mr Otudeko maintained that his companies had paid N3.5 billion as of December 12, 2013, as the full and final payment for the N5.5 billion debt as agreed by the parties at a July 22, 2013, meeting. With the latest Supreme Court judgement, the companies remain indebted to the bank.
On August 6, 2015, Honeywell and its sister firms, Anchorage Leisures Ltd and Siloam Global Ltd, sued Ecobank before the Federal High Court in Lagos over repayments of a N5.5 billion debt.
In the suit, the companies urged the Federal High Court in Lagos to declare that “having paid the sum of N3.5 billion in cumulative settlement of their total outstanding indebtedness” (of N5.5 billion) to Ecobank, “they owned no further debt obligation” to Ecobank “arising from their banker-customer relationships.”
As a result, they also asked the court to hold that Ecobank “was obligated to issue letters of discharge, release collaterals by which the prior indebtedness was secured.” In addition, Honeywell and its sister companies begged the court to compel Ecobank to “update” their status on the “Credit Risk Management System Portal of the Central Bank of Nigeria.”
But in its defence, Ecobank argued that an agreement was reached between it, Honeywell, Anchorage and Siloam on July 22, 2013, “for a definite settlement of N3.5 billion to be paid in terms of N500 million immediately and the balance of N3 billion before the exit of the CBN examiners from” Ecobank’s offices. Ecobank had contended that the repayment agreement period was for six months as it rejected Honeywell and its sister companies’ request to “pay the balance over a one-and-half-year period in three equal half-yearly instalments.”
The bank informed the court that the debt repayment agreement “lapsed in August 2013.” But in its judgement, the judge, Ayokunle Faji of the Federal High Court, upheld the arguments of the Honeywell Group and granted their prayers.
Dissatisfied with the verdict, Ecobank in 2015 approached the Court of Appeal. In its decision, the appellate court overturned the judgement of the Federal High Court, setting the stage for the Supreme Court’s appeal, which was resolved in favour of the bank.
Customers Frustrated as Banks Stop Dispensing Old Naira Notes
By Dipo Olowookere
Some customers were left frustrated as a few of the commercial banks visited by Business Post on Monday morning to monitor the extension of the currency swap announced by the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr Godwin Emefiele, on Sunday, were unable to pay those who came for cash withdrawals.
Yesterday, after a visit to President Muhammadu Buhari in his hometown of Daura, Katsina State, Mr Emefiele said the deadline for the exchange of the old Naira notes for the new ones has been pushed forward from January 31 to February 10, 2023.
He explained that it was to allow Nigerians more time to swap their old currency notes of N200, N500, and N1,000 for the newly redesigned denominations.
The extension followed calls by several persons as they complained of scarcity of the new Naira notes, as banks were still dispensing the old notes even a few days before the deadline.
This morning, this reporter visited a few financial institutions in Lagos to monitor the situation, and it was observed that some customers could not withdraw cash from the banks.
At the banking hall of one of the tier-one lenders in the Akowonjo area of Lagos State, the cashiers were not paying customers who came to take their funds.
“I could not get cash from the bank because I was informed that there were no new notes to pay me with, as the central bank has directed them not to pay customers with the old notes,” one of the customers, who identified himself as Mr Idowu Sodunke, said.
At a branch of another bank on Idimu Road, Lagos, a customer, who identified herself as Mrs Bose Kalejaiye, said, “The bank could not pay me my money. They claimed they were short of the new Naira notes. When I told them to pay me in lower denominations, they also could not pay me. We are in a deep mess in this country.”
In the Ikotun area of Lagos State, the banks in the vicinity were crowded as customers, especially POS operators, rushed to withdraw their funds for business after the extension.
They had earlier deposited the cash ahead of the deadline during the weekend, but when they approached the banks to withdraw their money, the banks could not honour their requests, leaving some of them frustrated.
“I don’t have funds to do my business today. I was here yesterday (Sunday) to deposit some cash. It was after I deposited the money that I heard of the extension. I quickly came here this morning to take my money back, but I was told there was no cash to pay me.
“I think the issue is that the banks have stopped paying people with the old notes. I don’t know what to do now,” a POS operator, who identified herself as Rukayat Salami, told Business Post.
An employee of a commercial bank, who begged not to be named, hinted that the CBN directed banks tp stop dispensing old Naira notes to customers because of a directive of the CBN.
This newspaper observed that within the premises of some of the commercial banks visited today, some POS operators, like Ms Salami, resorted to collecting cash from depositors and transferring the money into their accounts so as to have enough cash to do business with at their terminals.
CBN Orders Banks to Operate Saturday, Sunday to Mop Up Old Naira Notes
By Aduragbemi Omiyale
As the deadline for the stoppage in the use of old N200, N500, and N1,000 banknotes as legal tender in the country draws closer, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has directed banks to open their doors on Saturday, January 29 and Sunday, January 29, 2023, to customers for cash deposits.
The CBN maintained that it would not shift the deadline for the deposit of old Naira notes from Tuesday, January 31, 2023, despite calls from different quarters, including from the National Assembly, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and others.
According to the CBN governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele, 100 days is enough for Nigerians to take their old notes to banks for the newly redesigned denominations.
There had been reports that the new notes were very scarce and that banks were still dispensing the old notes, leaving many customers confused.
On Friday, many commercial banks sent messages to their customers, informing them they could bring their old notes this Saturday and Sunday.
One of the lenders, UBA, in its message said, “This weekend, all our branches will be open for cash deposits only.
“Opening times [are] Saturday from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, and Sunday from 10:00 am to 2.00 pm.
“Please note that all old naira notes, 200, 500, and 1000, cease to be in use from January 31, 2023.
“You can continue to bank seamlessly on all our digital channels, including Leo, UBA Mobile App, internet banking and *919#.”
Another bank, Fidelity Bank, said, “To help you meet January 31, 2023, deadline for depositing your old Naira notes, our branches will open as detailed below.
“Saturday, January 28, 2023, from 9 am to 4 pm and Sunday, January 29, 2023, from 11 am to 3 pm.
“Please note that only cash deposit transactions would be entertained on these days.”
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