Keystone Bank’s Obeahon Ohiwerei, The Turnaround Strategist

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By Ezra Adeniyi

The story of corporate revolutions in Nigeria will not be complete without direct reference to Keystone Bank Limited and its Group Managing Director/CEO, Dr. Obeahon Ohiwerei. This is a man who has used his Midas touch to turn things around for the financial institution within a significantly short space of time.

Dr. Ohiwerei 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 Keystone Bank.

In just a little over one year after the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria, AMCON’s divestment which saw the emergence of Dr. Ohiwerei as its Managing Director cum Chief Executive Officer, Keystone Bank’s narrative changed to a financial institution to reckon with.

On March 24, 2017, Sigma Golf-Riverbank Consortium took over Keystone Bank in its distressed state, which led to the appointment of Dr. Ohiwerei. On assumption of office in August 2017, Ohiwerei 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 reflected positive results in its 2018 report card, which restored customers’ trust and confidence in the system.

Dr. Ohiwerei’s magic wand at Keystone Bank has taken industry watchers by surprise, and the industry itself by storm. 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 Bank has invested significantly in technology with copiously integrated service models enabling customers enjoy banking services through a wide range of channels.

From evolving technologies to changing customer expectations to new regulatory demands – it has never been more important for banks to come up with the right strategies for digital transformation and innovation; the bolstered Ohiwerei led team nonetheless made this a reality at Keystone Bank. This entailed initiating partnership processes with foremost technology-enabled concerns to drive its digital revolution.

Keystone Bank’s ‘Cheque Deposit’ feature in its state of the art mobile banking application, ‘Keystone Mobile App’, further describes Ohiwerei’s vision to position Keystone Bank as a technology and service-driven commercial bank offering convenient and reliable solutions to its customers. The feature which is again the first in the Nigerian banking sector, enables customers to deposit cheques into accounts from anywhere and at any time on their mobile phones.

Undoubtedly, Ohiwerei’s achievements at Keystone Bank have not gone unnoticed. Accolades have streamed in from all spheres in praise of a man who has done what many people only dream of.

He clinched the Best Banking CEO Award 2018 at the prestigious European Global Banking & Finance Awards in London in July 2018 for his exceptional achievements over the last year. This is an inspiration for business and government leaders working to raise Africa’s investment profile. The judging panel of the award considered excellent leadership skills, enhanced organizational image and innovation. Keystone Bank also emerged ‘Africa’s Most Innovative Bank of the Year, 2018’ at the awards event.

The bank also shone brightly at the International Banker Awards, 2018 as it emerged winner in two categories beating other nominees and carting away the prize for “Africa’s Best Customer Service Provider” and “Nigeria’s Most Innovative Retail Bank of the year, 2018”. The International Banker Awards is an annual event organized by the renowned International Banker financial magazine, one of the world’s leading sources of authoritative analysis on finance, international banking, and world affairs.

Obeahon Ohiwerei began his professional banking career with Guaranty Trust Bank Plc in 1991, and his exceptional performance saw him rise to the position of manager within six years. He later joined Standard Trust Bank (now UBA Plc) where he was appointed the Pioneer Group Head, Consumer Banking in 1998. He resigned in 2002 as General Manager in charge of Lagos and West to join Pacific Bank Limited (then on Central Bank of Nigeria’s holding action) as Managing Director. He repositioned the bank with his new team within 15 months and moved on to take up a new appointment as the pioneer Managing Director of Standard Trust Bank Ghana (now UBA Ghana).

He was Group Executive Director with Access Bank Plc for seven years, and a director in three of Access Bank’s offshore subsidiaries as well as FITC, Lagos.

Not resting on his oars, the seasoned banker in a recent interview said he would love to leave with a sense of satisfaction that he delivered on the mandate of the investors by making Keystone a Tier-1 bank.

Dr Ohiwerei who describes himself as being audacious to a fault says I challenge my colleagues to pursue audacious goals believing they can achieve them. There is no limit to what you can achieve as long as you believe in yourself and drive your vision strategically. Personally, I set goals for myself every five years and often achieve them within three years.

“While I do not micro-manage people, I am by nature excited by the challenge of execution and that makes it easy for me to engage hands-on with them in working through any challenges that may arise along the way,”

“I want to leave behind a tested and proven team of passionate and highly motivated people that refuse to see any barriers to what they can achieve; people that are able to compete shoulder-to-shoulder/head to head with any leading bank in the industry.

“At the end of my tenure, the recurrent customer feedback should be ‘my bankers are highly professional solution providers, responsive and always within reach.’” He concluded.

As Dale Carnegie puts it, “You never achieve success unless you like what you are doing,” Dr. Ohiwerei’s bold innovations at Keystone Bank are borne out of his passion to succeed in his every endeavor.

Adeniyi, a financial analyst, wrote from Lagos, Nigeria.

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