By Thomas Imonikhe
There is unanimity of opinion that the Group Managing Director, GMD of the United Bank for Africa Plc, Mr. Kennedy Uzoka who was exactly three years in office on August 1st has discharged his responsibilities with due diligence and fecundity given the impressive growth of the pan African financial institution and robust balance sheet.
Recall that Uzoka had received the mantle of leadership from Mr. Phillips Oduoza after the latter had completed his tenure on August 31st 2016 and the subsequent approval of the former’s appointment by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, at a period the nation’s economy was reeling in recession and productive activities at their lowest ebb.
Rather than be daunted by the economic downturn prevalent then, the top banker soon swung into action not only to build on the solid foundation inherited from his predecessor in office but together with his management, staff and a relevant backing of the UBA’s board confront the decline head-on in order to position the bank to achieve its set ‘strategic ambition’ of building one of the ‘leading financial services franchises in Africa’.
And shortly before assuming office, the Chairman of UBA Group Mr. Tony Elumelu in a confidence vote on Uzoka declared that: “Kennedy brings an extremely strong skill set and is ideally positioned to lead UBA in its next phase of growth”, noting that his “most recent experience of managing the Group’s increasingly important African business is particularly relevant, as we all work to build one of the leading financial services franchises in Africa.
“I have no doubt that his … expertise and depth of business experience will ensure that the bank is best positioned to deliver on its strategic ambition”, he added.
But analysts abreast of developments in the bank enthused then that the new Chief Executive Office, CEO would not derail from the set mandate given his previous background of leading the transformation agenda of the bank, after completing the Advanced Management Programme of Harvard Business School and over two decades of experience in commercial banking, strategy and business transformation.
Truly, their expectations, as the last 36 months have revealed, were met if not surpassed given the current clean bill of health of the bank, just as the GMD has certainly not betrayed the confidence reposed on him by the board.
For instance the institution’s balance sheets for the financial year ending 31st December 2017 and the corresponding period in 2018, and the operational expansion including the granting of regulatory permission to UBA London subsidiary to carry out wholesale banking activities in the United Kingdom, UK are clear evidence of the CEO’s impressive stewardship.
Following the authorization by the British government therefore, UBA becomes the only Sub-Saharan African bank till date conducting banking activities in New York, United States of America, USA, London, as well as in 20 other countries across Africa apart from Nigeria.
A visibly elated Uzoka upon receiving the news noted that, “This authorization strengthens our capabilities in meeting the growing cross-border financing needs of our customers. It enhances our customer coverage and product offerings whilst positioning our Group as an optimal conduit for trade and foreign investments into and across Africa as well as export flows to the United Kingdom.
More importantly, he added that the licence would “enable us to fulfill our aspiration of deepening financial intermediation in Sub-Saharan Africa and providing the much-needed financial support to the broader real sector of the African economy”.
Analysts viewed the enhanced positioning of the bank very apt and timely since it coincided with plans by the UK Government to expand trade and broaden economic ties with Nigeria and Africa in general.
Consequently, the bank has continued to elicitfavourable assessment by analysts and rating agencies following subsequent improvement in key line items such as gross earnings, Profit After Tax, PAT, customer deposits, shareholders’ funds even as the UBA’s African subsidiaries’ contribution keeps improving significantly.
According to audited report filed at the Nigerian Stock Exchange, NSE, the financial year ended December 31, 2017, showed that gross earnings increased substantially to N462 billion, up by 20 percent from N314 b recorded in the corresponding period of 2016.
The financials further showed significant jump in the contribution and market share from its pan-African subsidiaries, while gross earnings grew substantially to N462 b, up by 20 percent from N314 b recorded in the corresponding period of 2016.
Also, the Group recorded a 16% year-on-year growth in profit before tax at N105b, compared to N90.6 b in the 2016 financial year. The Profit After Tax rose 8.8% to N78.6 b just as the bank’s subsidiaries outside Nigeria contributed a third of the UBA’s top-line and 45percent of the profit for the year which was a leap from 31 percent contribution made by the offices outside Nigeria in 2016. This, according to a market analyst affirms the success of the bank’s expansion strategy, with target of 50 percent contribution by 2020.
The audited results also showed that the bank’s total assets increased to N4.07 tr, representing 16.1 percent year-on-year (YoY) growth from the sum of N3.50 trrecorded as at 2016 financial year.
Besides, in the 2017 financial year, the bank’s customer deposits grew to N2.73 tr, representing 10 percent YoY growth on N2.49 trrecorded in 2016 financial year.
Similarly, the bank’s 2018 financials saw gross earnings increased by 7 percent to N494 b, as against N461.6 b recorded in the corresponding period in 2017 while its total assets also rose remarkably by 19.7 per cent to N4.9 trfor the year under review as against the N4.07 trthe previous year.
Again, the contribution of its subsidiaries across Africa which stood at 40 per cent to the bank’s gross earnings confirmed the company’s strong geographic presence that is second to none in the continent and its continued steady growth in market share in countries of operation.
Like in the previous year, however, shareholders had cause to cheer as the bank’s Profit Before Tax (PBT) stood at N106.8 b, a 2.4 per cent growth, compared to N104.2 b in 2017 financial year and the Profit After Tax, PAT rose by 1.4 per cent to N78.6 b, compared to N77.5 b recorded in 2017. Customer deposits jumped by 22.5 per cent to N3.3 tr, from N2.7 tr recorded in the corresponding period of 2017 which was indicative of increased customer confidence in the institution.
It was therefore not surprising that the collective efforts and contributions of the staff under a focused management of the UBA started attracting positive recognitions by industry stakeholders including the prestigious ‘Most Innovative Digital Bank’ of the Year 2018, in the digital category of the International Finance Awards organised by the International Finance Magazine.
This was considered no mean feat by the stakeholders who see the International Finance Awards as the industry’s standard for banking excellence, recognition and celebration of the achievements of individuals and financial institutions within the global banking sector.
“With this addition to our growing list of laurels, customers can be assured that we would not relent in our pursuit of excellent service delivery that puts them first as we will intensify our commitment towards continuously setting benchmarks for the industry”, noted Mr. AustineAbolusoro UBA’s Group Head, Online Banking in response to the award.
During the period under review also, customers, friends and well-wishers from all works of life joined the UBA Group led by the chairman, Mr. Elumelu, to commemorate 70 years of superior services with the institution which has over the decades, been rated as one of Africa’s topmost financial giants by experts.
The platinum anniversary was combined with the bank’s annual CEO awards ceremony where members of staff from all 23 countries of operations who had distinguished themselves in the past year were handsomely rewarded at a colourful ceremony in Lagos.
Assessing Uzoka’s performance, Mr. Boniface Okezie, President, Progressive Shareholders Association of Nigeria (PSAN), said, “I think the bank has been growing organically and in terms of expansion, consolidating with their largest retail in Africa as most of the branches have began to make profit under his regime.
“For me, Mr. Uzoka has done very well; even in terms of dividend enhancement which has improved. The price of shares cannot appreciate based on performance alone. Even if they (management team) are performing very well and the price is nose diving today has nothing to do with performance of management.
“So, I cannot say that his tenure has affected the share price depreciation or appreciation because that largely depends on the state of the economy. If the economy has been doing well and investors are buying into the shares, the demand will increase the price.
“In terms of staff response to quick service delivery, that has improved tremendously as customers of the bank no longer waste time on the queue. He has been doing very well and I believe by the time he finishes his tenure in the bank, if the Nigerian economy improves and we have a direction we are going, the share price of UBA will increase.
“There is no doubt about that because he has provided the needed leadership to make the bank grow. The area I will urge him to look at is the staff welfare improvement, to make sure the employees are happy so as to give their best to the bank.
In separate interview with Nigerian NewsDirect, Mr. AdebayoAdeleke of Independent Shareholders Association opined, “Well, as long as we are alive everybody aspire to go higher and there must always be room for improvement. The day we say there is no more room for improvement is the day we reach the pinnacle of our achievement and the next thing is to wait for death.
“So, I believe that UBA is doing well, but it can do far better. For a bank of that size, I do not understand why it will be selling its share for below N6 in the capital market. That may not be totally the making of the GMD but that may also have to do with the volume or quantum of shares in issue because if you look at it closely, the bank has a very healthy per earnings ratio and also a good dividends both in terms of cash and cover”.
Beyond the admonition however, analysts were quick to point out that one of the immediate tasks facing Uzoka and his peers in the Deposit Money Banks apart from the current problems facing the economy, is how the institutions will fully comply with the recent 60 percent Loan to Deposit Ratio directive of the CBN aimed at boosting credit to the real sector of the economy as well as accelerate productive activities and generate employment. The affected banks were handed September 30th deadline to comply or face sanction.
Described by many analysts as a banker par excellence, workaholic, intelligent, honest and a man of integrity the CEO also draws inspiration from the Scriptures specifically the Book of Isaiah 40:31 that, “Those who thrust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed. They will rise on wings like eagles; they will run and not get weary; will walk and not grow weak”.
And prior to his elevation to the pinnacle of his career, Uzoka held fort as the CEO of UBA Africa, responsible for the Group’s operations in 18 countries across Africa. He served as Deputy Managing Director, UBA Group, under Mr. Oduoza; worked as Executive Director and Director of Human Resources of the company in which role he supervised Human Capital, Corporate Communication, Company secretariat, Corporate Services, Legal services, UBA Academy, UBA Foundation and UBA Properties.
He was also head, Strategy and Business Transformation of UBA Group and Regional Bank head, South Bank (covering the 17 states in Southern part of Nigeria). Before the merger of Standard Trust Bank, STB with UBA Plc in 2005, he was General Manager, North Bank covering all the 19 states in the Northern part of Nigeria, the Federal Capital Territory as well as Chief Marketing Officer Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Chief Marketing Officer, Lagos and a Co-Managing Executive Officer with the responsibility to co-manage the entire bank.
He is an alumnus of international institutions such as the Harvard Business School in Boston, United States of America; International Institute of Management Development (IMD) in Lausanne, Switzerland; the London Business School, United Kingdom; holds a B Sc. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Benin and an MBA from the University of Lagos.