Fidelity Bank: Okonkwo, The Maverick CEO

By Bayo Bernard

Nnamdi Okonkwo the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Fidelity Bank Plc is not a politician, but the suave speaking banker understands money politics unlike his contemporaries in the financial and banking sector who have apparently failed to school themselves in this very rare discipline.

There’s this story of a south east governor, who at a point lost favour with his godfather. Because of his closeness to Okonkwo, this notable politician had expected the Fidelity Bank boss to join him in his atrocious battle against his estrange political son. He was wrong.

A close associate of Okonkwo, told the magazine recently that “his response was very swift, ‘I’m not a politician as long as the guy continues to do business with my bank, there’s no reason for me not to support him.”

As a quintessential banker Okonkwo understands the need to separate business from personalities, it’s therefore, no gainsaying the fact that this philosophy has helped him to stand tall among Africa’s banking icons.

The Anambra born technocrat has trumped the records of his predecessors in Fidelity Bank within just four years in office. Very friendly and urbane, he has become the poster boy of Nigerian Bankers across the globe. Those who have had a rare opportunity with him will attest to the fact that his mien is infectious.

It’s not surprising how he translated these traits to a midas touch to transform the once troubled bank to one of the leading banks in Nigeria within a short time.

Since 1988, when the bank started doing business in the country, it has achieved milestones, but not in the same mold of the successes of the last four years that Okonkwo superintended its affairs.

But Okonkwo has remained humble in the face of apparent achievement and success. He would rather take the blame for subordinates’ failings’, than allow himself to wallow in the luxury of Fidelity Bank’s success story.

When we took over,”we were sure that if we remained focused on the implementation of these initiatives, we would achieve success. Four years down the line, we like the results we have achieved even though we also realize that we are not yet where we intend to go ultimately,” Okonkwo said.

Fidelity Bank staff perseverance and dedicated duty, he often said, made the bank what it’s.

That’s not to say that the journey to the top, is for the astute banker an easy one, though the path of success has already been paved for him the very first day he made up his mind to be a banker.

Armed with an MBA in Banking and finance from Enugu State University of Science and technology, Okonkwo has already set himself up for success in the nation’s financial sector.

But sitting atop Fidelity Bank, one of the most capitalized banks in Nigeria is his biggest achievements so far. Suffice to say that nothing will be said about the bank, now, in the future, without Okonkwo occupying a prestigious part of it.

Since he became managing director on January 2, 2014 he has ensured that the bank “keep our word’ as a customer friendly, safe and strong  bank, despite the economic recession that the  country experienced barely one year he attained the headship of the bank.

No doubt, others would have capitulated, faced with difficult choices, but he surged on with his mind set on making Fidelity Bank one of the valued and most respected bank in Nigeria.

Okonkwo can, indeed, look back now satisfied that he dared where others dodged.

Under his very watch, the staff has become more- customer friendly, unlike in those days when Fidelity Bank employees were notorious for tardiness and rude to customers. The behavioral change among staff has paid off after all.

Barely two years as managing director Fidelity Bank was rated as one of the Top 4 banks in the retail segment by KPMG BICSS. Why not? That year, the bank’s H1 Profit Soar By 66% To N10.2bn. Last year the bank’s Profit After Tax (PAT) surged by 93.7% to N18.9 billion.

In its rating commentary in February,  Fitch, an international rating firm, affirmed Fidelity Bank PLC’s Long-Term Issuer Default Rating (IDR) at ‘B-‘. The Outlook is Stable. The bank’s Viability Rating (VR) has been affirmed at ‘b-‘and Support Rating at ‘5’.

Who would not want to do business with a prosperous bank? While other banks in the country are losing customers, same cannot be said of Fidelity Bank. In the last three years, savings deposit has grown by 91 percent to N170 billion, signposting a more robust customer base for the bank.

The Okonkwo led management has set machinery in motion to expand the bank’s customer base by 300 percent by the end of the year.

Fidelity Bank Plc is currently the leading tier 2 Nigerian bank. That’s however not the story. The bottom line is that the bank has rolled out plans to become Tier 1 bank in the next two years. What this means is that the bank will become stronger in capitalization and asset strength. So, the fear of collapse has disappear, Fidelity Bank has become one of the very few banks in Nigeria, that when customers keep their hard earned money, no need worrying of high blood pressure.

As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. Joining the elite Tier 1 banks, also known as FUGAZ is a task that must be achieved, no less, Okomwko had told his staff recently.  There are only five banks in this category in Nigeria: First Bank, United Bank for Africa, Guarantee Trust Bank, Access Bank, and Zenith Bank.

Meanwhile, riding on top of one of the most prestigious banks in Nigeria had now always been one of bread and butter, better put, bed of roses for this amiable husband and father.

There were times he was tested like the thespian gold that needed to go through fire, to ascertain his integrity as honest and astute banker. Not necessarily over personal decisions he took to advance the cause of Fidelity Bank, but those of subordinates, honestly made though, nevertheless attracted public scrutiny.

Indeed, those difficult times must have challenged his faith as a honest public servant, but he seemed comforted by the fact that the same public later discharged him of the guilt.

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