From Nigeria to Africa: The incredible journey of Aig-Imoukhuede and Herbert Wigwe in growing Access Bank

In the ever-evolving world of Nigerian banking, few tales captivate quite like the narrative of Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede and Herbert Wigwe.

These two visionaries transformed Access Bank from a small, struggling institution into a leading financial powerhouse in Africa.

Their journey is marked by strategic acquisitions, innovative approaches, and a shared vision that propelled the bank to unprecedented heights.

Early Lives and Formation of Access Bank

Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede and Herbert Wigwe were both born in Nigeria in 1966, demonstrating early signs of ambition and dedication. Aigboje attended King’s College in Lagos before studying Law at the University of Benin and later obtaining an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Herbert studied Accountancy at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and later earned a master’s degree in Banking and Finance from the University of North Wales.

Access Bank was established in 1988 and commenced operations in 1989 during a challenging period in Nigeria’s financial landscape. Initially encountering internal power struggles and financial instability, the bank persevered amidst turbulent times, witnessing numerous leadership changes. Despite these early setbacks, Access Bank managed to survive while many other banks faltered during the 1990s.

The Acquisition of Access Bank

In 2002, Aigboje and Herbert embarked on a bold venture to acquire Access Bank. At the time, Access Bank was ranked 65th out of 89 banks in Nigeria, struggling to stay afloat. Despite initial challenges, including raising the necessary capital, they managed to secure the bank with the help of friends, family, and strategic investors. Their acquisition was unique; instead of acquiring a failing bank, they took over a relatively stable but small institution and transformed it through strategic management and innovation.

Under their leadership, Access Bank grew exponentially. Aigboje’s tenure as CEO from 2002 to 2013 was marked by aggressive expansion and innovation. They introduced robust corporate governance practices and adopted cutting-edge banking technologies, which set Access Bank apart from its competitors. They also implemented the Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles, which became a model for other financial institutions across Africa.

Five-Year Transformation Plan

Shortly after taking control, Aigboje and Herbert initiated a five-year transformation plan aimed at turning Access Bank into a top-tier financial institution. Two years into this plan, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) announced a N25 billion capitalization deadline. Rising to the challenge, Access Bank raised the required capital through a public offer and strategic acquisitions of Capital Bank Ltd. and Marina International Bank Ltd. They also secured investment from FMO, the Netherlands development finance company, through the conversion of a $15 million term loan.

Expansion and Major Milestones

Between 2006 and 2007, Access Bank raised substantial funds through local and international markets, including a highly successful GDR (global depository receipt) and the establishment of Access Bank UK. By 2008, the bank embarked on its second five-year plan, aiming to secure its place among Nigeria’s top banks. This period saw Access Bank pass the CBN’s special audit and achieve recognition as IFC Sustainable Bank of the Year.

In 2011, Access Bank acquired Intercontinental Bank, catapulting it to the fourth largest bank in Nigeria. This acquisition not only expanded its customer base but also enhanced its operational capabilities. The success of this period was underscored by the bank’s ability to raise $350 million through a Eurobond in 2012 and another $400 million in subordinated notes in 2014.

Leadership Transition, Innovations and Impact

In 2013, Aigboje stepped down as CEO, handing over the reins to Herbert Wigwe. Under Herbert’s leadership, Access Bank continued its aggressive expansion. In 2017, the bank raised N42 billion through a rights issue and issued another $300 million subordinated note. The landmark merger with Diamond Bank in 2018 further solidified Access Bank’s position as Nigeria’s largest bank by assets, boasting 646 branches and extensive digital banking infrastructure.

The duo’s leadership was characterized by numerous innovations. They were pioneers in adopting digital banking solutions, significantly enhancing customer experience and operational efficiency.

Access Bank’s Pan-African Expansion

The bank’s strategic expansion continued beyond Nigeria’s borders. By 2020, Access Bank had entered markets in Kenya, Mozambique, and South Africa. This expansion was part of a broader strategy to become Africa’s gateway to the world. By 2022, Access Bank was restructured into Access Holdings, diversifying its product offerings across payments, insurance, consumer finance, and pensions.

Aigboje and Herbert’s contributions have been widely recognized. Aigboje received numerous awards, including Nigeria’s Commander of the Order of the Niger and the African Banker of the Year award.

Recent Developments and Future Prospects

Access Holdings recently declared a profit after tax of N612 billion, marking a 300% year-on-year increase. This remarkable achievement underscores the effectiveness of the strategies implemented by Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede and Herbert Wigwe. The return of Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede as Chairman of Access Holdings further solidifies the organization’s leadership and strategic direction.

The recent acquisition of National Bank of Kenya and the earlier acquisition of Transnational Bank Limited highlight Access Holdings’ ongoing expansion strategy in Africa. These acquisitions are part of the broader vision to establish Access Holdings as a leading financial institution across the continent, providing innovative and inclusive financial services.

Despite the tragic loss of Herbert Wigwe, Access Bank remains committed to its vision and strategic direction. The transition from ‘Bank’ to ‘Holdco’ has proven to be a prudent move, ensuring continuity and stability in Access Bank’s operations.

The journey of Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede and Herbert Wigwe in growing Access Bank is a remarkable example of transformative leadership. From their bold acquisition of Access Bank in 2002 to their strategic expansion across Africa, their story is one of vision, innovation, and resilience. Their legacy continues to inspire and shape the future of banking in Africa, demonstrating the power of strategic leadership in achieving extraordinary success.

This article is written by Raphael Adewoye

Enews Nigeria