MR. IFIE SEKIBO is a thorough-bred alumnus of the renowned Harvard Business School Owner President Management (OPM) class
(2006-2009) and Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (2002) with over two decades professional work experience
spanning the financial services and energy sectors. He is a tenacious entrepreneur, passionate game changer and result oriented
professional with a proven track record in turn-around management. These attributes consistently drive his vision to lead tenacious
teams, which mobilise strategic investments and capital injection to resuscitate and restructure moribund companies to the path of
sustained profitability. In 2003, he led a team, which acquired Global Assurance Company Limited, previously under the technical
management of the National Insurance Commission. As Executive Vice Chairman, he steered the new institution, International
Energy Insurance (IEI), which emerged as a frontline Insurance Company in Nigeria, undertaking a successful capital raise and listing
on the floor of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE). Again in 2009, he led another team of professionals that nurtured the re-birth of
the erstwhile Société Générale Bank, which was transformed to an innovative commercial bank with regional authorisation called
Heritage Banking Company Limited (HBCL) where he served as the pioneer Managing Director/CEO. His passion and relentless
drive for turn-around management is further evidenced by the recent successful acquisition of Enterprise Bank Limited, to create
a bigger, better and stronger Heritage Bank Limited (HBL) following rigorous and novel regulatory approval processes leading to
the dissolution of the erstwhile legacy institutions comprising HBCL and EBL to birth the new bank. Mr. Sekibo is a valued member
and Fellow of a number of professional institutes, including the Institute of Directors (IOD); Institute of Petroleum, London; Nigerian
Institute of Management (NIM) and Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN). In this interview, the Heritage Bank’s helmsman
speaks on the recent integration of the legacy Institutions EBL and HBCL and the strategic direction of Heritage Bank whilst sharing
his thoughts on the way out of the current travails of the naira and how to rejig the nation’s economy.

What is the latest on the bank’s
integration? Is the process over now?
On the integration, what readily comes
to mind are the people; putting the people
together, who are of different backgrounds
– different orientations and different
experiences. This is a defining phase of
our integration experience. But luckily,
both organisations – Heritage Bank and
Enterprise Bank have very experienced
and qualified people. So, for me, it has
been a matter of identifying talent and
integrating them into our system.
Though we worked with consultants, I
can confirm that the collective resolve of
our people to achieve success reinforces
our tenacious spirit as a team. At some
point, it was difficult to know who was
from Heritage Bank or Enterprise Bank.
That was one interesting feature of the
The next step was technology. Again,
we were lucky to have competent people
on our Information and Communication
Technology, ICT platforms. They even
won an internal award for being the
group which put in their best effort. All
we have been able to achieve was made
possible because of the quality of people
who managed this process. Of course, the
third was regulatory support. We had a
lot of regulatory support.
What of the challenges?
Yes, some of the challenges include
the Asset Management Corporation
of Nigeria (AMCON) issues and the
various cases in court, but we were able
to settle all amicably. So, we can say the
integration process was concluded on the
4th of September, 2015 and on the 7th of
September, 2015, we got our approval.
So, our birthday as a bank is on the 7th of
September, 2015. We are actually less than
one year old.
How did you resolve the labour issues
arising from the integration of the two
First, we took a decision as a group
– both Heritage Bank and Enterprise
Bank, to subject everybody from the General
Manger cadre to the last man, to a noninterference
based general assessment. We
hired a consultant to look at our business plan
and our job growth assessment. Every one of
us went through the process and at the end
of this process, three documents with various
recommendations were submitted for our
consideration and implementation.
These recommendations were to move
people from one group to the other. Those
who were marked for exit people were those
with disciplinary issues before this process.
Initially, we thought we would lose about 10
per cent of staff, but at the end of the day, we
lost less than two per cent.
Are you saying there was no agitation at all?
Aside the assessment by the consultant,
we were also pro-active in dealing with it.
We had union leaders who were invited to
have a look at what we were doing. We also
had our report open to the Board and some
external parties, who were able to review
them to ensure that there was no case of
Secondly, we also believed in the value
each person could bring to the table and
after the evaluation, we decided whether we
wanted to reduce the number or not. Before
now, Enterprise Bank had so many staff.
We had lower level cadre staff manning
our experience centers, the name for our
branches. So we had more of operational
staff than market facing staff. This posed
a mismatch so all we did was to reshuffle
and reassign people. Our promise was that
nobody was going to be sacked in the
first six months so that we could have
a transparent assessment of individual
performance and subsequently all who
did not live up to standard will be clear
in their minds that there was nothing
anybody could do about their exit. So you
see there was no way one or two people
would not have been asked to go.
Now that the integration process is
over, what next for Heritage Bank?
I believe growth is defined by the
industry you find yourself in. Today, in
the banking industry, the indices reflect
the indices in the general economy.
When I approached my Board, and they
asked me about our growth projection,
I said, sincerely, our projection would
be pitched against current economic
realities. Nigeria itself has dropped its
growth projection from six per cent to 2.9
per cent. So, as a major player within the
subsector of the economy, the slowdown
in the general economy is a major factor
to be considered. So I told my Board that
the major thing for me is to create cost
efficiency in the system and take the nonperforming
loans out of my balance sheet.
What it means is that for each naira you
spend, it must be channeled efficiently to
the overall growth of the business.
The naira is said to be currently on
trial and there has been a debate as to
whether to devalue or not to devalue
the naira. What is the way out for the
Devalue or not to devalue is about
the process. Devaluation in actual fact
is about how we manage the process.
What are the learning points which
have led to these levels of distortion in
the value of our currency? If we identify
them, have we attempted to correct these
anomalies, such that if we devalue today,
we will not find ourselves seeking for
further devaluation within a month or
year? If we do not learn and understand
those principles, the devaluation may be meaningless.
Devaluation is a sound economic
theory in the concept of demand and
supply which clearly has its arguments
for and against in the life of any economy.
But before the decision to devalue, let us
look at the basic economic foundation
of our country. Today, we are 90 per
cent dependent on import, and our
purchasing power for this import is
limited and affected by the price of the
singular commodity, oil, that we export,
which has now fallen to an all time low.
As a country, a lot of our elites send
their children abroad and pay school fees
from the same dollar chest that we do not
have. Some others travel abroad to buy
jewelries, coffee and even groceries as
well as stuff their hand luggage with all
manner of things, and yet pay from the
scarce dollars.
With this development, we are unable
to pay for our raw materials, while the
money we are supposed to use to pay for
these raw materials is used for all kinds
of foreign goods which are not necessary.
Can we as a nation sort ourselves out? Let
us begin to use made-in-Nigeria goods or
spend less of our money on frivolities. If
we devalue the naira and still continue
with our warped lifestyle, we may end
up creating more problems with the
To be clear on this, devaluation itself
is good. Today if we are talking on how
to finance the Gross Domestic Product
(GDP), if we devalue, the difference
between the official rate and the
unofficial rate in the black market is a big
buffer. Since we do not pay our salaries in
dollars, and even when we borrow, say,
like One billion dollars, the quantum of
the naira will be more. So, devaluation is
not all evil. But on the contrary, it does
not happen as easy as that because of
the peculiar structure of our economy.
Since we are mostly import dependent,
even the made-in-Nigeria goods we want
to produce, we need to import the raw
How then can we sort ourselves out?
So, as a way out, we need to get a plan as
a country. It is that plan that will give us a
clear picture as to whether to devalue or
not to devalue. Those that are saying that
we should devalue are not also being very
realistic. Apart from being an economist,
it only takes a secondary school student
with a basic knowledge of demand and
supply to know that you cannot sell a
scarce commodity for a reduced price.
Secondly, the current level of dollar
demand is unrealistic. It is not real
demand. To an economist, it may make
sense to devalue, but as a country, we
must look at all the parameters that make
sense for us to devalue. If we do not
address these parameters, devaluation
will lead to further devaluation.
What exactly is your own suggestion?
My personal submission is that I will
not call it devaluation. What I would
rather suggest is a currency adjustment
against what we call devaluation. But the
adjustment must be predicated upon a
yardstick which sets out what we want to
spend the scarce resources on. When we
devalue, we must revalue our priorities as
to where we want to put the extra naira
made from devaluation, so that we do not
squander it, but put it in areas that will
lead to further economic growth. Most
importantly, if we devalue the currency
and continue to behave the way we behave
presently, we will not get anywhere.
The real sector is complaining that banks
are not lending to them despite the repeated
assurance from the Central Bank of Nigeria
(CBN) and the Bankers Committee. What
exactly is the problem?
Let me quickly correct one impression.
The money in the bank belongs to
customers and if we lend to borrowers and
cannot recover it, the customer must still
get his money back. Today, the real sector
is struggling and not performing because
the fundamentals are not right. Today, we
import things like eggs into the country. Can
you imagine an economy where we cannot
produce our eggs? We must understand that
manufacturing is not about producing cars,
television, among others. No. For instance,
we can manufacture tomato paste. We have
good materials to feed the whole of Africa.
But how many farmers are able to buy
tractors? Can we as a nation create a leasing
company that will lease these tractors to the
farmers for a fee, and with the money, we
will be able to do co-operative farming. The
only area Nigeria can compete today is in
agriculture. Nigeria can feed the whole of
Africa if we get it right.
A lot of bank customers are complaining
of being shortchanged with the sudden
return of bank charges. What are the issues
The bankers believe that charges on
turnover ought not to be the proper way to
express service to customers. But we must
also know that we are in an Information
and Communication Technology (ICT) age,
where for every account you hold, the banks
incurs cost for maintaining the account. It is
not a charity.
The other is the card. You do not have to
have a card. Financial services have to be
inclusive and everybody must have access to
it. For that accessibility, you have to deploy
some technology. All over the world, the
cost of technology has come down, but here
in Nigeria, the cost is still very high. We pay
three times what other parts of the world
pay for data and every time you use your
ATM card, you use data, and in the process,
passing a cost to the bank, but the bank does
not charge you until the customer’s fourth
use. In other countries, once you insert the
card they charge you.
In good times, the mortality rate of the
Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) is
very high. Now that the economy is bad,
how do you think the SMEs can survive
and will your bank continue to support
SMEs have to survive if the economy
has to survive. It is not an option. It is the
bedrock of our economy. The artisans,
the fitters, the technicians… if they do not
exist, our maintenance culture will be very
poor. Funding is the last thing on the menu
for SMEs. Let us begin to inject methods
and give guidance to these companies.
For some of the SMEs, the owner is the
Chairman, MD and everything. The day
he drops, the business dies. But what
we are saying is that they can organize
themselves into clusters and share
Notwithstanding, SME remains a
priority. We will continue to support and
help them. All big corporations today,
including our brother and mentor, Aliko
Dangote, started as an SME. As a bank, we
have set up an SME clinic and partnered
with professionals who teach them proper
methods of running and sustaining their
The Minister of Information said
recently that some bankers were
involved or collaborated in the looting
of the nation’s resources. Do you not
think this can erode customer confidence
in the sector?
I am not privy to the information
the Minister has, but banking is a very
honorable profession. But there are a
lot of things about banking that we do
not understand and I want to put this in
perspective. A banker seeks your deposit
and you give it to him in the name of
Company XYZ. If tomorrow, they found
out that the money is stolen, the bank
may be liable. Today, the customers are
shouting that we are stretching the Know
Your Customer (KYC) beyond reasonable
levels. It is not because we want to, but
because it has gotten to a level where you
will hold me liable for money held on
your behalf. The banker’s stock in trade is
money and deposits. He also creates loan
portfolios. That we have one or two bad
eggs among us is a societal thing – and the
banks, unfortunately, are in the middle of
What is the future of Heritage Bank?
I believe that as a bank, Heritage Bank
was set up to do one or two things and
there are three steps to it. One is the
creation, preservation and transfer of
wealth. We sat down as a bank and
noted the difficulties faced by businesses
and families in Nigeria in the area of
generational wealth transfer, and so we
are saying that Heritage Bank should be
able to serve as a catalyst to create wealth,
preserve it and fashion out a succession
plan for the next generation.
With this in focus, we believe a few
things must be in place in the organization
and also have a target we can measure. To
us, the main target is that our activity, our
investment, our catalytic behavior will
help make businesses move from one
level to the other. That is the goal.
When is Heritage Bank coming to the
capital market?
We believe in the next three years or
thereabout. Do not forget we are less
than one year old. The capital market rule
is that you must have run the business
successfully for at least, three years before
coming to the capital market.

READ ALSO  Supporting physically challenged persons