Zenith Bank commits ‘heart and soul’ to sustainable, responsible banking

Zenith Bank has long been at the forefront of corporate governance in not only Nigeria, but the whole of Africa. Its group managing director, Ebenezer Onyeagwu, explains how the bank’s chairman and founder established the core values on which Zenith continues to thrive, the bank’s commitments to sustainability, and its corporate social responsibility projects. Watch the other parts of this interview in our Zenith Bank playlist.

World Finance: How do you ensure robust standards and practices today?

Ebenezer Onyeagwu: First is that I think I will give the credit to our chairman and founder. When he started the bank, he made sure that the core values on which the bank thrive were integrity, discipline, ethics, and professionalism. That forms the bedrock of our corporate governance practices.

Governance is so well entrenched in the system that it is part of our creed. And it’s part of why we are successful. So we have it entrenched throughout the system, from the board to the least person. And that’s why we continue to be successful, and we’ve continued to sustain it. And we will continue to sustain it.

World Finance: Zenith has committed to a number of the UN’s sustainable development goals; talk me through these, how has it changed the way Zenith operates?

Ebenezer Onyeagwu: We’ve subscribed to quite a number of them. The first is the principles of people, planet and profitability. Besides that we subscribe to United Nation Global Impact, United Nation Finance Empowerment that deals with the principles of sustainable banking. We subscribe to Nigeria sustainable banking principles, as well as women empowerment.

Now, how has that impacted our business? Maybe I’ll start with the women.

Today, in terms of the composition of our staff, there is gender balance in the system. My deputy is a lady. We have four banking subsidiaries: two are led by women. We also have a women finance programme, where we provide funding for women-owned businesses at subsidised rates, both long-term and working capital.

We also ensure that we bring in the sustainability consideration into our credit process. So all our projects we do in the bank are screened to ensure that there is compliance with the sustainability principles.

We have done six standalone sustainability reports over the years. So we believe in these principles, we commit our soul and heart to it. And in Africa we’ve won awards back to back as the most responsible corporate organisation.

World Finance: Clearly the prosperity of Nigeria is very very important to you; how is Zenith Bank giving back?

Ebenezer Onyeagwu: Yeah – when it comes to corporate social responsibility we are very emotional about it. Last year we spent two percent of our profit after tax, which came to about $10.8m on social investment.

We give to support security in different states of the country. In 2016 we spent about $600m to buy 10 cancer screening equipment we donated to an NGO. We also support female basketball league, grassroots football. We are also building ICT centres in modern universities across the country.

One that comes to mind is the sponsorship of Inside Africa – is a platform for African advocacy, where we are expounding the rich cultural heritage of Africa, the high energy, the resourcefulness of Africa. Zenith has sponsored that programme for the past 15 years, because aside from Inside Africa, you see that Africa doesn’t really have a voice. So we’re happy to be playing our role, and happy to project and market Africa to the world.

World Finance: Ebenezer, thank you so much.

Ebenezer Onyeagwu: Thank you.

Zenith Bank can ‘grow the next champions’ by mentoring Nigeria’s SMEs

Nigeria’s economy remains hugely dependent on its oil and gas industry – but thanks to tailored and innovative support for SMEs from commercial banks like Zenith, the country is slowly diversifying and becoming more economically stable. Ebenezer Onyeagwu explains how Zenith Bank is helping young businesses and start-up entrepreneurs. Watch the other parts of this interview in our Zenith Bank playlist.

World Finance: Let’s go back to the sectors you were talking about that are up and coming; how is Zenith Bank supporting all of those industries?

Ebenezer Onyeagwu: The first thing we are doing to support the industries is that we are providing credit facility for all of them, by way of working capital, by way of term facilities. We are also helping most of them to access the various intervention programmes that have been put in place especially by central bank, that comes as long-term subsidised rate.

We are also innovating. SMEs, we are very particular about them, we see them as where we grow the next champions. We are looking forward to them one day being listed on the stock exchange. So we have a programme, we have the SME Grow My Business, we provide credit facility for them. We expose them to financial accounting and record keeping. We also provide mentorship for them.

Beyond that, in the tech space we started with a tech fair. The essence of that tech fair is to enable us to identify up and coming digital entrepreneurs through showcase. And at the end of the day the finalists, apart from providing cash award for them, we take them under our wings. And right now I think we have about 20 of them under our mentorship.

Then we also have some creative sector, CBM initiative programme, that provides credit facility, long term also at subsidised rates. We are giving them access to those facilities as well.

World Finance: And what about for companies that are just starting up? How is Zenith Bank investing in the future of young African entrepreneurship?

Ebenezer Onyeagwu: First we onboard you, we situate you and understand your business plan. You know, in some cases, some of them well… out of passion they have this very big, bogus ambition. But we are able to get them through a first plan that will enable them to scale.

Then we make sure that when it comes to funding, we sit with them, because most of them – yes, they have the business idea, but they have never borrowed before. So we take them through the rudiments of accessing facilities and doing it in such a controlled and coordinated manner that they don’t get their fingers burnt.

So we take them through, especially those who are in the fintech space, who don’t understand issues around compliance, around governance. We provide a model for them. And also help them in terms of training their team.

Nigeria’s young, active workforce ‘will continue to grow and create wealth’

Nigeria’s economy bounced back from its COVID-19 slump with growth of 3.4 percent in 2021. Zenith Bank group managing director Ebenezer Onyeagwu joins World Finance to discuss the country’s economic health, the government’s latest development plan, and the many opportunities available in Nigeria for investors who understand the country’s long-term needs and potential. Watch the other parts of this interview in our Zenith Bank playlist:

World Finance: What’s your view on the country’s economic health?

Ebenezer Onyeagwu: I’m very optimistic about the economic health of Nigeria. That’s because Nigeria is a huge market. You have 200 million people, and 50 percent of that population, that demography, is below age 30.

You are talking about an active, consuming, valuable workforce – you can’t beat that! You can’t get that anywhere.

Now in terms of economic development, if you look at how we came out of recession, what comes to mind is the contribution of agric, ICT, services, fintechs. These are sectors that are thriving.

There are quite a number of entrepreneurs who are innovating and digitising every aspect of human engagement. So for me I am quite optimistic.

And again, the government has come up with a lot of reforms. The national economic development plan emphasises that the country requires close to $800bn for us to improve the infrastructure in the country in the next five years. That will be a difficult thing to achieve, because we will need for Nigeria to really realise its potential, we need FDIs to come in.

World Finance: How attractive is Nigeria to foreign direct investors? There’s a lot of risks that are associated with Nigeria – security risks especially with infrastructure – what’s your view on that?

Ebenezer Onyeagwu: Thank you Paul – in terms of security risk, there’s insecurity everywhere. Different regions of the globe have their own different security challenges. I can admit that! Yeah we have our own, but it’s being addressed.

If we invite the other challenges we see, they represent opportunities for investment. For instance, we don’t have – if we are looking at roads, we don’t have good roads. We don’t have a rail system which will facilitate human traffic and also movement of light goods here and there.

We also need investment in healthcare. The amount of outflow from Nigeria to other parts of the globe in terms of medical tourism is huge! But if we have investment in healthcare, we will be able to save a lot of foreign exchange for the country.

And, if you look at agric – Nigeria, if you fly across the country, you see good arable land, that, oh, we need to do forming that you are seeing is subsistence level! We need to mechanise it. We need investment. Nigeria can become the food basket, the home for organic food the world!

I can go on and on. But what you see is that massive investment will need to be put into the country, but whoever is coming should be long term. If you are not long term, I mean, if you take a short term horizon in Nigeria, you will not make money. In fact you will create volatilities for everybody, including yourself.

I mean how come in Nigeria, if you look at the return – Zenith Bank is just 32 years. It was started by Mr Ovia in 1990. We took the equivalent of $4m. But today we have shareholders fund of over £300bn. I mean, that’s coming from Nigeria! We continue to grow and create wealth.

There are quite a lot of incentives. The government has also come up with a new finance act that has made the tax regime a lot more effective for corporates.

If you are looking for the destination of the next intelligent properties or building you have, it has to be places like Nigeria, and Africa.

Maybe what we need to do is stronger advocacy, in order to create the awareness for people that the country is not as bad as it’s been perceived to be.

Zenith Bank GMD: 10 percent growth reflects ‘quality and calibre’ of team

Nigeria’s Zenith Bank group reported growth of 10 percent in gross earnings and in profit before tax in 2021 – a remarkable achievement considering the ongoing economic impact of the pandemic. Group Managing Director Ebenezer Onyeagwu discusses the ways the bank is innovating and its post-pandemic strategy. Watch the other parts of this interview in our Zenith Bank playlist.

World Finance: Ebenezer, talk me through those numbers: how was this growth achieved?

Ebenezer Onyeagwu: Traditionally, Zenith has been over the years a performance-driven organisation. The figure you see typifies the real core fundamentals of the business. We are very dominant when it comes to the corporate business, and indeed retail side too!

When we started retail business three years ago, we had about only 3.4 million accounts. But today we have 10 million accounts. We had about three million cards, today we have about 14 million active cards, and it’s growing.

We are the bank with the largest shareholders’ fund – about ¢3.2bn – that gives us the deepest pockets to do whatever kind of deal there is available to be done in the country.

We also have a pool of talent, the best in class set of teams working for us. And we also have a board that is very well diversified – so that also provides effective challenges in the board deliberations.

So the result you see is just a reflection of the history of performance of the organisation, and also the kind of quality and calibre of team that we have.

World Finance: As you say, Zenith has customers from retail up to corporate – how are you innovating for each of those segments?

Ebenezer Onyeagwu: The way we are innovating is looking at the customer journey, and being able to understand the aspirations, and making sure that we develop the right products.

So the first thing we did was to create an omnichannel, so that we can integrate and engage customers at whatever segment. We have mobile banking, we have the POS, we have ATM, we have the internet banking. So the kind of platform we have gives us that delivery to connect with customers at every segment of the market.

We are also able to integrate and connect with any business that has the artificial programme interface. So we are building products and services to really align with the demands of the market.

At the corporate end of the business, we are able to innovate – if you are a corporate customer with Zenith, you can receive your money from whatever part of the country where you are. Then you can also make your payment from wherever.

We are also refining and promoting digital literacy and awareness, that is helping people to really embrace the use of digital technology in business. In fact we see ourselves as a technology company with a banking licence. Just because of the disposition we have towards technology applications.

World Finance: Now, what is the strategy for Zenith Bank group as the world finds a post-pandemic new normal?

Ebenezer Onyeagwu: Post-pandemic, a lot more transactions will be done electronically. Therefore what we have decided to do is, beyond the omnichannel that we use in engaging customers, we are looking at building a super app that is integrative. We will be looking at things like expanding our digital footprint. We also will be rethinking and remodelling our business services and products to ensure that they align with the aspiration of the new normal.

The board recently approved us to invest over $100m in building new enterprise architecture, and also building new applications that will give us that position and dominance that will secure a privileged position to take advantage of the opportunity.

Above all, we need to be assertive in the market with the digital application, and occupy that position of right of play in whatever segment.

Baiduri Bank commits to sustainable banking and ‘co-creating the future’

Along with its fresh rebrand and new environmentally sustainable headquarters, Baiduri Bank has released a new brand promise: ‘Co-creating your future.’ Baiduri CEO Ti Eng Hui explains what the promise means for the bank and its customers, how Baiduri’s renewed focus on purpose-driven banking has changed the way it operates, and the new ways the bank is engaging with its local community.

You can also watch the second half of this interview, where Ti Eng Hui discusses Baiduri Bank’s most important CSR programmes, and how it supports Brunei’s MSMEs.

World Finance: What does this promise mean to you, and how have your customers responded to it?

Ti Eng Hui: So this is a very clear message we want to send to the community: that we are there with them throughout their journey. Whether it’s their financial health, or whether it is their physical health, we want to be there with them.

We want to be in fact also their long-term preferred financial partner. If they run businesses we also want to be there when they’re small, and along the way we’ll support them so that they can grow.

And at the same time we make sure that they’re given all the tools and financial advice possible to grow their business. Bring in the relevant government agencies, give them the relevant marketing support.

So that’s the message we want to send; we’re always there for them, co-creating the future together.

World Finance: And how has this renewed focus on purpose-driven banking changed the way that Baiduri operates?

Ti Eng Hui: So, because of this purpose focus on helping customers, co-creating the future together, the team now looks at what they do very carefully, to make sure that whatever that we do is there to support the customers.

From the way we advise to them, to the way we process it. From the way we plan their future, we are there all the way for long term.

So I think our staff has taken it as a challenge, our staff has taken that as a way to make sure that whatever we have developed for them, whatever we plan for them, is good for them – not just for the short term, but also for the long term.

World Finance: And you’re walking the talk with the new headquarters that I mentioned; tell me how it improves your environmental sustainability, and your ability to engage with the community.

Ti Eng Hui: So our new head office is a prime example of what we’d like to do in Brunei going forward; it’s that we want to bring the sustainable into Brunei: environmentally, also financially. We want to make sure that the environment aspect of it benefits everybody: the surrounding that we have developed, in terms of the landscaping, the green, is also benefiting the neighbourhood. Really from the moment you walk in you can sense this is a very green building, very environmentally sustainable.

The building also incorporates what we call Baiduri Community Space on the top floor – essentially a space for the community to use for their art events, for their cultural events, free of charge. It is about being a responsible corporate member, how we can help the communities come together, how we can engage them. So this is what we mean by co-creating our future together.

World Finance: Ti Eng Hui, thank you very much.

How Baiduri Bank supports Brunei’s MSMEs: From tech training to matchmaking

Along with its fresh rebrand and new environmentally sustainable headquarters, Baiduri Bank has released a new brand promise: ‘Co-creating your future.’ And that doesn’t just mean for its retail customers, where Baiduri is innovating through its branch network and mobile devices; or for its business clients, where the bank is collaborating with government to help MSMEs embrace technology. It also means for the community, where Baiduri is giving back through a number of impactful CSR initiatives. Baiduri Bank CEO Ti Eng Hui discusses all of these in this video; while in the first half of this interview he talks about the commitment to sustainable banking and long-term customer care that ‘co-creating your future’ represents.

World Finance: I’m back with Ti Eng Hui, CEO of Baiduri Bank; you’ve launched a number of important CSR programmes in the last few years, talk me through some of the most impactful schemes.

Ti Eng Hui: So, one of them that we have launched recently is, together with an NGO, we’ve worked with the Ministry of Education to help students to learn Low Impact Living. So we thought that’s something that is very important to have that developed at a young age. So when the children go back home they will tell their parents. And we thought that is one way we can help, in terms of supporting the community.

We have also launched, just before the second wave of COVID last year, a national platform for volunteerism, to allow volunteers to come forward and help those patients in need, those nurses in need, those medical staff in need. And the impact has been tremendous. So we are really grateful for the opportunity. And it’s really something that we’re very proud of.

World Finance: And how is Baiduri supporting Brunei’s micro, small, and medium enterprises – especially as customers increasingly adopt a digital-first mentality?

Ti Eng Hui: So we work with a government statutory department called Darussalam Enterprise to run workshops covering marketing, accounting, and technology, to make sure that the MSMEs can embrace technology.

We also run business matching forums so that MSMEs can become suppliers to this bigger group of companies.

So we thought that would, you know: put it together, help each other. In terms of supporting the local businesses, the smaller businesses. And allowing the bigger businesses to do their part in helping the smaller guys.

World Finance: Baiduri Bank has committed to an omnichannel approach to customer service; how are you innovating in both the digital space and your physical branches?

Ti Eng Hui: So what we have done with the branch footprint is that we have increased the ATM space and reduced the counter services. At the same time we throw in digital services, where of course customers can come in; if they’ve a problem using their mobile phone or internet banking, they can get support from there.

But what is important is that on the technology front we have adapted the latest technology and optimised into the banking for mobile phone usage. Customers can sign on using biometrics, so that provides a new level of convenience.

Customers love the experience so far, we’ve got very good sign-ups and we’re hearing fantastic stories.

We also have rolled out the AI chatbot called Emmi, which allows customers to send in messages, and they get the response immediately for any enquiries that they have.

So these are the current technologies that we have deployed, and I think customers have responded very well so far.

World Finance: Ti Eng Hui, thank you very much.

Ti Eng Hui: You’re most welcome.

‘All of Portugal is booming’: Real estate golden visa draws investors

Portugal’s residency by investment programme, one of the most popular golden visas in the world, rolled out some changes in January 2022: in particular, investment in coastal residential properties no longer qualifies investors for the scheme. Still, with about five percent rental income per year and capital appreciation of up to four percent a year, residential units in the interior of Portugal are still an attractive proposition. David Machado and Tiago Camara of PTGoldenVisa discuss the changes to the scheme, the residential and commercial investment opportunities available throughout Portugal, and the larger real estate projects that PTGoldenVisa has started offering to its investors.

World Finance: David,what changes were made earlier this year, and how has the market responded?

David Machado: Yes, the Portuguese golden visa programme hasn’t changed that much: we still maintain the same categories.

It’s true that from January 1st 2022, we no longer can qualify with investment in residential properties in the coastal areas. But we have quite interesting opportunities in inland areas, we’re seeing quite good results, and the reality is, all of Portugal is booming at this stage. So it’s expected to have very high capital appreciation on these investments, even for those who choose to invest in inland areas to qualify with residential properties.

World Finance: Tiago, tell me more about those investment opportunities.

Tiago Camara: In the category of €280,000 in the interior of Portugal, the majority of our properties are residential units, with 2-3 bedrooms in regions with easy access, good logistics and infrastructures. In these regions we normally agree with the local developers for them to rent these properties and guarantee our investors four to five percent rental income per year. The capital appreciation expected ranges from two to four percent a year.

On the high density areas, the investment goes up to €350,000. Lisbon keeps on being the most requested region, where we have been successful in selling offices and shops to our clients, providing them around four percent rental income guaranteed. And four to six percent capital appreciation for this type of properties.

Another region in very high demand is Madeira island. It qualifies investors for a golden visa with €350,000 investment. Madeira is a region packed with tourists all over the year, very well connected with all European cities by air, and with a real estate market appreciation of more than 10 percent every year.

World Finance: Now David: who are your clients? Where are you seeing the most interest from around the world?

David Machado: Yeah, the Portuguese golden visa programme targets all the non-European Union citizens. We are seeing these days an extra effort from North Americans coming to Portugal and doing a lot of investments, so that’s a bit of the change that has happened in the past year. Before the main investors were Chinese, and they’re still a big part of the golden visa programme.

The programme continues to reach all over the world; people who are looking for a backup plan for their families, opportunities to relocate, to enjoy retirement days in Portugal, have access to premium healthcare facilities, premium education. All those benefits – together with the free ease of movement once you have a residence card from Schengen countries – it’s what attracts investors to come.

Plus, after five years you qualify to access citizenship, so those are the benefits that are bringing people from all over the world.

These days I would say investment, just the pure investment in real estate in Portugal is delivering very high returns, so it’s also something to watch.

World Finance: You successfully support over 100 investors every year to apply to the Portuguese residency program – what kind of experience do you offer to your clients?

Tiago Camara: First of all, we are a one-stop shop service provider, managed by two Portuguese experienced managers, with a full knowledge of the Portuguese real estate market. We have a team of around 40 professionals based in Portugal, guaranteeing our clients on a daily basis full scope of services that they need to proceed with their investments and residency programme.

We support our clients specifically on selecting the best investments, opening their bank accounts, having a tax number in Portugal. We support them on finding the best law firms to support them in the programme and on the investment. And we guarantee very professional management of their assets in Portugal. We manage their properties, and we are able to generate them very good returns on their investments.

World Finance: And what does the future hold for PTGoldenVisa?

David Machado: We are still very focused on delivering a high level of service to all our clients. So the idea that we continue to provide this service from A to Z, which provides a full solution from any client wanting to invest in Portugal and collecting the benefits. This is mainly our focus.

However, because our database of clients is pretty large, and we have been overseeing great opportunities in terms of real estate deals, we also focus now on bigger developments – let’s say hotels, where we are providing development of hotels for clients. Or aparthotels, or bigger projects to develop compounds. So those are projects that PTGoldenVisa is now also focused on, which are not directly related to the golden visa, but most of the time also involve investors which have started with the golden visa now doing other investments with us.

EVO Banco celebrates 10 years of transforming Spain’s financial services

As EVO Banco marks a decade of providing transformative financial services to the Spanish banking market, Javier Gonzalez and Pedro Tomé reflect on its successes, challenges, and future: including its innovative voice banking virtual assistant, the question of how to convert customer growth into income growth, and soon-to-come services that will help make the difficult, easy.

World Finance: Javier, obviously 10 years is an incredible milestone; what are some of the most important innovations you’ve brought to market in that time?

Javier Gonzalez: It is; well, looking back over this period, I think that the real, the actual innovation of EVO Banco was itself to create this innovation culture. You need to have innovation as a pillar, as to permeate to all the organisation. Because it’s not about having just an innovation department in an isolated way.

And we did a lot of things. We were pioneers in using the cloud in banking, something that was unthinkable in 2014. We created an amazing app with SLN UX. We collaborate with very famous fintechs, and with Google, with Microsoft, with Amazon, in very interesting innovation projects.

But if I had to mention one single project, probably I would highlight our virtual assistant. Right now our clients can do all their banking operations just by talking, in a natural way, like with a human but 24/7.

So I think that this is a clear example of how to put innovation and artificial intelligence to the service of our clients; it’s great.

World Finance: You’ve seen tremendous double digit growth in customer numbers since 2020, breaking 900,000 in February last year. What products or services have been most successful in growing your base?

Javier Gonzalez: I wouldn’t say it’s just a matter of one product or two; I think it’s a compendium, the 360° package that we’re delivering to our clients.

You know we have this big difference between the traditional banks, that are offering traditional products: loans, mortgages; and we also have these new banks or fintechs, and they are doing very good stuff in very specialised features.

Our position has always been to have the best of both worlds.

I think that we are a neobank in the sense that we can do specialised and cool features; but also we want to be there in all the lifecycle of our clients. So we need to offer all the kinds of products. This is key for our clients to consider us as their primary bank.

Another critical factor I think is quality. The digital client is highly demanding. No matter if you did well for a long time, if in some moment you fail, they can abandon you in no time. So we are putting a lot of effort into better quality services, to meet the quality that our clients are looking for.

World Finance: Now, growing your base so rapidly has come at the cost of profitability; what’s the strategy for converting that customer growth into income growth?

Javier Gonzalez: Well, we are not growing by growing; indeed, we are not investing a lot of money in ad campaigns or something like that. Because we are not financed by venture capital, so we need to take care about where we put every euro. We cannot build products or try to grow without a clear plan for having a return in the short or mid-term.

They key to monetisation is the client engagement. So if we are able to demonstrate to our client that we are going to be there in all their lifecycle, having better services with better quality, then monetisation, or the income growth, is going to appear in a natural way.

World Finance: Pedro, key to that monetisation is going to be understanding your customers really well; how can you offer personalised services in an intelligent way?

Pedro Tomé: Well, personalisation is one of the keys to the future. At EVO Banco, we always pay attention to our clients’ concerns. Based on their needs, we have developed different applications, products and services that can be useful to the life of the clients – that’s important here.

These applications are based, for example, to organise better their finance, or to encourage the security of their transactions. Even a tool to make comparisons with others, in order to manage better their money. So the idea here is to make the difficult, easy.

At EVO Banco we are working to create a bank per person, not a bank for all. Which covers all the necessity of each customer, wherever and whenever they need.

World Finance: And how about for the next 10 years? How is EVO Banco going to continue to innovate?

Pedro Tomé: Well, 10 years is a lot of time. Of course, we will continue pushing and leading the line of voice banking for the future. We truly believe in that.

As Javier said, we create a culture of innovation at EVO Banco, and we define different lines of innovation. Three of those are: personalisation, user experience, and security. So, different products and services will be presented in the coming years along these lines.

An example of that, close to release, could be the mortgage timeline. This is a service to the clients that they can follow the application throughout their mortgage, in real time. The idea is to reduce the frustration of the client, and make easier this complex product.

And for the far future I can tell you that we are exploring different emerging technologies to be applied to the financial sector that can be useful to the client.

And also who knows: maybe in the future an emerging ecosystem like the metaverse will be something real, and we will be there.

Something I can tell you: you have to keep following us to see what happens in the future.

World Finance: Well we certainly will. Javier, Pedro, thank you so much.

Javier Gonzalez: Thank you so much.

Pedro Tomé: Thank you.

Udom Emmanuel: Behind and beyond the Akwa Ibom success story

Udom Emmanuel took governorship of the Nigerian state Akwa Ibom in 2015. Since then he has transformed the southern coastal region from a civil service state into an attractive destination for private enterprise; one of the best states in the country for bringing in foreign direct investment. In this fifth and final video from the hour World Finance spent in the studio with Governor Udom Emmanuel, he explains what first motivated him to run for political office, what he’s most proud of in his time serving the people of Akwa Ibom, and addresses the political groups who called for him to stand in the 2023 presidential election.

World Finance: We’ve talked about your corporate career, but of course in 2015 you moved back to your home state to start your political career. What drove this, what motivated you?

Udom Emmanuel: Service. Service. I came from a background that we… when I started in the financial system, we started running what we call People, Service and Technology. I could see that the people and the service needed a little bit of, you know, a handshake, somewhere.

And to also bring to bear what we’ve learned, what we’ve seen working, what we’ve delivered. The capacity that we have in that one word. To serve the people.

World Finance: When you became governor, did you have any vision in mind, any sort of, key objectives that you thought: well, if I can achieve this, then I know my time will have been a success?

Udom Emmanuel: Oh sure! I set that up in many points that we can actually try to look at our political and economic inclusion. We can look at the infrastructure renaissance. The social services. And also the youth empowerment and youth development. If we build on this then certainly I would be satisfied as a person.

Look at the industrialisation policy, and then run with that. I never knew when I set up those policies that we would shut down the whole world for almost two years! But be that as it may, I would score myself that we have done minimum of 80 percent of that, and we believe we can still achieve minimum of 90. Because we still have one more year. A year means a whole lot in delivering on these promises to the people.

World Finance: What are you proudest of, in your time as governor? And, what do you think your legacy will be?

Udom Emmanuel: Number one, I would pride myself as that person that came in with the reorientation of the minds of the people, under what I call the Dakkada philosophy. Where we got people to believe that what you have is all that you need. And once you have the passion, nothing’s impossible.

I would also pride myself on that governor who came in, who ran after peace, and who restored peace. Who understood the source of peace, the principles of peace, the architect of peace, and then the benefit of peace. And I sought after that, and we achieved it.

World Finance: We are nearly out of time; I cannot let you go without asking you this final question. A number of political groups have come forward to directly suggest that you should run in the 2023 presidential elections. Obviously I’m not expecting any kind of grand announcement here today, but purely hypothetically: if you were to run, if you were to succeed, what do you think you would you do differently? What do you think needs to be changed?

Udom Emmanuel: If I were to be given the opportunity? Well, I would look at certain policies and principles, and first of all localise them to our own people, to see how they work.

I know that I need a whole lot of my knowledge within the public and the private sector. I wouldn’t deny the people of that knowledge, that experience or that capacity.

But I would behave as I need everybody. All hands to be on deck. Nigeria is a country of 200 million people, and inside those 200 million people there are a lot of eggheads that can make a difference. So I would go after those resources. Because what you have is all that you need to make what you want.

World Finance: Governor, once again, thank you very much.

Udom Emmanuel: Thank you so much.

Udom Emmanuel: Private sector discipline is seriously needed in public sector

Udom Emmanuel took governorship of the Nigerian state Akwa Ibom in 2015. Since then he has transformed the southern coastal region from a civil service state into an attractive destination for private enterprise; one of the best states in the country for bringing in foreign direct investment. In this fourth video from the hour World Finance spent in the studio with Governor Udom Emmanuel, he reflects on his private sector career, how it has informed his public sector governance, and gives the former banker’s view on the Nigerian economy.

World Finance: You were CFO of Zenith Bank for a good long time, so let me ask you, how do you feel your private sector career has influenced your public sector one?

Udom Emmanuel: I want to say here, based on my knowledge and experience on both ends, that management principles are all the same. If you cannot manage a shop, you cannot manage a multinational. If you cannot manage a multinational, you cannot manage any government.

And people do ask: which one should come first? I think the knowledge of the private sector is actually what should move you to go and manage public enterprise. Because you see, there’s what you call the business of governance. Those principles that could guide you, that discipline that you have in the private sector: you need it seriously in the public sector.

The discipline of time. Discipline of decision making. The discipline of planning. The discipline of business and analytical reviews of decisions taken. The discipline of sensitivity analysis of different policies and decisions taken. It’s needed also in government!

For example, I run a state with a population of 7.2 million people. So a single decision that you are taking can really affect the people a whole lot.

You know, in the business world, the question that people are always asking is, does it conform to the best practices? So I don’t think that question should be far also from government.

You also notice that in public sector, there’s less emphasis on mode of execution, less emphasis on measurement standards. Which are key parameters of success in the private sector. So we bring that also in here.

World Finance: Currently just 64 percent of Nigerian adults are financial included; what needs to happen? Can the states do more, can banks do more? How important is getting the rest of Nigeria financially included?

Udom Emmanuel: There was a time that financial inclusion was the order of the day. That was when we started the era of community banks: small financial institutions to actually take the financial system to the locals.

But we didn’t keep faith to that. It was a fantastic policy, but the execution was completely different from what we had on paper.

Let me give you an example. We wanted to substitute all those financial inclusion structures that we set up at that time with plastic money. You can’t run plastic money in a system where the local dwellers do not have access to anything. They can’t even run a smartphone, no base stations. So many things are absent. So much infrastructure is working against them. How can you run plastic money in such an area?

Let us not move ahead of what the people and capacity can carry. It means we have a long way to go.

World Finance: What is the ex-banker’s view of the Nigerian economy today?

Udom Emmanuel: As an ex-banker I think we can do better than where we’re at today. We don’t have any reason to be where we are today, honestly. And we have many reasons to be ahead of where we are today.
I still believe a few management principles are being ignored, somewhere. Or we’ve overlooked them, or we have mismanaged, in a few cases. There are some economic policies that are not in line. And there are certain things that we’ve also done that we didn’t also look at the social, cultural structure, of Nigeria.

I want to believe that we stand a chance to correct those things. They are not things that could lead to death, but they are things that could cause sickness.

Nigeria today needs somebody who has the knowledge of the private and the public sector, and the knowledge of the economy, to steer the affairs of the country. And see whether we don’t get a result. I think that’s a simple solution.

Udom Emmanuel: ‘Job insecurity is one of the greatest threats’ to Nigeria

Udom Emmanuel took governorship of the Nigerian state Akwa Ibom in 2015. Since then he has transformed the southern coastal region from a civil service state into an attractive destination for private enterprise; one of the best states in the country for bringing in foreign direct investment. In this third video from the hour World Finance spent in the studio with Governor Udom Emmanuel, he addresses security: how to ensure collaboration between different agencies, the importance of giving hope and structure to the youth, and what needs to change at the national outlook to improve security across the country.

World Finance: One of the other most serious issues that the country as a whole is facing is security. How were you able to keep Akwa Ibom the safest state in Nigeria?

Udom Emmanuel: The first thing to do on security is to acknowledge the role of the Prince of Peace. That’s number one. That critical for me.

And number two: you need collaboration among different security agencies in your state. There’s a whole lot: the police, the DSS, the army, the air force, the navy, the civil defence, and a whole lot of other paramilitary agencies; they all have a role to play. And you must acknowledge that, and try to bring them together, pull them together. Make sure that we are moving towards the same goal.

Then, the engagement of the youth, and that sense of ownership: that they can actually protect lives and property. That determination by the youth has a huge success story to tell. Because in this case you see where the youth can even volunteer intelligence. You know, local intelligence can really help a lot in terms of security.

I think we’ve been able to secure that understanding, and that loyalty, from our youth. And that’s really helped a whole lot.

World Finance: What would you say are the biggest security challenges that Nigeria faces as a whole?

Udom Emmanuel: As a country? Banditry. I would say kidnapping, separately.

Security threat? Unemployment. It’s major.

I believe if a young man is engaged, and he leaves home in the morning, he goes to work, comes back in the evening tired. By then he takes dinner, he wants to sleep so he can make work the next morning. He will never remember any other thing that could cause insecurity in the system.

You must build a system, you must build a structure. You must also create hope for these youth. If they just wake up in the morning, no good news anywhere? It seems a hopeless situation. And that’s a major insecurity.

Job insecurity is one of the greatest threats of the security situation in a developing nation.

World Finance: Is there anything that needs to change in the national outlook to dealing with these challenges?

Udom Emmanuel: A whole lot. Because you see, everything is evolving. Even… things change! So we must adapt to those changes, and we must create change.

What worked for us 20 years ago is not working today. 70 percent of security is about intelligence. So we must adapt to that as soon as possible.

We must also look at the systems that we are running. I think if we look at that, at the national level: systems, strategies, structures, shared values, styles, all of them! A global review.

We need to reassess, we need to redefine. And adapt them, also, to our environment. Not just taking them into an environment, a system, a social, cultural structure that might not work.

Let’s also take what fits. I think with that, we can move a little bit forward. And then there must also be sincerity, in delivery and in execution. I think with that we can achieve a lot more.

Nigeria’s jobs gap: ‘Entrepreneurial development should take centre stage’

Udom Emmanuel took governorship of the Nigerian state Akwa Ibom in 2015. Since then he has transformed the southern coastal region from a civil service state into an attractive destination for private enterprise; one of the best states in the country for bringing in foreign direct investment. In this second video from the hour World Finance spent in the studio with Governor Udom Emmanuel, he tackles one of the most series issues facing Nigeria: unemployment.

World Finance: One of the most serious issues facing Nigeria as a whole is unemployment; how have you worked within your state to address this?

Udom Emmanuel: Unemployment is a major issue; not only in Nigeria, but I think in Africa as a whole.
But the problem is not just unemployment, but capacity building. Because recently I’ve just carried out some surveys; I discovered that a whole lot of organisations are still looking for manpower. Why are they looking for manpower when there’s a whole lot of people looking for jobs?

We’re trying as government to lay a lot of emphasis on this capacity building. Training the people – what I call the soft infrastructure, which is the knowledge base. We have set up a skill development centre in a place quite close to the capital. And I also look at what you can do with your God-given talents, with your hands, without necessarily being within the four walls of the university. That could mean a whole lot for the economy.

We should also train people in entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurial development should take the centre stage, where no matter what you do, you don’t just come out of school and then your first thought is, where do I apply to? Your first thought should be, what do I do to earn a living?

So I think that will come with the mindset change, will come with creating awareness of why that should be.

World Finance: How do you change those mindsets? How do you help someone understand that they could be an entrepreneur? An economy needs thousands of micro, small, medium enterprises; how can government help young people realise that that could be their future. That their start-up idea could be a success.

Udom Emmanuel: Entrepreneurial skillset is needed at every course content. Either in secondary, in tertiary education in Nigeria. We need to build that deliberately. So irrespective of your field of study, that should also be built in. How can you come out and be an entrepreneur? In your own field. How can you create work, how can you create something? I think that would really, really help. And that will call for a total review of all the education curricula, to actually make sure we capture this. And we will also move in line with the current realities of the global space.

World Finance: You’re talking just about your changes within Akwa Ibom State; nationwide, what needs to happen to unlock the future that young Nigerians deserve?

Udom Emmanuel: I think that can actually be blown up onto a larger scale or proportion. Because it’s the same problem! I mean, we’re all the same people. What can work in one sub-national can also work at the national level. All we need to do is the proportion, we need to blow it into a larger proportion to cover all the states!

And once we do that on a larger scale, I think the impact will be seen within a short period. That’s my belief.

Transforming Akwa Ibom: How the civil service state became an FDI magnet

Udom Emmanuel took governorship of the Nigerian state Akwa Ibom in 2015. Since then he has transformed the southern coastal region from a civil service state into an attractive destination for private enterprise; one of the best states in the country for bringing in foreign direct investment. In this first video from the hour World Finance spent in the studio with Governor Udom Emmanuel, he explains his vision for the transformation of Akwa Ibom, how he developed the state’s collaborative relationship with business, and the importance of supporting the youth to develop their full potential.

World Finance: What was the state of the economy and of employment in Akwa Ibom when you took governorship?

Udom Emmanuel: When we talk about being a civil service state, it means that the only hope for employment, and what everybody looked out for in terms of employment, was to be a civil servant. There were no alternatives.

And being a civil service state also was that, it wasn’t attractive to foreign direct investors. Because, what could actually form what I call, ease of doing business? The attention wasn’t given to those areas.

And we came in, and we just defined what I call RAW, R-A-W: road, air, water. To actually build our own industrialisation policy. If you cannot attract people by road, if you cannot attract people by air, if you cannot attract investors by water? It means you have deficiencies.

The attraction wasn’t there. The ease of doing business wasn’t there. The hope, the expectation, the seeking of the people. But we are gradually changing that narrative.

World Finance: So catch me up to today: what’s the state of the economy now, what opportunities are available, and what changes did you make to get Akwa Ibom into this position?

Udom Emmanuel: The changes first of all: you need to assess, what do you have? Because I believe in life what you have is all that you need, to get to where you want to get to. Once you know what you have, the next thing is, you now come and drive the human mindset: what people should believe in, what do we stand for?

You need also to allow people to own the processes. Own the system. Claim that ownership. You might want to call it inclusion. Political inclusion, social inclusion, economic inclusion. And then create that enabling environment, for that inclusion to actually strive. I think that’s basically what we did. Because if you don’t get that right, you cannot actually create all the other areas that I was referring to.

Let me let you into a real life example of what we did. You know we are a developing nation? If you cannot actually pay school fees for your children, government should come in as social contract. So right now, at the basic level, we run free and compulsory education. We pay for those examination fees. We pay for the registration costs. We provide basic infrastructure in all the schools. These are some of the things we do so that people can have that sense of belonging. Have that sense of ownership of the government. Own the processes, own the systems, own the infrastructure.

World Finance: You want government to have a collaborative relationship with business, rather than an adversarial one; how have you supported businesses, be they home-grown or international?

Udom Emmanuel: First of all by looking at what are their basic needs. What will attract them to us? Number one, infrastructure. Number two, policies, regulations. Number three, relationship with the community. Number four, ease of access to land where it is needed, and other infrastructures.

These are all areas we have looked at, and we’ve provided solutions to all those areas.

Number one: through our airline you can come in in the morning, finish your business, and leave the same day.

Number two: once you have an investment that will need land or property, we make sure that we sort you out within 60 days. We try to keep it that short.

Number three: we also look at, when you need a lot of power to do your own business, we are generating that power, captive power, just to meet your own business needs.

And then also we try as much as possible to look at other basic infrastructure, like ease of access to the site, road network. And some other social infrastructure that would also ease these businesses.

And of course, you will need human resources. That we can boast of a great deal. Training the youth, developing the youth, equipping the youth. Trying to bring up the youth in the current platform – this is an ICT age. We try as much as practical as government to intervene, so that you can also have access to labour when you have set up your own businesses.

Permanent residency in Malta: Family is ‘at the heart of our programme’

Residency Malta Agency is the official management body for the popular Mediterranean island’s residency-by-investment programme. Offering access to Malta’s real estate market, permanent residency for up to four generations from day one of approval, and visa-free travel across the Schengen area, it’s an ideal solution for investors seeking to secure the future of their families. Residency Malta Agency CEO Charles Mizzi explains why Malta is such an attractive destination, the unique features of Malta’s Permanent Residency Programme, and the new schemes recently introduced by the agency for digital nomads and start-up businesses.

World Finance: Charles, I’m sure many viewers will be aware of Malta’s attractions as a holiday destination; but beyond that, what attracts people to become residents?

Charles Mizzi: Yes, Malta is a fantastic destination. We have a wonderful climate with 300 days of sunshine; our outdoor life is fantastic, the nightlife is second-to-none, and our cuisine is top-notch.

We are very well connected, with daily flights to the major airports. Communication is also very easy, because we are an English-speaking nation.

But when looking for somewhere to live, people think about the future of their families. They want to make sure that they give a better education to their children, and they have the comfort in knowing that they are in a country that has one of the top five healthcare services in the world.

People also look for safety and security; and Malta offers all of this.

Of course, they are also thinking about their business. We have a pro-business climate, and government offers full support to entrepreneurs.

World Finance: You offer a permanent residency programme; what benefits does it offer, and what makes it unique?

Charles Mizzi: So as I said, people are often thinking about their families, which are at the heart of our programme.

The MPRP is also one of the few that offers residency from day one. You also get access to the real estate market, by buying or leasing a home. In fact, the MPRP is one of the few that gives the opportunity to lease: it gives you the chance to discover the island.

And of course as a resident of Malta, you will be entitled to visa-free travel across the Schengen area: for 90 days every 180 days.

World Finance: So I need to either lease or buy a property; what other requirements are there for the scheme?

Charles Mizzi: Apart from acquiring a property, you make additional contributions dependent on the property you opt for.

One must also make financial contribution which goes to the government’s consolidated fund.

On top of that, you make a donation to a registered NGO.

We also require residents to have health insurance that offers cover in Malta.

And finally we capture biometric data to issue the residence card.

World Finance: Now, for you as the official government body behind this programme, it’s not enough that people tick all those boxes – there are also some important due diligence checks that you carry out?

Charles Mizzi: Yes, due diligence is the backbone of our programme. It’s the basis of our strong reputation.

It starts with KYC, which is done by the licensed agent. Then once the application is submitted to us, we carry out checks for completeness and correctness of all the documentation we have in hand. We also conduct further due diligence checks on open sources, police checks including Interpol and Europol, and we also look at the source of wealth and source of funds of each applicant. We conduct checks on dependents, donors, benefactors and business associates.

In the meantime we also commission a background verification report from international due diligence companies. And finally our specialised analysts prepare a report which is presented to the board of approvals.

Once an application is approved, the applicant is subject to annual compliance and ongoing monitoring. The agency also has the right to revoke a permit in case of any wrongdoing by the applicants, at any point in time after approval.

World Finance: So if I’m looking at Malta as a residency option, where do I start?

Charles Mizzi: So you start on our website: there is a full list of licensed agents, and you need to choose one from there.

The agents will guide you to fill in an application form. They collate all the required documentation, and then submit an application on your behalf. Then we conduct due diligence; we promise a four to six month timeframe to give a reply on each and every application we receive.

World Finance: Permanent residency is just one of the programmes you offer; tell me about the digital nomad permit, and also the startup residency programme coming later this year.

Charles Mizzi: The nomad residence permit is for non-EU nationals. They can apply for a one-year temporary permit to work remotely from Malta, which can be renewed up to two times. It is designed for those people who work for an employer registered abroad, or are self-employed with a business registered abroad, and also for those who offer freelance services to clients registered outside of Malta.

The Malta startup residence programme will be for third country nationals: non-EU nationals who want to use Malta as a launchpad for business.

Malta is the perfect ecosystem for startups and micro-businesses: government offers a lot of support to businesses, such as financial grants. We are a small country, but a fully developed market. Being an English speaking nation also helps a lot.

Malta is very well connected to other countries; we also have a very strong broadband infrastructure, and we are also blessed to have highly skilled workforce.

How Axxela is transforming Nigerian industries with natural gas

Through its four subsidiaries, Axxela Group provides natural gas to commercial and residential customers across southern Nigeria – and in the process, is helping the country’s industries to transform and grow. Bolaji Osunsanya is Axxela’s CEO; he explains why so many industries are embracing the natural gas advantage, how Axxela’s combination of physical and virtual pipelines are helping extend that advantage outside of the richer south, and what the future holds for the company as it looks to expand across western Africa.

World Finance: Bolaji, Nigeria’s industries often depend on diesel, so gas really can be a game changer.

Bolaji Osunsanya: Yeah, you’re correct Paul. Most industries in Nigeria are dependent on the very dirty fuels. We have in the last 20 years been trying to introduce much cleaner natural gas to the system. We’ve made significant progress introducing natural gas to them, and today they’ve all agreed to take the gas advantage. They’re very keen on its clean nature and the comparative cost advantage.

We have customers in most of the industrial groupings, so we have customers in cement, food and beverage, textiles. Today in total we provide gas to about 200 of the blue-chip industrial concerns in Nigeria. And they’re beginning to use it for more than just their power requirements: they’re also using it for their process needs. So today we have people using gas for their furnaces, for their floor lines, for many other process requirements that we then start to see.

World Finance: Of course you operate traditional pipelines, but also a virtual pipeline for customers out of reach of normal infrastructure – why is this solution so important for Nigeria?

Bolaji Osunsanya: As I’m sure you know, the grid in Nigeria is still very limited – largely in the southern part of Nigeria. And the virtual pipelines get to those stranded customers who are not currently on the pipeline infrastructure. So we’re targeting a large part of the north, and a large part of the middle belt, where the resource is not available, and where there are no linkage pipelines yet.

So we liquefy or we compress the same natural gas, and we put them on wheels – either on trucks, or on rail – and wheel them to the customers wherever they are in the hinterland.

We expect that ultimately all nooks and crannies of Nigeria will have the pipeline infrastructure; but while we adapt, there should be production possible on the tracks of virtual pipelines. So we expect that it will be a forerunner, it will be a door-opener for most of the market. And will probably switch seamlessly away from virtual pipelines back into the pipelines when we get there.

World Finance: Now, how do you ensure your operation is both safe and sustainable?

Bolaji Osunsanya: Well, we deal with natural gas, and natural gas already has conditions under which you would operate safely. And as much as possible we try to keep to those regulations, and as much as possible also we try to pass that on to all our customers. So there’s a lot heavy dose training, heavy dose inspection, heavy dose supervision, that we ensure makes our operation safe.

On the sustainability point, we’re subscribers to the ISO integrated management system, and with that we’re constantly operating according to the guidelines, and ensuring that we have a system that looks at our operations.

Additionally, we’re also subscribers to the Sustainable Development Goals objectives, and each of those principles we’ve embedded in our operations to ensure that we’re working in a sustainable manner.

World Finance: And what does the future hold for Axxela Group? Where are you planning your own growth?

Bolaji Osunsanya: Well I think we’ve used the last 20 years to demonstrate what is possible in the African clime, using Nigeria as the guinea pig, if you like. Now I think we’re confident enough to continue to do that in Nigeria and extend it to the rest of the region. So Togo, Benin, Ghana, and all the other west African states should be beneficiaries of our service in the coming years.

And additionally we will be looking at taking on a lot more in the power space. We’re a gas and power company; we’ve predominantly done more in the gas side. I think it’s time now to push the boundaries into the power space, and in that regard we are already registered on the west African gas pipeline and on the west African power pool. We expect to be able to trade power into these same markets within Nigeria and the region in the coming years.

Additionally, we will be trying to expand the solutions that we have in the gas space. Supply security’s a big part of the strategy going forward; and so we will be getting into processing plants and all the other ways that assure our supplies over time.