Zenith Bank is balancing the scorecard with ESG policies

A bank is only as strong as the community it serves, and this founding philosophy has not only helped it to provide support and aid during the global health crisis, but forms part of Zenith Bank’s continuing commitment to help govern sustainability long into the future

Zenith Bank’s head office in Lagos, Nigeria
Zenith Bank’s head office in Lagos, Nigeria 

In just over 30 years, Zenith Bank has grown to become Nigeria’s largest – and one of Africa’s largest – financial institutions by tier-1 capital, with shareholders’ funds in excess of NGN1trn ($2.6bn) as of December 31, 2020. A clear leader in the Nigerian financial space, with several firsts in the deployment of innovative products and solutions that ensure convenience, speed and safety of transactions, Zenith Bank has shaped development in Nigeria, setting the pace in several sectors of the economy.

The bank has demonstrated rare resilience and doggedness that has translated to exponential growth in virtually all areas, and today, Zenith is undoubtedly Nigeria’s most profitable financial institution, recording an impressive result for the year ending December 31, 2020, with a year-on-year growth of 10 percent in profit after tax (PAT) from NGN208.8bn ($547m) recorded in 2019 to NGN230.7bn ($607m). This is in spite of a very challenging macroeconomic environment exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Zenith brand is not only bullish on growth and profitability; it is also committed to the overall welfare of its immediate community and society in general. Indeed, the bank remains one of the biggest corporate social responsibility (CSR) contributors in the Nigerian financial services industry. Its sustainability and CSR initiatives hinge on the belief that today’s business performance is not all about the financial numbers – it believes that an institution’s social investments, contributions to inclusive economic growth and development as well as improvements in the condition of the physical environment, all contribute to a balanced scorecard.

Auspicious beginnings
Founded by Jim Ovia (CON), Zenith Bank Plc was established in May 1990 and commenced operations in July of the same year as a commercial bank. The bank became a public limited company on June 17, 2004, and was listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) on October 21, 2004, following a highly successful Initial Public Offering (IPO).

Headquartered in Nigeria’s commercial capital of Lagos, Zenith Bank provides individual customers and corporate clients with a range of financial products and services from over 500 branches and business offices across all states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. It also has a presence in the UK, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Gambia, China and the UAE. The bank’s shares are traded on both the Nigerian and London Stock Exchanges.

Zenith Bank’s management team is made up of seasoned professionals led by Ebenezer Onyeagwu, the Group Managing Director and CEO. He took over the reins in June 2019 following the retirement of Peter Amangbo, who succeeded Godwin Emefiele (CON), the current Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Successive leaderships of the bank have drawn from the strong pedigree and solid foundation laid by its founder, Jim Ovia, in harnessing the wealth of talent, excellent service culture and continuous deployment of state-of-the-art technology to keep the institution at the forefront of Nigeria’s banking industry. The seamless transition at the bank is clear evidence of strategic foresight and is consistent with the bank’s traditional succession strategy of grooming leaders from within.

Stepping up sustainability
Zenith Bank has clearly distinguished itself in the Nigerian financial services industry as an institution that is committed to building a more sustainable and inclusive economy and one that promotes responsible business practices in Nigeria through the integration of sustainability principles in its everyday business operations. With executive management support, all the bank’s credit and investments are now being screened for environmental and social (E&S) risks.

To align its processes with best practices, the bank continues to maintain its commitments as signatory to various domestic and international sustainability frameworks including United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); United Nations Global Compact Principles; Central Bank of Nigeria Sustainable Banking Principles; and International Finance Corporation Performance Standards.

The bank is a founding signatory of the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative, Principles for Responsible Banking. After joining 130 banks across the globe to launch these principles in September 2019, the bank has vigorously pursued the implementation of the principles thereafter, signifying its intention to create value for its shareholders, customers, clients, investors, communities and the environment through its practices, operations and investments. The bank has been a leader in monitoring and reporting sustainability impact.

Since becoming the first bank in Africa to publish a stand-alone sustainability report in accordance with the GRI Standards: Core Option in 2016, Zenith Bank has published five stand-alone reports as of 2020. The bank is one of very few institutions in Nigeria that track their carbon emissions using a certified tool that is built on the internationally recognised GHG Protocol.

The Zenith brand is not only bullish on growth and profitability; it is also committed to the overall welfare of its immediate community and society in general

In furtherance of its commitment to entrenching global best practices in its operations, the bank recently embarked on a grand plan to systematically reduce its carbon emissions footprint through the replacement of diesel-powered generators in its branches with solar panels. The bank is also making significant progress with the upgrade of its energy centre.

The new ultramodern centre will run 70 percent on gas and 30 percent on diesel, allowing it to eliminate the use of about thirty 200kva diesel generators, which currently serve its head office and some of its business offices around Victoria Island, Lagos.

Also, in consonance with the Sustainable Development Goals, the bank demonstrated commitment to empowering women-owned businesses by introducing a special loan product called Z-Woman, which is specifically targeted at offering single digit interest rate loans for women-led businesses in all sectors and segments of the economy.

Investing in people first
Through its CSR initiatives, the bank has embodied the overarching objective of the 17 SDGs, which provide a framework for addressing the major challenges confronting our society. Its social investments are targeted at health, education, women and youth empowerment, sports development and public infrastructure enhancement. Overall, Zenith Bank’s total social investments in 2020 stood at NGN3.29bn ($8.62m), representing 1.66 percent of its PAT.

The bank remains committed to furthering the economic, cultural and social development of host communities, particularly through community-based initiatives and philanthropy. As a good corporate citizen, it continues to deliver projects that have long-term social and economic benefits for communities because it believes that its business is only as strong as the communities in which it operates.

To demonstrate its commitment to creating and expanding opportunities, the bank regularly makes donations towards the establishment of ultramodern ICT centres in several educational institutions across the country. It also supports various developmental projects and healthcare delivery causes in Nigeria, and contributes to the development of sports through its sponsorship of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), the Zenith Women Basketball League, and the Zenith Bank Delta State Principals’ Cup, to mention a few.

The bank also demonstrates leadership when its host communities deal with crisis. For example, following the unfortunate gas explosion incident of March 15, 2020, which led to the loss of lives and properties at the Abule-Ado area in the Amuwo Odofin local government area of Lagos State, Zenith Bank announced a donation of NGN100m ($263k) to the emergency relief fund set up by the Lagos State Government for the victims of the explosion.

Zenith Bank considers the safety of communities key to the achievement of the goals and aspirations of both private and corporate citizens. Consequently, the bank continues to enhance its engagement with the government and other relevant stakeholders tasked with peace and security. The assessment emanating from the engagement formed the basis for its contribution to various States’ Governments Security Trust Fund. Thus, in 2020 the bank invested the sum of NGN1.408bn ($3.7m) in security trust funds, boosting the operations and effectiveness of relevant security agencies and the safety of communities.

Also, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its inherent impact on financial institutions, Zenith Bank leveraged an offer from International Finance Corporation (IFC) for an emergency relief working capital loan of $100m to support the bank’s trade finance activities. This loan is being deployed to meet the trade and financing needs of its customers, and the bank remains committed to helping them alleviate the financial pressures brought upon their businesses by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Striving towards excellence
As a testament to its achievements, Zenith Bank won the awards for ‘Best Company in Promotion of Good Health and Wellbeing’ and ‘Best Company in Promotion of Gender Equality and Women Empowerment’ in Africa at the 2020 Sustainability, Enterprise and Responsibility Awards (SERAS). Also in recognition of the its track record of exceptional performance, Zenith Bank was voted as ‘Bank of the Year, Nigeria’ in The Banker’s Bank of the Year Awards 2020; ‘Best Bank in Nigeria’ in the Global Finance World’s Best Banks Awards 2020 and 2021; and ‘Best Corporate Governance Financial Services Africa 2020’ by the Ethical Boardroom.

The bank also emerged as the ‘Most Valuable Banking Brand in Nigeria,’ for the fourth consecutive year, in Banker magazine’s ‘Top 500 Banking Brands 2021’ and number one bank in Nigeria by tier-1 capital in the ‘2020 Top 1,000 World Banks’ ranking. Similarly, the bank was recognised as ‘Bank of the Decade’ (People’s Choice) at the ThisDay Awards 2020, and ‘Retail Bank of the Year’ at the 2020 BusinessDay Banks and Other Financial Institutions (BOFI) awards.