Five Years of Triumph: Ebenezer Onyeagwu’s Zenith Era

 By Emma Ukala

Come 31 May 2024, the curtain will be drawn over the eventful five-year term of Dr Ebenezer Onyeagwu, as the managing director/chief executive of Zenith Bank Plc when a new chief executive, Adaora Umeoji will step in to take charge.

Definitely, it’s going to be the end of a momentous tenure. This is because, in the grand tapestry of corporate stewardship, Ebenezer Onyeagwu’s five-year reign as the venerable chief executive of Zenith Bank Plc unfurled as a symphony of transformative prowess, imbuing the institution with a resplendent aura of innovation and excellence. Like a masterful conductor, Onyeagwu orchestrated a melodic journey of growth and prosperity, guiding Zenith Bank to unparalleled heights of success.

Under his ethical leadership, Zenith Bank blossomed into a beacon of financial ingenuity, pioneering groundbreaking initiatives that redefined the banking landscape. Through a harmonious fusion of strategic vision and unwavering dedication, Onyeagwu, who is respected for his impeccable character, steered the institution towards unprecedented achievements, weaving a narrative of triumph and distinction.

With a laurel-strewn path tracing his tenure, Onyeagwu’s tenure heralded a cascade of accolades and honours, each emblematic of Zenith Bank’s unrivalled stature in the Nigerian financial arena. From prestigious industry recognitions to coveted awards for corporate excellence, the accolades bestowed upon Zenith Bank under his stewardship served as a testament to Onyeagwu’s visionary leadership and unwavering commitment to excellence.

In the annals of banking history, Ebenezer Onyeagwu’s tenure as the chief executive of Zenith Bank Plc shall forever stand as a testament to the transformative power of inspired leadership, a golden epoch where innovation, integrity, and excellence converged to sculpt a legacy destined to endure for generations to come.

He doesn’t make noise, even with the bank’s stellar performance under his watch, no wonder analysts say this is the kind of achievement which every officeholder should emulate even if it is difficult to surpass the incredible performance he is leaving behind.

Changing the Narratives

That he brought to his job strategic thinking, inspirational leadership, and energetic and entrepreneurial skills to the job is not in doubt as the figure of success speaks for itself.

Like a captain of a ship ready to sail, Onyeagwu began to change the fortune of Zenith Bank in 2019 when he assumed the office of the chief executive of the bank. For instance, the bank, the Zenith Bank’s share price was  N18.60  in 2019 when he took over, while market capitalisation was N584bn, however as at the time of leaving office, he had grown the bank’s share price to N39 with market capitalisation rising to N1,22trillion.

Apart from GTB, which grew its market capitalisation significantly from N874bn in 2019  to N1,192trillion in 2023, no other tier-1 banks were able to go near the feat of Zenith Bank in that period.

An analysis of these banks shows that while Access Bank, which posted a market capital of N289billion in 2019 was able to raise its performance to N777bn in 2023, UBA grew its market capitalisation from N245bn in 2019 to N877bn in 2023 while First Bank’s market capitalisation rose from N221 in 2019 to N845billion in 2023.

In 2019 when Onyeagwu took the rein of leadership, Zenith Bank’s gross loan was N2,462trillion but as of Q3, 2023, it had risen to N6,101trillion, while its customers’ deposits tripled from N4,262trillion in 2019 when he came on board to N13,383trillion as of Q3, 2023.

The bank’s superlative performance under his watch also manifested in the total assets which significantly rose to N18,160 trillion in Q3, 2023 from N6,347 trillion it posted in 2019.

In 2019 when he assumed the position of chief executive of the bank, the bank’s shareholders’ fund rose from N942 billion in 2019 and increased to N1,919 trillion in Q3,2023.

In terms of the bank’s major income statement lines, the outgoing chief executive can be described as an achiever. For instance, in 2019 when he came on board, the bank’s gross earnings, profit before tax and interest income for 2019 were N662 billion, N243 billion and N232 billion respectively. As of Q3, 2023, the tide has changed and the bank’s income statement showed a gross earning of N1,329 trillion, profit before tax of N505billion and interest income of N607billion respectively.

It is noteworthy that the non-financial performance indicators also grew to support the financial indices. For instance, its customer base rose from 9,575,733 in 2019 to 33,069,875 in 2023.

To show its seriousness as a big player in the retail end, the bank performed very well in terms of card issuance during the period. The number of cards issued in 2019 was 7,880,411. This was improved upon in the course of the years as it ballooned to 25,653,330 in 2023.

The bank which released 41,536 POS terminals in 2019, grew exponentially to 413,183 in 2023. It recorded zero agent bankers in 2019, but by 2023, 105,810 agents had been registered.

The bank’s branches slightly increased from 430 in 2019 to 447 in 2023. During his tenure, the bank placed a premium on staff strength as the number of male staff grew from 3,776 in 2019 when he resumed as the CEO of the bank in 2019  to 4,049 in 2023. On the other hand, the number of female staff members rose from 3,441 to 3,993 last year.

Harvests of Awards

If Onyeagwu is to be rated based on awards conferred on him during his stewardship as the chief executive of Zenith Bank, he surely has enough to show for the five-year tenure.

It is to his credit that Zenith Bank under his leadership won many awards back to back in 2019, a feat he was able to sustain and surpass to date. In 2019, he led the bank to win the award of the Best Commercial Bank in Nigeria by World Finance, apart from the fact that it was named the Biggest Bank in Nigeria by Tier-1 capital by The Banker Magazine, which also named Zenith Bank as the Most Valuable Banking Brand in Nigeria.

To prove that the chains of awards bestowed on Zenith Bank under Onyeagwu’s watch for five years was not a fluke, the bank was named the Biggest Bank in Nigeria by Tier-1 Capital by the Banker Magazine in 2023. It also made the list of World Finance 100 list, which also named Zenith Bank as the Best Commercial Bank, in Nigeria and Best Bank in Corporate Governance in Nigeria. It was named Best Bank for Digital Solutions, Nigeria by Euromoney in 2023.

For his recognition, Onyeagwu was named the Bank CEO of the Year in 2022 and 2023 by Businessday and Leadership newspapers. In 2023, he was crowned the Best Banking CEO of the Year, Africa by International Banker, while Businessday and Telegraph newspapers named him as the Bank CEO of the Year in the same year.

Onyeagwu replaced Mr. Peter Amangbo, whose tenure expired on May 31, 2019. as GMD/CEO. He is a vastly experienced banker and financial expert, trained in reputable institutions of learning in Nigeria, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

He is a graduate of Accounting from Auchi Polytechnic where he obtained the Ordinary National diploma in 1984 and Higher National Diploma in 1987.  He qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1989 while he was still undergoing the compulsory National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) post-graduation and was named a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (FCA) in 2003.

He is an alumnus of the prestigious University of Oxford, England, from where he obtained a Postgraduate Diploma in Financial Strategy and a certificate in Macroeconomics. He also undertook extensive executive-level business education at Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia Business School of Columbia University, the Harvard Business School of Harvard University (all in the United States) and Lagos Business School of the Pan African University, Nigeria.

He has nearly 30 years of experience in the banking industry in Nigeria.  He joined Zenith Bank Plc in 2002 as a Senior Manager, in the Internal Control and Audit Group of the bank.  His professionalism, competence, integrity and commitment to the set objectives of the bank saw him rise swiftly between 2003 and 2005, first, as Assistant General Manager, then as Deputy General Manager, and eventually as General Manager of the bank.  In these capacities, he handled strategies for new business and branch development, management of risk assets portfolios, treasury functions, strategic top-level corporate, multinationals and public institutional relationships, among others. 

He was named Executive Director of the bank in 2013 and was put in charge of Lagos and South-South Zones as well as strategic groups/business units of the bank including Financial Control & Strategic Planning, Treasury and Correspondent Groups, Human Resources Group, Oil and Gas Group, and Credit Risk Management Group, etc. He was named Deputy Managing Director of the bank in 2016.

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