By Danjuma Mangut
News reports last week which hinted that erstwhile executive director of Unity Bank, Alhaji Lamis Shehu Dikko’s name has been sent to the Central Bank of Nigeria for approval as the new substantive chairman of Unity Bank’s board has been greeted with applause in the banking and financial industry. Unity Bank has often been referred to as the ‘sleeping giant’ of the Nigerian Banking industry.
Its huge potentials have not yet found effective expression and it is in an apparent fresh move to dig deep and unlock these that the Bank began a re-structuring exercise in 2013, according to reports from the bank from that period. None of the changes in its organizational or management structure has however raised more eyebrows than Lamis’ ‘homecoming’.
He had resigned in 2010, then as the Group Executive Director Central Region to offer himself up for national service in the Nigerian Senate. Before then, he was the Executive Director, Credit Risk Management, a position he moved into immediately after the consolidation exercise that saw Intercity Bank of which he was then managing director, merge with 8 other Banks to form Unity Bank in 2006. Intercity Bank was the lead bank in the merger process and this put him squarely in the lead in the development of the merger strategy and its implementation. Being in the front seat at that period gives him the edge of having unmatchable in-depth understanding of the system and institution he helped create, and this is a knowledge pool that will be of immense value at this period in Unity Bank’s development.
Lamis, who is the current chairman of Infrastructure Bank, among other achievements, oversaw the re-branding of that Bank, then known as Urban Development Bank and led the implementation of its renewed focus on infrastructural investment. He is also a Director at Enterprise Bank which rose from the ashes of the defunct Spring Bank and which within a period of about 3 years from nationalization moved from a precarious loss position and erosion in shareholders’ funds to a profit position of well over N11 billion as at 2012 and an improvement of loan-to-deposit ratio from less than five per cent to being well in excess of 60 per cent, factors which have led the Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON) to view it more favorable as the most ready among the three nationalized banks for divestment. He is also a Director at Legacy Pension among others.
Among his many qualifications, is a BSc degree in economics from Queen Mary’s College, University of London and he is an alumnus of the Havard Business School for Management Development. He was part of the team that nurtured the then newly-born institution through its first years and helped set in on its course for greatness. A consummate banking professional, with over 25 years of core banking experience, staff and industry colleagues say his managerial footprint was felt throughout the Bank during those years. He pursued the entrenchment of professionalism, dynamism and quality service delivery and had a reputation for infusing a human face to it. It was no wonder that he always had the loyalty of all he worked with and this was a capital he leveraged on but was never found to have abused. Following his departure, his subsequent board positions in other financial institutions and organizations have seen him expand his range of contacts within and outside the sector and that he has remained so highly sought after show that he remains one of the best in the field today.
For a bank that had set for itself a new goal of launching itself into the sector’s major league, his return will be the much-needed boost that the new management team will need to conclude far-reaching actions already initiated. After setting for itself the new vision of becoming “Nigeria’s retail bank of choice”, the bank has had to pull in every resource, internal and external, to achieve this tall order. Competition has always been stiff in the Nigerian Banking sector but recent regulatory policies have had banks reaching into the deepest recesses of their product differentiation strategies and marketing to lure the bankable population of Nigerians to ensure sustained profitability. This has seen an exponential increase in retail products being rolled out by banks and a redoubling of efforts to sell them.
To achieve this new vision, the Bank last year proceeded to concentrate all of its product development and marketing into the newly formed Retail Banking Division. Now reports from the Bank indicate that it has received approval from the CBN to morph the Division into a Directorate under the direct supervision of an Executive Director.
Key senior personnel have been recruited in, most of them from senior position in other Banks and the experience they are bringing in is expected to boost the transformation. Many more are expected to join in the days to come. It is in this period of dynamism that Alh. Dikko is being drafted in. His vast experience in the financial services sector, intimate knowledge of and passion for the institution that he helped found, are seen in many quarters as both the force that is needed to bind the whole process together and the catalyst that will give birth to a new and highly competitive Unity Bank.
Already feelers show that stakeholder confidence has risen sharply just days after the story of his naming got to the public. For certain, as all eyes are now focused on the new man at the helm and expectations abound, one thing is certain in the minds of the competition, stakeholders, regulators and the general public. A new era has begun in Unity Bank.
Danjuma Mangut resides in Gwagwa, Abuja