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.