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Banker of the year Wigwe: Thriving in adverse circumstances

By Emeka Anaeto, Economy Editor
Herbert Onyewumbu Wigwe, a top flight banker and entrepreneur, currently Group Managing Director/ CEO, Access Bank Plc, is our BANKER OF THE YEAR, 2016.

Vanguard Board of Editors arrived at this decision after a painstaking study of five other bankers with equally compelling attributes and achievements but had to look for some other scorecards and non-numerical issues surrounding the  achievements. Wigwe  remained outstanding.

Having just completed his third year in office as the CEO of Access Bank, Wigwe has shown an uncommon resilience, thriving in adverse circumstances, after stepping into the, rather, big shoes of his predecessor.

Wigwe became the CEO of the bank January 2014 and, barely six months afterwards, Nigeria’s economy began a journey into deceleration, and Access Bank, being already a major player in the key sectors of the economy, had to cope with a lot of headwinds through the remaining part of the year and into a major electioneering year of 2015, which equally proved worse than the previous year on all fronts, despite a hugely successful election and smooth transition of power.

By 2016, the year of our assessment, the economic and banking environment had become nightmarish.

It is against these circumstances that Wigwe had to drive the bank’s FIVE-YEAR STRATEGIC PLAN created under a near rosy macroeconomic environment of the bank’s transition and succession period (2013), without foreseeing the imminent danger in the macroeconomic horizon.

We do not know when and where he learnt or experienced business management under macroeconomic crises, especially of the proportion witnessed so far in Nigeria, but the results he achieved speak volumes of his sagacity in driving business through tempestuous waters to success.

The five-year plan is not only on course but has recorded some results beyond-target. Instructively, the plan is just one of the few made public in the banking industry, subjecting it to assessments by the stakeholders and critics, constructive and adversarial, alike.

Not only has the bank under Wigwe achieved stellar results amidst the macroeconomic tide and its spillover effects on the banking industry, it has outperformed its peers in most performance indicators. Thus glittering the core values of the bank’s business pedigree while affirming the integrity of the succession plan.


The 2016, nine-months results show pre-tax profit rising 19%, principally driven by stronger net interest income. More than half of industry operators recorded drops in profits while some went into loss position.

Amidst asset quality crises that worsened amongst banks in 2016, Access Bank maintained stable asset quality largely due to proactive monitoring of the loan book. The NPL Ratio at 2.1% is one of the best three in the industry.

Even under severe pressures on businesses, one of the worst in recent years, Access Bank’s Cost of Risk at 0.9% went down 10 basis points.

The bank also recorded enhanced net interest margin on the back of a 40% year-on-year growth in net interest income, and 50 basis points growth in Net Interest Margin at 6.5%, all indicating a bank with liquidity advantage and treasury management proficiency over competitors.

Against all odds,  Access Bank has shown a solid capital base growing by 20% and strongly poised to maximize growth opportunities in key sectors of the economy.

For these, we are compelled to name Wigwe  VANGUARD BANKER OF THE YEAR, 2016.



Wigwe, bagged his first degree in accountancy from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He had an master’s degree in banking and finance from the University College of North Wales (now Bangor), and also M.Sc in financial economics from the University of London.

For his academic and professional accomplishments, he was honored with a  doctorate degree, honorary, by University of Port Harcourt.

He is an  alumnus of the Harvard Business School Executive Management Program.


Wigwe began his career at Coopers & Lybrand, Lagos, a global leader in accounting and management services, as a management consultant, later qualifying as a  chartered  accountant. After a stint at Capital Bank, he joined GTBank where he spent over a decade working in corporate and institutional banking, rising to become the Executive Director in charge of institutional banking.

In 2002, Wigwe and his business partner, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, saw a unique opportunity and grasped it, acquiring what was then a small commercial bank, Access Bank, at the time, the 65th largest of the 89 banks in the country.

Access Bank is now one of the top  five  banks in Nigeria and ranked among the top 500 global banks.

As one of Nigeria’s foremost corporate bankers, he has helped develop some of Africa’s biggest companies in the construction, telecommunications, energy and oil and gas sectors through a unique model, which involves understanding and providing financial support and expertise.

His career in financial services spans more than 26 years including over a decade as Deputy managing director of a Access Bank

Wigwe served as the Chairman of Access Bank Ghana Limited,[4] Access Investment & Securities Limited, Central Securities and Clearing System (CSCS) and is the current Chairman of Access Bank (UK) Limited.

He is a board member of Nigerian Mortgage Refinance Company.

Wigwe is a member of the advisory Board for Friends Africa. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN – FCA), a Fellow of The Institute of Credit Administration, and an  honorary member of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria.


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