By Dele Sobowale
“Miracles happen to those who believe in them.”
For the second time since I started writing columns for Vanguard in 1987, an organisation in the public and private sectors has proved me wrong, and I am absolutely delighted to admit it. When Polaris Bank was created out of the ashes of Skye Bank in 2018, I gave the new bank no chance for survival.
Everyone who came within earshot was told to go and withdraw their deposits.
Then the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, announced names of the new management and board of directors. It was time to wait and see.
The first MD set the tone“For me, what was most reassuring was the statement by Mr Adetokunbo Abiru, the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer who said:
“The emergence of Polaris Bank on September 21, 2018, has heralded a new dawn as it laid the foundation for institutional competitiveness and service innovation in the nation’s challenging banking space.
“We shall continue to run an ethnically governed bank; upholding sound risk management practices and proactively taking measures to mitigate the impact of the adverse business environment while the board and management continue to guide the bank towards a path of sustainable growth.”
Mr Tokunbo Abiru was not exactly a household name among the general public at the time of his appointment, but, he was well-known and highly respected among bankers. To the professionals, his appointment did not come as surprise. Mr Abiru and his team – a sound blend of old Skye Bank staff and new hands were keenly aware that the former bank ran into trouble – not because of lack of professional competence – but, on account of ethical lapses which permeated the bank. To revive the bank, they needed to restore all stakeholders’ confidence in the board and management.
Without that, the attempt to revive the bank would have amounted to a wasted exercise. The results for the first year were astonishing.
The Polaris story for 2019 “Polaris Bank records N27.8bn profit.” — Punch, February 27, 2020, p 25.
The story by Nike Popoola went on to say that: “Polaris Bank Limited said it recorded N27.8bn profit before tax in its first audited IFRS 2019-compliant financial result.
“The result showed that Polaris Bank’s capital adequacy ratio of 14 per cent and liquidity ratio of 81 per cent were well above regulatory requirements, demonstrating strong prudential compliance…”
While writing about Polaris’ stunning turnaround last year, I had predicted that the first year result was not going to be a flash in the pan; that observers and stakeholders can expect more profitable years ahead. There was a noticeable new attitude in the bank.
Polaris in 2020 has not disappointed me. Just as banking sector observers were getting accustomed to Abiru’s leadership and expecting more, he resigned abruptly; and created anxiety that the party might be over at Polaris. We have been proved wrong once again.
Then came Innocent Ike “Polaris Bank has achieved significant milestones since its inception in September 21, 2018, when we started this journey. We have since grown to earn the confidence of the banking publics, offering quality banking services at the cutting edge of technology…2020 was arguably the most challenging year the world has faced in decades owing to the negative impact of COVID-19 on businesses and the economy.” — Innocent Ike, Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Polaris Bank.
Mr Ike, who succeeded Abiru, has every reason to be proud of the bank’s achievements in 2020. The abrupt departure of the first helmsman had raised alarm in banking circles. Was Polaris going to sink like a stricken submarine? All eyes were on Ibe. And he rose to the occasion in more ways than one.
As indicated above, Polaris Bank in 2020 achieved profit growth of N28.9bn (PBT). But the bank attained other important milestones which will position it for greater growth in the future. These include:
*4% increase in Profit Before Tax (PBT) Year-on-Year despite challenging business environment.
*Assets hit N1.2tr and Return on Assets (ROA) of 2.4%
*Return on Equity of 29.4%
*Shareholders funds grew by N14 billion (17%), largely on account of additional value creation through internally-generated profits.
Few people could assume leadership of any business organisation in 2020 and make profit.
Fewer still could successfully manage the change of leadership so seamlessly for a bank with a long history of turmoil, after the first MD/CEO left in such a short time. Ibe proved every doubting Thomas wrong.
The results testify to his courage and strength. He has achieved continuity in a bank which had lacked good governance. The sky is no longer the limit for Polaris which is now poised to become an important tier-2 bank in Nigeria. Credits go in equal measures to CBN, Mr Ike and the entire board and management of Polaris Bank. We now have an all-Nigerian bank servicing all sectors of society.
What is new about Polaris?
Every bank survives and thrives on stakeholders’ trust. That is the foundation which must be sound; and on which everything else is built. Banking has also become more technology-driven. No bank can fall too far behind without placing itself at a competitive disadvantage. Finally, there must be unity of purpose down the line. There must be shared values and the strategic focus must be sharp. For years, SKYE Bank had lacked these ingredients.
Polaris, under Abiru and Ibe, has managed to re-invent itself to become a bank of the future. So much so, one client, who was advised early last year to sell his substantial shares; was later asked to wait and see. Today, the advice has changed to “hang on”. He is extremely delighted with the remarkable turnaround of the bank.
Granted, there is a lot more to be done. Polaris inherited huge amount of Non Performing Loans resulting from the indiscretions of former managers of Skye Bank. Patience, fortitude and good corporate governance was needed to help get rid of these heavy liabilities. But, with the current board and management, as well as the change of attitude at the bank, Polaris will soon overcome these problems.
The bank never ceases to amaze me.