In this interview with The Worldfolio, Mr. Henry Oroh, Managing Director of Zenith Bank Ghana, discusses how Zenith Bank has changed the banking industry landscape in Ghana, becoming a tier 1 bank of reference in the country.
Like the rest of the world, Africa remains uncertain about what is to come after global geopolitical shifts like Trump’s election in the US or the Brexit win in the UK. Investors are now turning their eyes to other regions and Africa is becoming a key part of their global portfolio. How can Africa take advantage of this momentum and gain investor confidence?
Africa has been central to the developmental agenda of various economies around the world, and although the continent has evolved over time, it is still quite linked to global developments. Africa also remains a very good source of natural resources; we have big oil reserves in countries like Angola and Nigeria, we have gold here in Ghana as well as in South Africa, and we have diamonds. There is also cocoa here in Ghana and Ivory Coast. There are huge reservoirs of raw materials and minerals across the continent, which is always an attraction for other countries to tap into.
Africa also has a large reservoir of talent. In terms of human capital, Africa has developed people in various disciplines who are well trained in the fields of medicine, engineering, business, all of whom have contributed significantly in developing not only Africa but other parts of the world.
With Trump having won the elections in the United States, the Republican Party came into power with a new philosophy. During the campaign the message was clear: “America First”. So how does that affect other parts of the world, one would ask? America itself has been a net contributor to other economies and regions like Africa, but now with “America First” the natural belief is to think that some of this support might not come in the quantity that we have seen over the years. We are now also seeing Trump’s views towards global synergies with respect to sustainability issues and immigration policies.
There is a set of nations who have not portrayed the right attitude towards security and terrorism. People from those countries have to go through very tight security processes before they can go to America. All of that in one way or another will affect the relations between different continents and the US.
The good thing is that having become President we have seen him modify some of what was said during the election campaign. Now that he is President, he is the father of America and the father of the world. So we see him in his philosophy, practical ways of working together to improve our world and our continent. So, my attitude towards him coming to power is of hope. I think Africa might be better off, in my opinion, if we have an America that is strong with top-notch security; security will improve in the world and Africa will be no exception. With security assured worldwide, Africa will be a good place to do business.
Over the last decade Ghana has been one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, however over the past two years it has suffered a significant slowdown. High inflation, a weakening currency and a large public deficit led to an economic crisis, forcing Ghana to seek a $920 million bailout from the IMF. 2017 marks a new journey for Ghana under Akufo-Addo’s administration which has pledged to put Ghana back on track. How would you assess the performance of the Ghanaian economy and what is your outlook for 2017?
Between 2009 and 2012, the economy of Ghana showed a lot of promise when oil was discovered in the Jubilee fields. At the time there were a lot of foreign direct investments and foreign capital coming in. Tourism also improved. Businesses came into Ghana in different forms and areas with the hope of benefitting from the oil boom. Unfortunately there was some disappointment because the quantity and the level of growth in the oil reserves were not as high as was anticipated.
A lot of businesses came to set up here in anticipation of such a boom. These businesses did not create a demand in the current scene and foreign exchange issues began to crop up. That is why between 2011 and 2015 the cedi depreciated from an average of 1.5 cedis to about 3.8 cedis per dollar, which is a 60 percent depreciation over a very short time. That is the problem that we saw in Ghana. It can also be seen as an opportunity because Ghana became a global focus and the foreign direct investment that came in saw Ghana as a good place, where investment would drive the country. When there is security, consistency in policy and people are hospitable, foreign direct investment will flow in.
When you compare Ghana to other countries within the region, there is relative consistency in policy. There is political stability and that has proven to be true over time, as seen in the seamless handing over of power from one party to another. In Ghana people can move around very freely, there is no fear of being harassed, there are no cases of terrorist attacks or civil unrest or high level of crimes compared to other countries. And the people are extremely hospitable. These are all attractions to FDI.
Although the oil reserves have not grown, the foreigners that have come and seen these types of conditions have also invested in other areas of the economy, which will again boost the national output for Ghana.
Investors and the government of Ghana are also investing in the development of gas fields, which will be an alternative source of power apart from crude. We know that by 2018 those gas fields should be working and we should power our industry with locally-produced gas. That in itself will also serve to improve foreign currency reserves. By producing gas internally, we will save the money which would otherwise have been used to import crude to power our industry.
My outlook for Ghana is a very positive one in the sense that we have the required environment for the economy to thrive and move forward. If you go to other economies like Angola, Nigeria or Cote d´Ivoire you find their economies are running around one major single export or two at most. Ghana will have three giant export commodities: gold, oil and cocoa, each of which will have significant impact on the economy.
The government of Ghana is also working very hard to curb inflation and we have seen it drop from 19 to 12 percent. Exchange rates have also stabilised. With controlled inflation and a stabilised exchange rate, I believe Ghana will be very attractive to foreign investors.
Despite the challenges faced by the Ghanaian economy, Zenith Bank Ghana has managed to remain profitable with an increase in profits of 68% in 2016. What have been the key elements behind this performance?
The story of Zenith Bank is always a pleasant story to tell. Zenith Bank started as a Nigerian bank and in a very short time grew to become the biggest bank in Nigeria, with the highest returns and triple-A rating. We are listed on the stock exchange in Nigeria and have a widely spread shareholder base. The brand is very respected in Nigeria.
In 2005, the management and board of Nigeria decided to look at other African countries where they could replicate the Zenith story. We came to Ghana and have been committed to Ghana ever since. As a private bank, we have influenced how banking is done in Ghana. It is a known fact in Ghana, that when Zenith Bank arrived, together with other foreign banks, we changed the banking industry landscape. Traditionally, it was the armchair model of banking that was practiced where the customer comes to you, but we redefined customer service; we took banking to the doorstep of the customer.
Today, 12 years later, Zenith Bank is one of the tier 1 banks in Ghana and all this has happened because of our model of banking. We are focused on our vision, “to be a reference point in the provision of prompt, flawless and innovative banking products and services in the Ghanaian banking industry”. Our mission is “to invest in the best people, technology and environment to underscore our commitment to achieving customer enthusiasm.” This is how we drive our business.
The people we work with are our prime concern. At Zenith Bank we try to have the best people, give them the best training and inspire them. We want people to be committed to our brand and to be aligned with the objectives of the institution. We have what we call the Zenith DNA. That is what has kept us at the top for the last 12 years, and on top of all that is how we treat our customers, we treat them as kings.
We share in the words of Mahatma Gandhi when he said, “A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us, we are dependent on him. He is not an interruption to our work; he is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider to our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him; he is doing us a favour by giving is the opportunity to do so”. That has always been the bedrock upon which every Zenith person thinks and acts. We ensure that the customer is happy and finds our service more than appropriate. To achieve that, we have evolved our products and used IT as the driving force in delivering our service.
One of the major challenges in Ghana are interest rates and SME access to credit. How is Zenith Bank supporting SME development in Ghana and enabling adequate access to finance?
The way a bank grows is by taking deposits and lending. If you don’t lend, you cannot grow as a bank. When you lend, you have to structure your portfolio into corporate, commercial, middle and low class. The SMEs tend to fall within the lower class. Businesses that fall within the upper class tend to be price givers, they determine which price they take, while with the middle and lower classes, it is easier to discuss price.
Every bank that seeks to do well must pay particular attention to consumer banking, under which all SMEs fall. This is the sector that drives the economy of this nation. SMEs in terms of number form about 90 percent of businesses within the economy, so you cannot ignore that market. At Zenith Bank, we have developed a system where we support SMEs to grow their businesses. Our duty is to be able to determine which of the potential customers will be able to pay back a credit facility that is extended to them. That is the challenge. We are however able to identify good clients who are serious about growing their businesses and who have made significant impact within their industries. It is very easy to lend support to such businesses. In our portfolio, close to 50 percent of our clients are SMEs.
What are you doing in terms of financial inclusion?
Principally, we drive strategies we have planned out through information technology. Most of our products that drive the banking relationships we have with our customers are purely based on technology. Products such as our GlobalPAY Platform, which is a secure web-based collection gateway, enable merchants to accept card payments in real time online from customers worldwide. With a one-time integration, merchants can receive payments from a wide variety of locally and internationally issued debit, credit and prepaid cards. GlobalPAY accepts MasterCard and Visa. We also have the Automated Direct Payment System (ADPS), which is a payment system our customers can use to make bulk payments to staff, contractors, distributors, transfer money locally and internationally and authorize payments from anywhere in the world.
We also have the Zenith Internet Banking platform and Z-mobile. These special products allow the customer to carry out banking transactions from their computers or tablets and mobile phones. All these are digital solutions that have been driven to the market to generate financial inclusion and make banking available to the population down the line, without having to come to the banking hall. Zenith Bank has rolled out a lot of products and services to encourage a large number of people to sign up for our products and services.
More recently mobile money has become a household name here. With mobile money you don’t have to go to the bank, you can carry out any banking transaction right from your mobile phone. Ultimately, it will also encourage both existing and potential customers to open a bank account where all these transactions will settle into. The economy is definitely moving towards the direction for financial inclusion and the agenda of a cash-light society will be achieved.
You have not only contributed to the development of the Ghanaian economy but have also been very active in CSR in areas like health and education. Why is it so important in Zenith Bank corporate culture to give back to the community?
Wherever we operate we are part of the ecosystem, we are part of the social system and we are part of the people. We are in Nigeria, we are also in London and listed on its stock exchange. We are in Dubai, we are in China, South Africa, Gambia, and Sierra Leone and we are going to other places. And wherever we go, we give back to the communities in which we operate. Wherever it is, we are part of that system. Zenith has been in Ghana for more than 11 years and we have not paid one dividend out of Ghana, everything is reinvested here to expand the business and invariably grow the Ghanaian economy. CSR is part of that agenda. We look at charities, we look at community development projects. Our contribution comes in various forms from scholarships to sponsorships; we also support the needy and the society that has been ignored. When society gives you so much it’s only natural that you give back. For many years Zenith Ghana has won many awards attesting to how well we have excelled in our CSR activities.
What makes Zenith Bank a reliable and trustworthy partner of choice for UK companies seeking to invest in Ghana?
First and foremost, our international spread must be recognised. We are listed on the London Stock Exchange (LSE), which gives us a global exposure. We are also listed in other versatile markets like Nigeria which gives us a pass mark in governance. As an organisation, when you are listed or quoted on the stock exchanges of some markets, it only attests to the fact that you are an institution in good standing and we are recognised as a bank that is well positioned.
What will be attractive for an investor from the UK to choose Zenith Bank Ghana Limited is the fact that we have a great story to tell. Our success story for the past 12 years is unrivalled. We have always done what is right and is expected of us by our regulators. Corporate governance is also very key to us. As a Bank, we would rather lose a profit of $1 million than pay a $1 fine, and that has and will always be our philosophy. Most foreign investors look at compliance and corporate governance and so far we have done very well in these aspects. Zenith will continue to provide support to foreign investors.
Why would you encourage investors to come to Ghana at this point in time?
The very presence of Zenith Bank in Ghana is testament to the fact that the country has a promising future in terms of its economic growth. Over the years, this country has been tested and it has shown so much resilience. The economy has a great diversity of opportunities apart from the traditional commodities we are known for. I would encourage investors to come here because Ghana is on its way to being the gateway to Africa.