By: Anthony Sedzro
Ghana’s financial sector is one of the most vibrant and competitive, comprising 32 universal banks, all playing various roles in financial intermediation and economic growth. With such a large number of banks in the industry, all jostling for a share of the bankable market, one bank which has clearly distinguished itself is uniBank (Ghana) Limited, an award-winning wholly Ghanaian-owned bank.
With so many awards and such strong financial performance, year-on-year, it is hard to believe that uniBank started operations only 15 years ago. Founded by celebrated Ghanaian entrepreneur Dr. Kwabena Duffuor, the bank is part of HODA Holdings Limited, its parent company.HODA Holdings boasts of subsidiaries in banking, insurance, real estate, media, farming and mining.
uniBank was incorporated in December 1997 to operate as a universal bank. The bank opened its doors to customers in January 2001, with a vision to become the leading and preferred bank offering comprehensive financial solutions to its customers (SME and Personal Banking markets) in a professional, caring, responsive and profitable way.
Today, uniBank has come a long way and has an impressive 54 branches nationwide. The bank offers products and services in personal banking, SME banking, private banking, corporate banking, custodial services, e-banking, bancassurance, and many others. Leading this wholly Ghanaian-owned banking success story is Felix Nyarko-Pong, an accomplished banker with over 30 years’ experience under his belt.
Nyarko-Pong takes the helm
Nyarko-Pong took over as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of uniBank on June 1, 2011 and is now in his fifth year at the helm. His office is located on the 13th floor of the distinguished World Trade Centre in central Accra from where a breath-taking wide panoramic view of Accra, even to the distant sea, can be relished. In some ways one cannot help thinking that, perhaps, the commanding height feeds into his towering vision of how high he is aiming to take uniBank.
Affable, confident and endowed with a good sense of humour, Nyarko-Pong symbolises uniBank’s values of flexibility, caring, and vibrancy.
“I was appointed CEO of uniBank in 2011 and my tenure has been eventful,” Nyarko-Pong says with ease as he gives an account of his tenure in the last five years as the CEO of uniBank.
“Under my leadership,” he continued, “uniBank has grown into a top 5 bank in terms of assets base and a rank of 6th in the prestigious Ghana Club 100 [an annual compilation of the top 100 companies in Ghana]. I have also ensured that uniBank remains one of the best places to work as it continues to attract the brightest professionals in the industry.”
uniBank has pursued a retail strategy, focusing on Small and Medium-scale Enterprises (SMEs). This has seen a robust organic growth of the bank under Nyarko-Pong’s leadership.
“Over the last 5 years, uniBank’s branch locations have more than tripled; increasing from 17 in 2012 to 54 in 2016. With footprints in nine out of 10 regions of the country, our network expansion drive is in line with the bank’s goal of becoming a national bank and to bring banking to the doorstep of the customer,” he disclosed.
“As a retail bank, network expansion remains central to our deposit mobilisation strategy with each branch strategically located to facilitate the mop-up of deposits in the catchment area. The result has been the ramp up of the bank’s market share over the last 5 years. Riding on the success of our expansion drive so far, and the heightening competition in the industry, uniBank plans to add about 11 more branch locations to the existing stock of 54 by close of 2017,” the CEO revealed assuredly.
Unique selling proposition
In a crowded field of 32 universal banks, what sets uniBank apart from the rest?
“Five core pillars distinguish uniBank from the other universal banks; these are: A deep understanding of the SME market leading to the development of innovative products tailored to our client base; excellent service delivery as epitomised in several industry awards and customer advocacy the bank continues to receive; quick decision-making as a result of minimal bureaucracy, meaning we are thus able to provide speedy service to our clients; the bank’s same day transaction service is a market reality which has always been preserved; and our efficient and robust IT systems provide an unparalleled platform for banking transactions,” Nyarko-Pong explains.
He continued: “uniBank is leveraging these strengths to ensure the bank continues to deliver quality service to customers and provide them with innovative products that meet their needs.”
Ghana’s economy is largely an informal one. Many businesses are SMEs, an area many universal banks shy away from due to the risks associated with the sector. However, uniBank has positioned itself as a bank for SMEs. What is the motivation for this strategy?
“Indeed uniBank is reputed as one of Ghana’s foremost SME-focused banks. True to that reputation, the bank has translated its deep understanding of the needs of SMEs into innovative products. With particular reference to SME lending, the bank has attractive financing schemes from leading financial institutions such as the Medical Credit Facility, and several Partner Financing Schemes with European Investment Bank,Export Trade, Agricultural and Industrial Development Fund (EDAIF), Shelter Afrique, and so on,” he details.
“uniBank also provides cutting edge financial advisory services to clients, as well as the business community in Ghana, particularly the SME sector. Key among the programs run periodically to support businesses are one–on–one business advisory sessions with clients, regular Corporate Breakfast Meetings, and SME Forums. At these sessions,various economic and financial issues that affect business growth are discussed and ideas shared,” Nyarko-Pong said.
The bank’s focus on SME banking was affirmed with it receiving the award for the “Best SME Bank in Ghana-2015” at the Banker Africa Awards.
Last year, many Ghanaian banks made losses on the back of difficult economic conditions. However, according to the award-winning CEO, “Since its inception in 2001, uniBank has grown remarkably well in terms of key banking performance metrics.”
Below are some of the highlights of the bank’s financial performance as at the end of 2015:
- The bank’s total assets base recorded an average annual growth rate of 63 percent between 2012 and 2015; expanding from GH¢898 million to GH¢3, 831 million at the end of 2015.
- Deposits grew significantly from GH¢694 million in 2012 to GH¢2, 728 million in 2015; an average annual growth rate of 60 percent.
- The bank’s Loans and Advances portfolio also expanded significantly from GH¢536 million in 2012 to GH¢2,475 million at the end 2015; registering a 67 per cent annual average growth.
- Shareholders’ Funds grew from GH¢94 million in 2012 to GH¢301 million; an average growth of 48 percent annually.
- Profit before tax increased steadily from GH¢22 million in 2012 to GH¢51 million in 2015; an increase of 131 percent.
The Bank of Ghana has been advised to increase the current GH¢120 million minimum capital requirements for universal banks, to ensure consolidation in the sector. He explained what the regulator could do to support indigenous banks like uniBank.
“Ghana’s banking industry is expanding and continues to attract new players. As at the end of November 2016, for instance, there were 32 banks with universal banking licenses with 17 of them being foreign-controlled. While competition has compelled some of the indigenous banks to take steps towards boosting their capital bases, the pace at which this is happening is rather slow”.
“Accordingly, the new reforms being introduced, including the possible upward revision of minimum capital to about GH¢500million and the implementation of the deposit insurance scheme, will enable banks to undertake bigger deals for increased profitability. The minimum capital revision for instance, is expected to drive consolidation in the sector; particularly among the indigenous banks. This goal will only be achieved when all banks, irrespective of their origin, are given the same timeline within which to meet the new requirement,” Nyarko-Pong, who is also the Chair of the Advisory Council, University of Ghana-College of Education.
In spite of the successes the bank has chalked under his leadership, Nyarko-Pong said the sector has its challenges such as “high cost of deposits as a result of competition mainly from non-bank financial institutions and telcos, low capital base limiting the size of deals that can be executed, and rising non-performing loans as a result of weak economic growth.”
uniBank’s sterling performance has not gone unnoticed. The awards from both Ghana and abroad have been pouring in. These include:
- Best Bank in Long-Term Loan Finance (Ghana Banking Awards (GBA) –2015.
- 1st Runner-Up Enterprise/Corporate Banking (GBA, 2015)
- 2nd Runner-Up Best Growing Bank (GBA, 2015)
- 2nd Runner-Up Corporate Social Responsibility (GBA, 2015)
- 1st Runner-Up Long-Term Loan Finance (GBA, 2014)
- 1st Runner-Up Corporate Social Responsibility (GBA, 2014)
- Best Bank Product Innovation (GBA, 2014)
- 1st Runner-Up Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries (GBA, 2014).
Crucially, this year the bank was ranked as the 6th most prestigious organisation in Ghana in the recently-held Ghana Club 100 event, a milestone which signifies how far the bank has come.
uniBank’s pedigree has also attracted attention abroad. The bank was awarded the Best Enterprise Award in 2016 by the European Business Assembly. At the same event, Nyarko-Pong was also honoured as Manager of The Year 2015 and as an honourable member of the International Club of Leaders.
“This award was in recognition of my sterling leadership of the bank in the past five years which has seen the bank grow from its 16th position (out of 26 banks) in 2011, to the 5th biggest bank in Ghana, out of the 32 banks, in terms of balance sheet size,” the CEO said.
He further paid tribute to the bank staff for the award: “Personally, this award goes to confirm my belief that I superintend over a bright cadre of professionals in uniBank who are determined to be the best in what they do. It is also humbling to be recognised globally as an excellent leader worthy of emulation.”
There is more to come from uniBank. The CEO shared some plans of the bank for the future:
“With the completion of the re-implementation of our core banking application, uniBank is positioned to deploy innovative products and services that meet the changing needs of our customers. Accordingly, customers will soon see innovative products in the trending areas of e-banking; bancassurance; and bancpension. For instance, in the area of bancassurance, products such as Third Party (Motor Insurance) and Premium Financing will be available to customers,” he hints.
Already, our recently launched mobile banking service, SMILE, is fast becoming the mobile money service option of choice to both customers and non-customers. This innovative USSD service which offers (bank) account to wallet, wallet to account, as well as account to account transfer options makes banking very convenient. The service uptake has been so encouraging that the app version of this service will soon be launched for smart phone users as well,” the CEO added.
Nyarko-Pong is a very busy person, overseeing 54 branches and pushing the bank to even higher heights. How does he combine his heavy work schedule with social life to ensure a good work-life-balance?
“I endeavour to engage in activities that impact communities around me and I do occasionally have fun too. For instance, I am actively engaged in voluntary work and I am a past president of the Rotary Club. I am also involved in Christian charity-related work across the country. On the fun side, I love to see Chelsea beat Manchester United in the game of football,” he said with a smile.
GB&F sought to find out what motivates him and keeps his adrenaline levels high in this high-pressured job. “I am motivated mainly by my passion for excellence. I strive to be the best and to operate at my peak at all times. I believe that the quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to that person’s commitment to excellence, regardless of the field in which they are. This motivation drives my resolve to ensure that service is rendered well everywhere I have worked,” Nyarko-Pong explained.
uniBank goes international
The bank is poised to grow beyond the shores of Ghana, into an international financial brand, one of the few Ghanaian banks to do so.
“uniBank has gone international with the opening of a representative office in London, United Kingdom in 2016. This year, we shall have a presence in the Middle East by opening a uniBank office in the business hub of Dubai, the United Arab Emirates,” Nyarko-Pong revealed.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
uniBank (Ghana) Limited, a Ghanaian brand, has been living up to its tagline-‘Caring for you’-by giving back to the society.
The bank signed a three-year sponsorship deal with Ghana’s senior national football team, the Black Stars in November 2013. uniBank renewed this three year sponsorship deal with the Ghana Football Association (GFA) and the Black Stars this year at a total cost of US$1.2 million for a further three years. Additionally, the team’s captain and deputy captain, Asamoah Gyan and Andrew ‘Dede’ Ayew have respectively been signed with the bank as brand ambassadors, a further sign that these national heroes identify with the success and strong values of uniBank.
The bank has financially supported the construction of a multipurpose Tennis Club House at the 4 Garrison Officers Mess in Danyame, Kumasi.The project is a two-storey recreational facility with an estimated cost of GH¢300,000.
Additionally, in tandem with one of the bank’s core CSR pillars, which is Education, the award-winning lender presented a 30-Seater Toyota Coaster Bus worth US$82,000 to Cape Coast Polytechnic. Similar gestures were made to other educational institutions in accordance with their needs; to aid the institutions’ academic work. The bank also donated a 500KVA generator set to the university of Cape Coast at cost of GH¢235,930.00.
Still on education, the bank gave an amount of GH¢1,000,000.00 to the KNUST fundations for a four year period.
On health, uniBank has partnered Operation Smile Ghana, an International Medical Charity Organisation for the provision of free surgeries for 154 patients with cleft lips and palates from various parts of the country. uniBank provided US$36,000 to enable the team perform free corrective surgical operations.Still on health, uniBank handed over the renovated Korle-Bu Maternity Ward, 2nd Floor, to the Teaching Hospital at an estimated cost of GH¢2.4 million in February last year.
As part of the bank’s commitment to bolstering the chronic shortage of blood at the National Blood Bank, staff of uniBank, every November, donate blood as part of the company’s CSR. During last year’s blood donation exercise, Nyarko-Pong stated, “we must not wait until our relatives are seriously in need of blood before we give ourselves up for donation.”
On June 3, 2015, many Ghanaian citizens died in a tragic flood and fire accident at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle in Accra. Under the auspices of HODA Holdings, its parent company, uniBank donated an amount of GH¢55,000 towards the medication and recovery of victims.
As we just entered a new year, Nyarko-Pong shares a message with GB&F readers.
“My advice to readers is that we should not be obsessed with the acquisition of knowledge as much as with the application of knowledge. Knowledge in action brings about transformation of communities, societies and the world at large. Secondly, it is important to stay focused rather than to be all things to all men. Above all, acknowledge God in all that you do; and He will elevate you,” the CEO said, revealing his source of inner strength.
Given the impressive financial performance, organic growth and awards garnered by uniBank under Nyarko-Pong’s stewardship, there is no doubt that the bank is indeed headed for the top of Ghanaian banking.
Felix Nyarko-Pong, CEO, uniBank; African Business Leader 2016
Felix Nyarko-Pong has been the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of uniBank (Ghana) Limited since June 1, 2011. As CEO he is responsible for ensuring that the bank attains its stated commercial, operational, risk, financial and other strategic goals. As the head of the Bank’s management team, he reports to the Bank’s Board of Directors.
Nyarko-Pong has 33 years international and local experience in Banking and Finance, 18 years of which has been at the Executive Management level. He worked with the NMB Bank, Tanzania as the Deputy Managing Director (DMD) and Chief Operating Officer (COO – on secondment from Rabobank International Nlg)and also, with Barclays Bank Ghana as Executive Director Retail Banking and Executive Head Treasury. He is a former Assistant Principal Consultant at the National Banking College, Accra.
Felix is the Chairman of the Advisory Council, University of Ghana – College of Education. He was also the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Presbyterian Press Limited (2008-April 2016); member of the 4th and 5th University Council – Presbyterian University College (2011-Dec. 2016); member of the Management Committee, School of Biomedical and Allied Health Sciences, University of Ghana. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of uniBank.
A Chevening scholar, Felix is also an alumnus of the Presbyterian Secondary School (Abetifi), Accra Academy, University of Ghana, Legon (B.Sc., Banking & Finance); University of Glasgow Scotland (MBA International Business); and Oxford University Said Business School (Strategic Leadership). He has also attended many other Executive Management and Banking Professional courses.
Nyarko-Pong is an honorary Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers, Ghana (FCIB) and holds an honorary Doctorate in Banking and Finance (Honoris Causa) from the University of Mississippi, Dayton College. He has been awarded by The Global Leadership Training USA (Exceptional Corporate Leadership, 2012); Global Centre for Transformational Leadership (Africa Prize for Transformational Leadership and Most Outstanding CEO 2013), including the West African Nobles Award.
In March 2016 the Global Awards of the Europe Business Assembly awarded Felix Nyarko-Pong Manager of the Year 2016 (Financial Services) and conferred on him membership of the ‘International Leaders’ Club.
Felix also has the African Business Leader of the Year 2016 award given to him in London, in June 2016.