A conversation with Yinka Sanni – Regional Chief Executive, Western Africa, Standardbank


LM: My Leader, Thank you so much for being part of our leadership conversations aimed at young leaders and entrepreneurs across Africa

YS: Thanks so much for the opportunity, My Leader.

LM: Congratulations on your new role as Regional Chief Executive, what does it entail?

YS: Thank you for your support.
My new role entails providing strategic and operational oversight and support for the Standard Bank businesses based in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria.

LM: What should a young Nigerian Banker think about career prospects at the Standardbank Group when they look at your appointment, Mr Yinka Sanni, Regional Chief Executive, West Africa, Mrs Sola David- Borha, Chief Executive, Africa Regions, and Mr Atedo Peterside as a member of the Board of Directors for the Standardbank Group? These are significant roles occupied by Nigerians and many other executives who are now based in Johannesburg, does this augur well for talented Nigerians looking for international exposure?

YS: I think my appointment and the progression of Mrs Sola David-Borha and others, as well as the membership of the Founder of Stanbic IBTC on the Standard Bank Group Board, as you referenced, represent strong signals and challenge to young Nigerian bankers. A young Nigerian banker should realize that there are growth opportunities within the Standard Bank Group for those that are able, willing and patient to build a long term career in a serious multinational that is committed to the growth and development of Africa and Africans.

LM: Is there enough bench strength left with Mr Demola Sogunle for Stanbic IBTC to compete in the Nigerian market?

YS: Oh yes, very significantly so – Stanbic IBTC has sufficient Human Capital left with Dr Sogunle to pilot, at the right time, our operations in Nigeria. At Stanbic IBTC specifically and Standard Bank as a whole, we have an intense and deliberate focus on developing talent and growing strong pipeline of future leaders. We have sufficient bench strength comprising a number of well seasoned standard bankers that are ready to carry the torch forward and attain much greater heights than the current and progressing leaders.

LM: Stanbic IBTC has had some regulatory challenges, given these developments and the adverse publicity they bring, does the Standardbank Group still see Nigeria as an important investment destination? Is the Standardbank Group still committed to its Nigerian investment, how has it demonstrate this commitment?

YS: The regulatory challenges we faced in the recent past have made us stronger and assisted in establishing our reputation of doing the right business the right way across Africa. They have positioned us as thought leaders in engaging with regulators and in helping shape and strengthen the regulatory environment.
Standard Bank is committed to its Nigerian operations more than ever before. For example, we invested over $170 m in increasing our majority stake (to 65.35% as at 31 December, from 50.1% in September 2007) in the Nigerian business in 2018 alone. This is a very strong demonstration of commitment not only to that business but to the future of Africa’s biggest economy and most populous country.

LM: Do you see consolidation within the Nigerian market with more banks merging or looking to buy others or sell to others?

YS: Yes, very likely. It’ll be be a transitioning mechanism for some and purely a growth strategy for others.

LM: Does Standardbank have an appetite for acquisitions in Nigeria, Ghana or the Cote de Voirs?

YS: The current focus of our local manangement teams is growing our business organically and sustainably. We however possess sufficient capital and capability for inorganic growth, where we see the right fit.

LM: A lot of people in Anglophone Africa do not know much about the Francophone part of Africa, how will Standardbank succeed in Côte d’Ivoire?

YS: We are a very progressive African multinational with capabilities to succeed at whatever we set out to do. Our strategy for success in Francophone Africa includes hiring and growing talent from that sub-region, supported by our existing pools of talents across the globe.

LM: Are there Business and Trade synergies between Nigeria, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire that Standardbank will exploit?

YS: All 3 countries you have mentioned are in the ECOWAS economic sub-region/association and so there’s considerable business and trade history and affinities. In addition, many multinationals which are already being partnered by Standard Bank operate in all 3 countries and across the region. These our clients are looking for synergistic opportunities across the region and we keenly facilitate and empower them. You can therefore see that there are immense  business opportunities for Standard Bank. Our plan is to tap and grow these opportunities even as we extend our business footprint in the region.

LM: Stanbic IBTC recently hosted a Pan African conference for its clients in Lagos, Nigeria for its clients across Africa, what was the objective of this conference? Do you plan to have such business sessions across West Africa?

YS: The Pan-African Conference recently hosted in Nigeria was designed to bring together, in Lagos, some of our clients operating across Africa to interact and explore the huge business opportunities that are available within our footprint and non-present countries. It was also a rare opportunity for networking, thought leadership and engagement with regulators and policy makers in some of the jurisdictions in which we operate.
We earlier held similar conferences in Nairobi, Kenya and Accra, Ghana and so the Lagos version was the third in its series. Our plan is to rotate this conference across the African regions (ex-South Africa) – Southern and Central, Eastern and Western Regions. As a Universal Financial Services Organization we believe that these conferences will go a long way in forstering cooperation and facilitating opportunities amongst our clients across Africa.

LM: How do you see the relationship between Telecommunications companies and banks going forward? Are they partners or competitors?

YS: The relationship between telecommunications companies and banks is an evolving one – from competitors in the earliest days to increasingly now symbiotic partnership. I expect the partnership disposition to prevail over the medium to long term, given the huge opportunities that exist for such and the need to include millions of Africans in the formal banking/financial services sector.  

LM: The Central Bank of Nigeria ( CBN) has urged banks to promote and drive financial inclusion, how does Stanbic IBTC see its role in this?

YS: We have accepted the CBN challenge to promote financial inclusion wholeheartedly. Two examples of initiatives that we have deployed in this regard include participating actively in the annual financial literacy week (our 2019 campaign will cover 5 Nigerian states) as well as creating @ease – a virtual bank which rides on a special easy-to-navigate platform – and is onboarding and providing banking services to the financially excluded, amongst others.

LM: We have seen tremendous growth of Fintechs in traditional banking spaces, do you think banks will survive the onslaught from Fintechs?

YS: I believe that banks and Fintechs will continue to exist side-by-side, as partners. Of course, the nature of the engagement will evolve and change over time, Fintechs will continue to create products and services that banks and banking clients will find relevant and useful, while banks, especially those that are agile and proactive in embracing the dynamic world of innovation, will continue to find relevance in offering financial services to their also changing clientele. The regulatory environment in a country/jurisdiction will also play a key role in how rapidly this new world shapes.

LM: We have seen massive scandals involving corporates across the world, and we have seen being closed, how can we ensure that ethics are the foundation upon which we build young leaders and entrepreneurs?

YS: We must integrate the benefits of sound ethics and the need to obey the laws and regulations of countries in the onboarding and training of young leaders and entrepreneurs in order to ensure that ethics are the foundation upon which we build these young leaders. These engagements must continue and stress that sustainable and solid businesses are only built on enduring ethics.

LM: You have always been known to groom young talent, tell us a bit about your graduate programs at Stanbic IBTC? Are young people being given enough opportunities to grow and develop within your bank?

YS: Stanbic IBTC can be regarded as a talent factory. We are extremely fortunate that Nigeria is blessed with such abundant talented young people. More than half of our country’s population is below the age of 30 with well over 1 million young people graduating annually from institutions of higher learning, including universities.
Against the above-mentioned background, our graduate trainee program therefore has a very rich pool of young, smart Nigerians to draw from, including those educated abroad. It admits tens (precisely 86 in 2018) of these young people annually and takes them through weeks of rigorous classroom sessions focused on foundations of banking and finance after which they rotate round our business unit areas over a 9-12 month period, before they are permanently posted to one to commence their careers. The programme enables us bring on board highly talented Nigerians who seek to build a career in our reputable and leading end-to-end financial services group, acculturate them to best practice while we at the same time groom them for succession, thereby securing the future of our company.
There are sufficient current and emerging opportunities being afforded these young graduates to grow and express their talents within Stanbic IBTC. The available growth opportunities also extend to within the wider Standard Bank Group.

LM: The world is changing rapidly, does Stanbic IBTC give enough leadership learning and development programmes for leaders to adapt, what are some of these programmes?

YS: As a member of the Standard Bank Group, Stanbic IBTC offers career shaping opportunities for the growth and development of its leaders. These leaders not only represent our company creditably but also become responsible citizens of their country.
Examples of the programmes we expose our leaders to include those offered at Standard Bank’s highly acclaimed Global Leadership Centre in Johannesburg as well as cross-country leadership postings. We also partner with leading global business schools and institutions to develop our leaders.
A more recent innovation is our MentorMe program which is designed to develop our future leaders and get them ready for succession. Under the programme, a crop of about 2 dozen highly talented leaders are mentored by other senior leaders. Participants are exposed to classroom and real life experiences (over a 12-month period) that happen in Nigeria, South Africa, and China.  

LM: At a group level, I have seen some Nigerian leaders attending programmes at the Standard banks Global Leadership College, and also travelling to China, South Africa and other countries, what is the value of these programmes?

YS: The programmes you have referenced are invaluable in preparing our leaders to be “match-ready”, so that they are ready to “play” whenever a leadership call is made of them. Through the programmes, our leaders are exposed to modern leadership practices around the world to ensure that they remain on the cutting edge.

LM: How committed is Standardbank to women leadership and development in Nigeria and across Africa, and what steps are you taking to promote women development and growth?

YS: We demonstrate our commitment to women leadership development in Nigeria and across Africa by deliberately seeking out women that want to make a career in banking, onboarding them at every level, including the graduate trainee level. We also deliberately support women’s career by ensuring that our policies are friendly and supportive of the different stages of the family life cycle. It should interest you to know that 60% of the leaders on the MentorMe leadership development programme which I earlier referenced are women.
We are also actively promoting associations/platforms where women can discuss and support one another regarding issues that enhance or truncate careers. Two great examples of such association are the Blue Women Network (BWN) in Nigeria and the Blue Heels (BH) programme in South Africa. The BWN is a platform where our women connect, are informed and they develop to achieve their professional and personal goals while the BH is a female middle management development program focused on women within the retail business of Standard Bank.

LM: Did you always want to be a Banker, how did you land up in banking?

YS: No, it was unplanned. However, I always wanted to work for a company with a set of values consistent with promoting the best of Nigeria and whose values aligned with mine. I was fortunate that the then Investment Banking & Trust Company Limited – IBTC – (the foundation company of Stanbic IBTC) gave me the opportunity in 1990 and the rest, as they say, is now history.

LM: Tell us a bit about your early years, who were your greatest influences during your upbringing?

YS: My first 16 years were lived in Ibadan, South Western Nigeria, where I was privileged to enyoy the love of parents and a warmth of relationship with siblings. The next six years were for college and national service in Anambra State, South Eastern Nigeria. I did 18 months of business school at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, after which I moved to Lagos and joined IBTC in December of 1990.
In my career, the 2 greatest influences have been Mr Atedo N A Peterside, CON, the Founder of Stanbic IBTC and Mrs Sola David-Borha, Chief Executive, Standard Bank, Africa Regions.

LM: You have told me about your experiences at The University of Nigeria, Nsukka, what were your most memorable moments at university?

YS: Some of my most memorable moments at Nsukka were foundational to my spiritual development. I also imbibed great lessons on tolerance and inclusion as an undergraduate at Nsukka. Growing and learning from another cultural background from my south western Nigerian culture was enriching and empowering.

LM: You are a Harvard Alumni, what were your key learnings from your Harvard experience?

YS: The HBS experience has been career and life defining for me, though it’s almost 10 years ago. Besides the formal and informal learning experiences, it opened a most invaluable and lifelong wide network of relationships and networks.

LM: How have you been able to balance your hectic role as a senior executive in a bank with your family?

YS: I’m extremely fortunate to be married to Foluke Olabisi Sanni (née Banwo). Foluke has been my life mate since 21 October 1995 and so has shared with me the responsibility of raising a family, especially since our older daughter, Rereloluwa,  arrived some 21 years ago. I believe that no matter how busy we are as senior executives, we can always find the time for what we consider important responsibilities in our lives. For me, family and relationships are such important responsibilities. Foluke is presently, again, a student and is very busy with school work. I’m responding to your questionnaire partly while on a 6-hour flight to fulfil the half-term responsibility of our younger daughter, Erioreoluwa – a traditional Foluke responsibility. I am grateful for and cherish the opportunity.
It all works out with Foluke’s support and I am immensely grateful to her. God gives us both the grace to function effectively.

LM: What values do you try and instil in your children?

YS: The critical values include the reverence of God, hardwork and honesty.

LM: How have you kept your faith and spirituality strong whilst being involved in the highly competitive arena of corporate life?

YS: By the grace of God and by trying to consistently apply the same rules in my private/spiritual and official lives.

LM: What do you do for relaxation when you are not the CEO of such a large international bank?

YS: Reading, walking or watching a game of football.

LM: What does it take to be a Chief Executive of a large organisation?

YS: It is challenging and requires being able to creditably attend to and satisfy many stakeholders, including shareholders, customers, staff/colleagues, governments, regulators, communities and others.

LM: What are your hopes for Nigeria for the future?

YS: I am hopeful that Nigeria attains it’s full potential in the very near future. I also expect that the youth of Nigeria continue to contribute to the country’s growth and development and that they get recognized and rewarded for their efforts.

LM: Thank you so much My Leader for sharing your personal and professional journey with young people, your ideas, perspectives and experiences will help our readers on their journey.

YS: Thanks again, for the opportunity, and for what you do in encouraging and developing leadership across the African continent through this platform.