Two-time winner of the CFO of the Year Banking Sector, at the Nigeria CFO Awards, Mr. Ugo Nwaghodoh, the Group CFO at UBA Plc, says every day is a different day. The affable professional, in this exclusive interview with The CFO, shares his views on the macroeconomic environment in Nigeria, financial reporting, new media, family time and many more. Excerpts…
What does your role entail as the CFO of a leading financial institution in Nigeria; what is your typical day like?
In a global financial institution, like UBA Plc, the Group CFO is responsible for individual and corporate performance management. The CFO has responsibility for financial reporting in compliance with relevant accounting standards and extant regulatory requirements in the different countries of operation. It is my responsibility to continuously seek efficiency gains in cost and balance sheet management for the Group. Together with my colleagues, we are responsible for regulatory management, including tax planning and strategy, capital management and investor relations as well as broader corporate strategy. The CFO is a decision analyst and provider of fact-based business intelligence, just as he is one of the anchor drivers of the CEO’s strategic actions towards achieving the vision of the institution.
As regards my typical day in office, every day is a different day. Whilst there are standard dashboards and action triggers, my day is always shaped by the different priorities of each day. So, I will say that every day is always exciting, challenging and dynamic, as the diverse responsibilities, fast changing business environment, scope of operation and geographic coverage of UBA colour each day with new opportunities and challenges requiring new thinking and approach.
What is your view on the new media? How is new media impacting the decisions in the financial services sector?
We are in a digital age and the new media is revolutionizing not just banking but the entire ecosystem within which we operate. Interestingly it is helping to deepen banking penetration in a lot cheaper way than the “old order” of setting up “brick and mortar” structures to serve customers. With the new media, customer interaction is stronger, closer and more personalized. For instance, we at UBA pioneered the twitter alert in Nigeria. We are one of the most active banks on Facebook, Linkedln, Google+ etc, as we leverage these platforms to serve our customers, particularly the millennials, who we see to be the next customer segment growth frontier for our business, since they will be the next generation business leaders and middle-upper income class. UBA also supports RED TV, an entertainment digital TV that appeals to trends in fashion and lifestyle. Overall, new media is helping to break barriers and boundaries. We continuously invest in new technologies to proactively take on emerging competitions from Fin
techs even as we also partner with the relevant pioneers of this revolution.
What do you think are the key developments and issues in the financial services sector?
Amongst other events, I think some domino variables are notably impacting the financial services sector. Fintechs and attendant disruptive innovations are “good” and “bad”; whilst they create new opportunities and efficiencies on the one hand, they are also encroaching a part of the conventional revenue pie on the flip side, thus the intensified competition to defend market shares. The rapidly growing influence of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoins, Ripples, Monero, Lifecoin etc are riding on block-chain technologies and presenting new challenges in the areas of money laundering and terrorist financing.
Cybercrime is on the increase and thus necessitating continuous investment in cybersecurity systems. Following the 2008/2009 financial services cyclone, regulatory oversight has been enhanced. Notably, the adoption of risk-based supervision and BASEL II implementation have changed risk management practice and overall culture in the industry.
What are your views about the menace of youth unemployment, which is predominant in Africa and the potential implications vis-à-vis the acclaimed entrepreneurial mindset or capacity of Africans?
It is evident that we are sitting on a huge human capital resource base in Africa but so sad that we all focus on mineral resources. Incidentally, if we do not appropriately harness this idle resource, it may become a curse. I take mild relief in the emergence of a number of philanthropy initiatives that are helping to give hope to youth, particularly in an entrepreneurial way that I believe should help to improve the productivity of our youths. A case in point is the Tony Elumelu Foundation, which is training, mentoring, networking and providing seed capital to start-ups, largely founded by youths. Alhaji Aliko Dangote is also helping in such regard and we are seeing a number of African-sponsored Foundations springing up to address this notable challenge. Good to note the social welfare programme of the new government, but we need to see more, particularly the approach has to be self-sustaining to ensure that the youths are truly empowered. I must say that this should be seen as a national duty for everyone,
and it should not be left to the government and the ultra high networth individuals alone. At our respective levels, we should go all-out to empower youths in an entrepreneurial way that gets them productive. Otherwise, we may all have to contend with the negative social menace that may arise from this ugly youth unemployment situation in Africa.
The volatile macroeconomic environment is intensifying competition in banking, what will be UBA’s edge in 2017 and beyond?
Competition is what makes the market interesting and I must say it remains critical for the growth of the industry, so we are always prepared and ahead of the curve. Our medium term strategy is built on our clear values of Enterprise, Excellence and Execution, which are the fundamentals behind every competitive strategy. We continue to invest in all our three growth levers; people, process and technology. We have reinvigorated our Enterprise culture, that ensures we create exceptional value to customers at all times, anticipating their tomorrow’s needs and meeting them today. Being a service business, our strategy is at best, as good as its execution, so we are investing quality time and substantial resources in our human capital to accelerate productivity. We strive for excellence at all times, driven by the culture of continuous improvement.
As a doyen in the Accountancy field, how would you assess the progress Nigeria has made in corporate financial reporting, particularly since adoption of the International Financial Reporting Standards?
There is still a lot of room for improvement, but it is satisfying that financial reporting and disclosures have improved greatly in the last half decade. This has enhanced transparency and has modestly helped to bridge the information gap in the market. I must say the transition to IFRS has been pivotal to the evolution of corporate reporting in the country and with the continuous review of IFRS, the disclosures are getting better each year. You may be aware of the imminent adoption of IFRS 9 by January 2018; this replaces IAS 39, which is the standard that guides the Recognition and measurement of Financial Instruments. This comes with even higher level of disclosures and the approach is more forward looking, proactive and anticipatory. One of the good things coming out of this, is also the global alignment in terms of financial reporting, as this is also helping to drive investor appetite for Nigerian investment. I eagerly look forward to the wider global adoption of integrated reporting, which is the next
level of corporate reporting. Integrated reporting is the strategic reporting of critical non-financial and social performance that truly represent a more holistic view of the performance of the organization, as it helps stakeholders to better understand and assess the fundamentals of the business as well the prospects.
What is your outlook on the Nigerian economy and the broader African continent?
The last two years have been quite challenging for Nigeria and indeed Africa, largely on the back of vulnerabilities to global commodity prices and a host of domestic distortions. In Nigeria, relatively weak fiscal revenue and lingering FX scarcity may subdue GDP recovery, albeit I am quite optimistic on the growth outlook. Whilst the IMF and World Bank forecast a soft sub-1% GDP growth for Nigeria in 2017, I am more upbeat on the economy given higher crude oil price and increasing output, rising external reserves, which has seen some 7% YTD gain towards USD28bn, with attendant expectation of Naira stability. Also, we are gradually seeing improving productivity in the non-oil sector, as reflected in the recovery of this mainstay of the economy in the third quarter of 2016. Interestingly, the recovery in commodity prices should complement the economic diversification reforms across most African countries. So, I see a return to the strong growth years, which will now be driven by a blend of commodity price boom and improved productivity in agriculture, manufacturing and ICT sectors.
What are your biggest accomplishments?
What I consider to be my best career achievement has been the number of my replicas in the market. I find resounding satisfaction in helping those who work with me to grow to the peak of their career through leadership and conscious mentoring. I am happy to have seen a number of colleagues I supervised in the last couple of years, become CFOs in reputable institutions including banks. This is particularly exciting, because it further reinforces my emphasis on human capital development through learning-on-the-job, formal and informal knowledge exchange and career mentorship.
What is your advice to new entrants in the field?
Whilst different factors make people thick, I believe in continuous self-development, professionalism, team work, diligence and hard-work. These, for me, are the cardinal stones for a successful career in finance. It is important to say that a minimum dose of accounting, finance and general management is critical to being a CFO of a global financial institution, albeit the role requires a lot more versatility and thus CFOs need to acquire minimum knowledge of economics, analytics, MIS and broad information technology and relevant bodies of knowledge to adequately meet the rapidly and continuously changing responsibilities of the function.
How would you describe yourself and how do you use your leisure time?
I like to spend my leisure time with my family, bonding with them and exchanging views about life and recent events. When I have a bit of time, I see movies, play in-door games and hang out with friends. I also spend a bit of time with my mentees, exchanging views and providing guidance on their career, business and lifestyle.
Dependence On Govt Killing States’ Chambers Of Commerce- RUWASE
Mr Babatunde Ruwase is the President of Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, also an astute boardroom guru. In this interview with Akin Naphtal, he speaks on the various advocacies of the chamber and the need to revamp the economy for growth, among others. Excerpt:
The chamber has been leading in the era advocating for best business policy and practice. Can you share with us, your challenges and achievements over the Years sir?
The business started as the Lagos Chamber of Commerce 130 years ago, in 1888, which actually pre-dated the land space which God has given us today, which we call Nigeria. One can say the Lagos Chamber of Commerce had been an institution in this space even before 1914, when Nigeria was put together and most of the corporates that were there then are members. The one that can readily come to mind is UAC. First Bank that also celebrated 125 years are members. Our member also happens to be the first to finance the first port of UAC, we called it harbor then. Bringing of electricity to Lagos was also financed by our members in the 18th century. We were on ground when Nigeria came into being, with Lagos being the center of commerce and governance.
We’ve been doing a lot of advocacy – although when the petrol dollar came in, government became very rich. In those good old days, government would wait for commerce to be able to do their budgets because it was seen that the prosperity of business dictates how far you would go and what was government for then? It was to protect the environment and people – they were not doing business, but then, over time, money came in and government was in charge of petrol dollar. They looked beyond waiting for taxes and duties, they now had a source of wealth on their own.
How healthy an economy is depends on the political environment because when you do your projections, the government is not going at the same pace with you, you could be working at cross-purpose. That also gives us a big challenge at our own time when we now have to see how we will navigate through this difficult terrain. I would also say that in recent times, we have a government that recognizes business – at least we can talk to them, they listen to us, they see it as positive criticism. They don’t see it as them and us.
We talked to the government about ease of doing business and they listened to us. It is now being chaired by the VP. We have access to them and we tell them the problem that we have they also have a sub-unit in that office that deals with different session of business and we are doing well. The only thing is that at the early stage we were not able to reach out; people don’t really know much about what we are doing; and people don’t know that those things are there but we are getting there and hope it will continue to get better.
You know we have various chambers in Nigeria but the LCCI has been the leading factor. What are the unique things that make LCCI unique among all chambers?
The secret is that most of the chambers we have in Nigeria are promoted by government. State governments, for instance, and they have this government involvement in putting together such chambers. So, when you have government putting a chamber together, it is very difficult to be independent which is not so in our own case. It is difficult to start a chamber taking into consideration the mentality of our people.
Can you shed more light on the national body that was put together and what was the motive behind it?
NACCIMA was created and founded by the Lagos chamber, we worked with them and act as mentors to those who come around and encourage them and I think some of them are doing very well but then, the factor of not knowing that you must put your money where your mouth is comes to play and the problem of looking out for immediate value in something are things they need to get out of, and I always tell some of them to be independent of government as much as possible. Being tied to the apron string of a ministry of commerce somewhere before they can do anything is not good and should be avoided.
Looking at the current view on Nigeria economy towards economy diversification, what are your views looking at the current situations?
One will say we are making some progress but then they are low side of it. We have this problem of infrastructural decay which is making us to spend money on everything we have to do. In your private life you have to provide your own water, security; you have to think how to get from point A to B. Those are to be in the realms of social service. For a business man, you also have to contend with high cost of funding, if you have to go and borrow to do business, you are talking of two digits and that’s not the fault of anyone it’s just the economy where we have found ourselves but as a people we have not managed our resources very well and the level of inflation too determines the cost of funding.
So if government is doing double digit borrowing by the way of Nigeria Treasury bill, there is no way there will be a single digit. With double digits, borrowing is very difficult for you; you can only do things that are short term and then be profitable, if not you will find things difficult. We have corruption that has even gotten us to where we are. But the good thing about it is that we are at the peak of it, people are talking about it, people are making attempt to solve those problems. We look at what is happening in power, the problem of power is not even the generation because we generate actually what we can’t distribute. There’s lack of capacity to distribute because of the ageing infrastructure. These are the factors that are identified and things are being done; we are talking of mass transportation, agric.
Also we have to be sincere government should have to be at the vanguard of patronising made in Nigeria goods. And as Nigerians we should be patriotic enough to patronise made in Nigeria goods.
We create jobs by producing what we use locally, unfortunately, what we can boast of currently is crude oil. Crude oil does not create more employment as you get from manufacturing, even in Agric. So we need to patronise what we have, interestingly, for instance in Ghana, Nigeria goods are cheaper in Ghana. We don’t realise what God has given us as people, we are always looking beyond this land we don’t have confidence in it. The Asians are doing what we don’t want to do; they are into farming in large scale. Even this manufacturing we are talking of we have them there. So there is something they are doing right that we are not, it also has to do with the way we organise our lives, approach to business. We have a CEO riding expensive vehicles; they don’t even have vehicles for operation. You have factory outside Lagos and you want to live in Lekki but if it is an Asian, he will live there. So we have attitude problem to business. So we don’t realise what God has done for us, we keep on complaining. People are coming in to take over our economy because we have what they need as a country which we don’t see or value.
We should have maximum orientation to take advantage of it. We have a good economy and we need to fight corruption in every sector. The country is potentially great and we need to face some facts. You can’t subsidise consumption and get growth, you can only subsidise production. It is even more vulnerable to exploitation and corruption. When I look at our budget, we have 305 billion naira for fuel subsidy, that’s money that should be directed to some other things like production that can create employment. People buy fuel but the poor are not affected directly because the vehicles that they use, use diesel (AGO) and is deregulated. We need to take hard decision and also spend money on human capital development training in skills, because we go outside the country to bring in vocational skills worker. We need to focus on human capital development. The problem we also have is we do more of politicking, because politics has influence on our business terrain. That’s why we say government has no business in business. They should just set standard and regulate, they shouldn’t be in business. There’s a bureaucracy that take a big chunk of what is meant for business. Running cost takes a big chunk in business. These things affect the economy and also affect us as a people and its pull business down.
On area of gender equality, how is the chamber faring?
Yes, we are very mindful of that, my past president is a lady and my deputy is also a lady. We are very gender sensitive. Of course, we operate in international space and that is something that comes up when you are doing peer review. They want to know what position you have for women. In the real sense we are in business and business does not talk about gender. We have a very strong women group, which is one of the focused groups and they are doing fantastic well. And then we also mentor young ones too.
What are you doing to revive the moribund textile sector?
What is affecting textile basically is not an isolated thing from what is affecting our industry. The textile companies went moribund because of the harsh economic environment. Let’s take power for instance, they don’t have power. They could not replace their engine equipment due to funding challenge that we talked about earlier. There was a time when those who are cultivating cotton realised it was no longer profitable; they moved to other areas. Some were rearing bees at a particular time and I am sure now they will be doing rice.
It is imperative for Government to go back and do backward development, and let us rejuvenates these textiles factories and let us see how we can produce what we need, and of course Government also needs to patronize the textile industry. We all need to be sincere about this because we all know the reason why they went moribund, it was because they never had good patronage and they could not compete with imported items. Even though it is not possible to solve all the problems of textile industry in isolation, if we solve the problem of manufacturers we have solved half.
And how do you balance your personal and professional life?
I always believe that what is worth doing at all is worth doing well, i am not different from anybody of my own generation. My own type of growing up, we were not pampered; some of the indulgence that people kept now, can only be done if you are a rascal. I came from a very disciplined background, the type of training had as an audit training also folded me, and it prepares you for life.
I solidly believe in hard work, and i also try to be quiet, i do not impress people rather i always want to be myself, balancing the two has been easy i mean coping with this modern days is not very tasky, you could feel bored if you do not have things to do, you know a lot of activities that you are subject to.
If you were to make three wishes, what would they be?
I wish for Nigeria to be a better place for us, and also for Nigeria to attain its potentials. But you know we cannot achieve this unless we take money out of politics.
I wish we can get it right as a people. Nigeria is my problem, and also our problem because I know we can do better than where we are today, God has blessed Nigeria, He just need to help Nigeria.
Google to Buy Looker Data Sciences for $2.6B Cash
Google has announced decision to buy Looker Data Sciences in a bid to expand its offerings to help customers manage data in the cloud.
The acquisition recently announced, gives Google a new tool in its campaign to sell more cloud storage and software. Google plans to buy Looker for $2.6 billion in cash.
The deal will blend Google’s in-house analysis tools such as BigQuery with those built by the Santa Cruz, California-based Looker. It also sets up a new competitive front with Microsoft and its Power Platform/Dynamics.
This marks Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian’s first major acquisition in his tenure. The former longtime Oracle executive replaced Diane Greene in November 2018.
“For any business that is looking for a partner to help drive digital transformation, the combination of Google Cloud and Looker will offer an incredible data management and analytics platform,” Kurian said in a Google blog post announcing the deal.
According to him, Google intends to use Looker’s tools alongside its BigQuery database to offer “customers a more complete analytics solution from ingesting data to visualizing results and integrating data and insights into their daily workflows.”
Since taking control of Google’s Cloud computing division, Kurian has unveiled plans to double down on enterprise sales and will now extend Google’s overall enterprise software pitch with Looker.
Earlier this year, Kurian said he intend to invest and expand the business significantly, adding, “You will see us accelerate the growth even faster than we have to date.”
Google parent company Alphabet has already invested in Looker through its venture fund, Capital G. This purchase will be Google’s biggest acquisition since it bought smart home company Nest, another Alphabet-funded company, for $3.2 billion in 2014.
Google has been trying to gain market share from industry leader Amazon Web Services, which reported $7.7 billion in revenue for the last quarter.
“When Thomas Kurian approached us to become a cornerstone of his new path forward, a light bulb immediately went off for Lloyd (Tabb, founder, chairman, and CTO) and me,” Looker CEO Frank Bien wrote in a blog post about the deal.
Google held 7.6% of cloud market share at the end of 2018 compared with 13.7% for Microsoft and 32% for Amazon, according to a report from Canalys.
Analysts commended the sale and credited it for providing “a unified platform for business intelligence, data applications, and embedded analytics.”
Subject to regulatory approval, the acquisition is expected to be completed later this year.
Google shares were down less than 1% to $1,037.83 Thursday morning in New York.
Azuri Tech To Invest $26m on Business Growth in Africa
Azuri Technologies, a leader in pay-as-you-go solar technology, has announced its decision to invest a sum of $26 million to expand its business growth in the continent and accelerate Africa’s transition to clean and affordable energy.
Being financed in partnership with Japanese Fortune Global 500 Company, Marubeni Corporation, with additional participation of existing shareholders including FTSE 250 Company IP Group Plc, the strategic investment would ultimately accelerate Azuri’s market growth plans in both East and West Africa and open up new opportunities for the business.
Azuri Technologies provides solar home systems to off-grid consumers in sub-Saharan Africa on a pay-as-you-go basis. These systems enable households without access to the grid to benefit from modern conveniences, from electric light to satellite TV and Internet access via Smart phones.
On the other hand, Marubeni Corporation has global interests in energy and substantial experience in Africa.
The capital infusion would enable Azuri to accelerate expansion in existing sub-Saharan Africa markets and roll out its solar lighting, TV and additional services into new markets, with focus on enhancing the lives of millions living without access to the grid.
Commenting on the investment, The Chief Executive Officer of Azuri Technologies, Simon Bransfield-Garth, was quoted in a statement to have said during the signing ceremony in the United Kingdom recently. “We are delighted today to announce the equity investment by Marubeni Corporation and existing shareholders. The entry of a leading player in the international energy market into this sector demonstrates the increasing maturity of off-grid power and its role in serving the 600 million people in Africa that still lack access to electricity,”
According to the statement, the Chief Operating Officer, Power Business Division, Marubeni Corporation, Mr. Yoshiaki Yokota, also said: “We believe that Azuri’s unique business model will have a profound impact on the growing off-grid energy market in Africa.
He further stated that, “The global energy market is evolving rapidly, with the introduction of new renewable technologies and energy-efficient devices. We are delighted to be a strategic partner of Azuri as a market leader and see their solar home solutions and services as catalysts for change in the African energy sector and beyond.”
Also Speaking, Partner at IP Group Plc, Mr. Jamie Vollbracht added: “As an early investor in Azuri, we are pleased with its growth to date, with over 150,000 systems sold, positively impacting off-grid households in Africa. Today we are delighted to welcome Marubeni to the business to help power the next exciting phase of growth for Azuri.
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