Mr. Jim Ovia, founder/chairman, Zenith Bank Plc, has climbed to the peak of the ladder of entrepreneurial success. Mrs. Kay Ovia, his wife and CEO, Quantum Markets Ltd, has ascended together with him. He founded Zenith Bank Plc in 1990 when competition headed to its climax and when banking didn’t have a technological wheel on which to run.
Nigerian banking then needed an information communication technology [ICT] wheel to add some speed to the creeping business. This gap provided an entry niche for Jim. The strategy was to invest in ICT development alongside the investment in banking. This was a backward integration angle of which Kay took the saddle as chairman of the board of directors of Cyberspace Limited, a leading software engineering company.
Cyberspace therefore had to come up as soon as banking took off and it did in 1995. The company’s place in the game was the development of internet facilities and the provision of internet services in a market that was then in its infancy in Nigeria. It was an enabler to serve customers from any branch of the bank.
The company is one of the pioneers in provision of internet services in the country. It provides software and network services, including 4G LTE, CYBER MAX, METRONET.
Jim and Kay worked together to give Nigerian banking a high-tech wheel with which it taxied and took off into modernity. While many banks were yet celebrating back office computerization, Jim moved the computer to the front office. That transformed the banking hall and gave customer service delivery a new speed that reduced the turnaround time to a fraction of what the industry then had to offer.
With Kay at the technology powerhouse behind the scene and Jim at the operating front, they deployed a robust IT infrastructure at Zenith Bank, a step that gave birth to a range of digital products and brought technology to the fore of Nigerian banking.
A number of revolutionary changes in banking services delivery followed, which transformed the business beyond recognition in no time. This ushered in an ICT-driven competitive race in banking, which Zenith Bank held a comfortable lead from day one.
The time lag it took the industry giants to wake up to the reality of a changed market provided an ample time for Zenith Bank to employ a skillful union of banking expertise and cutting-edge technology to snatch a big piece of market share.
Jim heard a clearly defined strategy – which was to make Zenith Bank an information technology-driven bank. Kay worked to back up the strategy that enabled the bank’s competitive strategy to be mounted on a tripod of people, technology and service.
The result was the bank blazing the trail in digital banking in Nigeria; emerging firsts in many fronts in the deployment of ICT infrastructure to create innovative products. Zenith brand has become synonymous with the deployment of state-of-the-art technologies in banking.
With people empowered with technology to deliver superior customer service, Jim launched an aggressive competitive ambush that broke up existing competitive structures in the banking industry and redistributed market share almost overnight. The result was a galloping speed growth in market share that gave Zenith Bank some of the highest growth rates imaginable in the world of banking.
Market share expansion strategy involved a massive retail branch network expansion across the country, and establishment of banking subsidiaries in other African countries. The bank has over 500 retail branches in the length and breadth of Nigeria with banking subsidiaries in Ghana, Sierra Leone Gambia, United Kingdom, and Peoples Republic of China.
The victory is that Jim’s Zenith Bank changed the business culture from the one-size-fit-all mentality of armchair banking to customer-centred new products engineering. The effort and the strategy have paid off. In just a quarter of a century, Zenith Bank arrived at the topmost circle of Nigeria’s banking industry leadership. In 2012, the then 21-year old Zenith Bank took over the banking industry leadership by profit volume and has since held it.
The bank presents a very good case study of successful indigenous business organization, particularly in the banking industry, in which more than a hundred of banks either folded up or were acquired during the same period that Zenith Bank came to rule.
Zenith Bank’s stunning growth records reflect its unique management quality, a revolutionary customer service model backed by effective deployment of technology. Without any business combination anywhere along the line, the bank has emerged one of the two largest banking organizations in Nigeria with an asset base of about N6 trillion at the end of September 2019.
There was also a forward integration strategy that saw the creation of a number of subsidiaries that later changed status to associated companies in compliance with regulatory changes. The inter- and intra-industry associations extended the opportunities arising from one of the largest banking institutions in Africa. Kay is directly in charge of one of the most strategic of them – Quantum Asset Management Limited – which takes the reach of the family business association to the capital market.
There she drives portfolio management services designed for private individuals and institutional investors. The company boasts expertise in discretionary and non-discretionary investment management options across asset classes.
Quantum Markets also offers stockbrokerage services with a large portfolio that covers key operations in the capital market. Investment advisory services are also part of its area of competence.
Jim and Kay have successfully created a business empire spanning banking, telecommunications and real estate, in the process amassing over $850 million fortune for which Jim is named the 6th richest man in Africa. That however is only a small fraction of the wealth created and distributed through thousands of direct jobs and hundreds of thousands of indirect jobs across the business network, the stream of huge returns to investors and empowerment of society through direct giving.
The Zenith empire presents a case study of an indigenous business organization driven by a solid strategy and governed by a management template tested and proven to be one of the bests in the world. The bank was sown as a seed, fertilized by a backward ICT integration support and channeled to forward-integrated operations in a number of related industries.
The governance strategy that keeps the large corporate engine streaming has been acknowledged globally to be unique. Zenith Bank was named the best bank in corporate governance four times between 2012 and 2016 by World Finance. It was named the best corporate governance bank in Nigeria 2015 by Global Banking & Finance. In the same year, it was named the best corporate governance 2015 by International Finance Magazine.