UBA’s Abiola Bawuah argues for people power
The new head of UBA's West Africa operations turbo-boosted profits at the bank's Ghana subsidiary, but she maintains people come before numbers every time.
Abiola Bawuah is a rising star at Nigeria’s United Bank for Africa (UBA). In March, the veteran banker was appointed regional CEO for West Africa, overseeing the bank’s businesses in Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone. In her new role she is tasked with increasing UBA’s profits outside of Nigeria and expanding digital operations. Both UBA Sierra Leone and UBA Liberia launched mobile banking applications in April. She will be a key player in helping UBA to meet its goal of being amongst the top three most profitable banks in every country where it is active.
Bawuah struggled to jumpstart a career in the insurance sector after her studies, but little did she know that this would lead her to a successful career in the financial services sector. She held management positions at CAL Bank, Standard Chartered Bank and Zenith Bank before she was appointed deputy managing director of UBA’s Ghana subsidiary in 2013. In January 2014, she took over as CEO – the first Ghanaian and the first woman to do so.
A people-focused leader, Bawuah told reporters that she learnt very early on that “the people [come] first, before the figures”. She credits her UBA rise to the teams she has built. “When I focus on the people and I show interest in the people and they connect to my vision, while I’m sleeping they’re working,” she said in an interview last year.
She wants to take her experience in Ghana and apply it to UBA’s activities in the rest of West Africa. She helped UBA Ghana to generate a 30% increase in profit before tax at the end of her first year in office despite the depreciation of the cedi. The bank recorded 134% growth in profit year-on-year in 2016.
Bawuah has hinted that UBA could list UBA Ghana, one of the country’s biggest banks, on the local stock exchange this year. But that goal is not linked to challenges in raising capital in order to meet a recent Bank of Ghana directive on capital requirements. Bawuah says the bank is not fazed but supports the idea, and UBA Ghana has a strong liquidity position which will ensure it meets the December 2018 deadline.