Herbert Wigwe, CEO, Access Bank Holdings, no doubt , is a strategic leader; his desire to go for a spate of acquisitions for his bank, an offensive strategy that is usually used to seek rapid growth, has ,no doubt , paid off handsomely when compared with its competitors that prefer to grow organically or consolidate their past performances .Within the shortest frame of time with this strategic choice ,his bank has acquired enough resources or assets unmatched by its rivals .Consequently ,the massive assets at his disposal have given the bank the industry leadership and much needed earnings, deposits and profit ,all which have grown astronomically. However , his inability to match those unique resources with unique o core competences in the critical areas has remained a major drawback to its bank’s leadership ambition and its expectations to generate best in class returns to its shareholders .
The assets base of the Group is strong and resilient with Total Assets currently at ₦12.1trn as at March 2022, a growth of 3% ytd from ₦11.7trn as at Q1 2021 while its shareholders’ funds rose by 4% in 2021 to N1.10 trn from N1.05trn in 2020
Resources are important p[particularly when they are unique .Sequel to this , the above unique resources by size transformed Access Bank to the biggest bank in the industry . With this competitive advantage , Access Bank recorded a giant stride in its revenues .Its gross earnings inched up from N764.72b to N971.89b,the biggest industry ; its customer Deposits totaled ₦7.5trn as at March 2022 (December 2021: ₦7.0trn) This is ,no doubt , very impressive strategic capability . But resources are not enough to capture leadership in the true sense of it . The key to good or poor performance is found in competence rather than in resource per se This is because activities and processes may be more difficult to imitate than the acquisition of resources ; competence is created when resources are deployed into separate activities of the organization and into the processes through which several business activities are linked together.;
When resources and competences are combined ,organizations generate capabilities to deliver values to their stakeholders .However ,the starting point for understanding strategic capability is an understanding of what customers value ; stakeholders in any market segment will have threshold requirements on all performance metrics .if one or more of these are not met a provider will drop out of that part of the market .In the banking industry every player has to satisfy or create values for five main constituencies. One is the surplus units from which it borrows which demand the best possible term in rates of interest and maturity structures and the maximum liquidity to enable them to have the funds back when they want them , or as agreed ;the second is the deficit units which borrow from the banks ;they want to borrow when they need the funds and as cheaply as possible .Like the lenders ,the borrowers also impose the obligation of maximum liquidity on the banks to enable them to obtain funds when they need them .The shareholders are another units and they require maximum or adequate returns on their investments in order to remain invested in the bank and to be willing to continue to provide additional resources and when needed .To this is added the fourth constituency , the regulatory authorities ,whose interest is to ensure that the bank does not undertake excessive risks and that it operates prudently and within stipulated regulatory requirements ; finally the community at large is the fifth constituency . As the provider of the environment within which it operates,. a bank owes an obligation to the community to be a good corporate citizen, capable of maximizing the exploitation of the opportunities available and minimizing the threats in the environment..The above are important but they are mere threshold requirements from the stakeholders that keep every provider in business. . Access Bank ,a tier lender, has continued to the expectations of the above stakeholders ,at least at a threshold level
But stakeholders are likely to value some metrics regarded as the critical performance metrics where the organization must excel to outperform competition as profit making organization; moreover, of all the constituencies every bank is expected to satisfy the shareholders as the most critical group and the most critical success factor to them are the returns on their investment; naturally ,Access Bank is expected to the deliver the best returns to its shareholders particularly with its massive resources . To achieve competitive advantage and to outperform rivals , the bank is expected to complement unique resources with core competences in critical performance areas to generate critical values to its stakeholders . However ,while Access Bank has done beautifully well for the remaining constituencies , its returns to the shareholders relative to its massive resources and its closest rivals have continued to raise many questions against Wigwe led management ‘s proficiency. A prove of this observation manifests vividly when its profit after tax and ultimately its net profit margin ,earnings per share , dividends ,returns on equity and assets which are used to measure profitability and returns to shareholders are benchmarked with its closest rivals with smaller asset profile .
With the above unique resources , in 2021, its Return on Equity was 17.8% ;Return on assets , 1.4% ; Net profit margin ,17% and Earnings Per Share N4.58k Although these ratios increased on historical basis , when they are benchmarked with its closest rivals with smaller assets ,it is crystal clear that Access Bank’s strategic capability failed to outperform as expected relative to its closest rivals with smaller asset base . . For Zenith Bank and Guaranty Trust Bank, ROE were 20.4% and 20.6 % ;EPS ,N7.78K and N6.14k ; Net profit margins ,32% and 39% ; and ROA, (ROAA)2.7% and 3.2% respectively . When the above unique resources of Access Bank particularly its massive assets that were deployed to generate massive revenues and deposits highlighted above are compared with smaller total assets of N9.45trn of Zenith Bank which was responsible for the smaller gross earnings of N765.56b but greater Profit after tax of N244.56b ,the weaker strategic capability of Access Bank becomes clear .It becomes even clearer when GTCO’s Assets with total asset value of N5.44 trn and total revenue of N445.28b but with greater profit after tax of N174.84b are positioned against Access Bank’s .
The question now remains: Why should Access Bank with the above unique resources deliver lesser profit after tax to its shareholders and performed below its closest rivals in other critical performance metrics especially when compared with its closest competitors with lesser assets ,deposits and revenues ?
To those well versed in the art of strategy, this may not be farfetched .It is not possible to outperform or gain competitive advantage over a competitor with mere unique resources and threshold competences in critical areas . Though its profit after tax of N160 billions in 2021 is commendable, however, that is mere historical performance . The indication of this is that Access Bank is merely an assets leader with unique resources without core competencies to outperform the competition in the critical success metrics; and the signal to the bank is that it needs to be a more resourceful
CHINKS IN WIGWE AND ACCESS BANK’s OPERATINAL STRATEGY
For this lacuna , investors are worried that in spite of asset leadership; as indicated above ,its relative lower net profit margins, a metric used to calculate the percentage of profit a company produces from its total revenue, its earnings per share and returns on equity and assets expose the chinks in its armour that lead to its relative lower dividends to shareholders as well as its market value .
This is the battle before Wigwe led management ,and it will continue until he proves his mastery over certain challenges that hinders the bank’s ability to exploit its full potentials .
To translate its unique resources and gain better value or to meet the critical success factors ,gain competitive advantage and outperform its competitors, Access Bank needs to complement these unique resources bestowed on its by strategic acquisitions with unique competences in certain critical segments of its operations .This depends on an organization’s strategic capability or how these resources and competences are deployed by the leadership of any organization to create competitive advantage.
Moreover ,this is where boys are separated from the men in management . One of the herculean jobs confronted by any strategic leader is the battle with the challenges posed by the dynamic external environment that create both opportunities and threats . Without a strategic capability to perform at the level that is required for success or to ensure the company’s strategies continue to fit the environment as well as opportunities and threats that exist , it may be difficult to outperform competitors . Also, to gain a competitive over rivals , some innovative strategic leaders often translate their organizations’ capability to leading edge of strategic developments , creating new opportunities by stretching and exploiting their organizations’ strategic capability .
However , from all indications, Wigwe is running a bank that benefits more from size rather than core competencies to gain market share . But no bank chief should be oblivious of the fact that the race to competition is or should be perceived as a race to build competencies not simply to gain immediate market share
No doubt ,the size advantage has worked for his bank with the bank ability to deploy massive loans in the core banking income segment ; it is also given the bank an edge over smaller banks in the non interest segment driven its massive transactions to generate massive fee and commission . By the benefit of its acquisition spree , Access Bank’s management is armed with the biggest assets and threshold competencies has continued to deliver or meet threshold returns relative to its rivals virtually in every area of its operations; however to deliver competitive returns , the bank needs to complement its unique resources with core competencies that underpin meeting critical success factors or competitive advantage in all its income segments
To confirm the above observation about Access Bank a look into its income mix expose a major hindrance to the strategy adopted by Wigwe to grow the bank . To outperform competitors , a corporate leader is expected to be a cost leader or differentiation leader ,watching his cost and value handles with eagle eyes . However , Wigwe appears to driven more by the need to exploit his bank’s size advantage as opposed to the power of resourcefulness.
In the core bank segment , with the massive assets bestowed on the bank by acquisitions , he deployed massive loans or earning assets to generate massive interest income than any of its rivals. Its net loan hit ₦4.5trn as at Dec’21 as against ₦3.6trn December ,2020 while its net Loans and Advances totaled ₦4.6trn as at March 2022 compared to ₦4.4trn in December 2021: .These loans deployed by Access Bank is a little less than the total assets of Guaranty Trust Bank which was N5.4 trn at the end of 2021 .
Indeed, Access Bank achieved massive interest income with this massive loans to customers , a major driver of its massive revenues in 2021 financial year . Gross revenue grew 27% to ₦971.9bn y/y, comprising 62% in interest income and 38% in non- interest income. Interest income grew by +23% y/y to ₦601.7bn ; this interest income is so massive that some of its rivals could not match it with their total revenues in 2021 .GTCO’s gross earnings which comprises funded and non funded income was N447 2021
But Access Bank management must wake from its slumber and learn a lesson that possession of resources including people does not guarantee success but how these resources are deployed ,managed ,controlled ;and in the case people how they are motivated to create competencies in those activities and business processes needed to run the business is critical success of any organization.; bank management is coterminous with risk management ,in other words ,it is no more than managing risks , the risk of mismatches between assets and liabilities and between borrowing and lending rates and only a strong management with unique competences to manage this superbly will outperform its rivals
Inability to learn or to tap from the above wisdom is the major drawback against its leadership ambition. Despite the massive loan deployed, the bank’s net interest margin, a critical success factor that measures how successful a bank’s investment decisions are confirms that nothing is fantastic about the pedigree of the management led by Wigwe ;Net interest margin is one indicator of a bank’s profitability and growth ;it reveals how much the bank is earning in interest on its loans compared to how much it is paying out in interest on deposits. In the first quarter 2021 its NIM stood at 6.4 % compared to 4.3% in March 2022 ; between 2019 and 2021 it worsened from 6.6% to 4.9% and 4.3% on a full year basis .The indication of this is that Access Bank with a NIM of 4.3 % in the first quarter 2022 made only N4.30k from every N100 invested assets after all interest expenses had been paid . One can say without any fear of contradiction that the bank did not make good investment in that quarter or did not used its resources effectively for it to have generated merely 4.3% return
Just as its battle with interest rate risk shows the bank’s less impressive mastery ,its credit risk battle skill is also less inspiring .The signal for this comes from its huge impairment cost which hit directly hard on its profitability; its loans impairment rose marginally to N13.69b in the first quarter of 2022 from N12.54b ; at a full year 2021 it was N83.21b from N62.89b in 2020 .If one compares this with GTCO loan impairment of N8 .53 b in 2021 from N19.5b in 2020 it is easier to conclude that bankers are different from bankers just as banks are .
To look at this from a different but similar angle is to see what Access Bank gets as its net interest income for every N100 of interest earned .In 2021 Access Bank raked in N601.70 b as against N489 .22b in 2020 However .while it got N50 for every N100 interest earned in 2021, in 2020 it got N56 ;in the first quarter 2022 it got N50 again against N65 in the first quarter of 2021 When the above figures are compared with GTCO 2021 figures Access Bank weakness becomes clearer as GT got N87 where Access got N50 ; and in 2020 GTCO got N85 compared to Access Bank’s N56 .Zenith Bank too displayed similar skill to show its superiority over Access Bank in the heart of banking or lending business. The message is clear , it is not possible to outperform a competitor with a threshold competence even with unique resources ;only a management with core competence could do that
Apart from capacity to deploy massive loans from its massive asset base to generate interest income ,Access Bank is benefiting from its size advantage of 45mn+ Customers in 17 markets as at 2021 is boosting its gross earnings growth with the transactions led revenues or non interest income. In the financial year ended 2021 it gathered N159.18b 4 as against N116.70b in 2020 ;in the first quarter of 2022 its fee based income was N74.12 b compared to N53.18b 9,802 The implication of this in 2021 is that it used approximately N26 to secure N100 fee based income as against N20 in 2020; in the first quarter 2022 ,it was N24 compared to N21 in the corresponding period of 2020 . No doubt ,Access Bank was able control its cost in this segment . But this may not be farfetched Fee revenue is generated from the sale and provision of financial services to customers of 45mn+ Customers in 17 markets . The challenge here is not that hard for banks This is because the level of fees and commissions in this segment will be communicated in advance to customers. Fee income, separate from trading income and known as non-interest income, is desirable for banks because it represents a stable source of revenue that is not exposed to market risk. It is also attractive because it provides an opportunity for the bank to cross-sell new products and services to existing customers, and the provision of these services does not expose the bank to additional credit or market risk. Fee income represents diversification in a bank’s revenue base
Compared to GTCO in 2021 ,it took it N11 to generate N100 fee income as compared to N12 in 2020 This indicates GTCO as a cost leader did it better than Access Bank . The reason behind this may not be far to seek . Although fee-based business may not expose the bank to market risk directly, an ability to provide fee-based financial services may require significant investment in infrastructure and human resources. This is where GTCO shows its capability to control better its cost than Access Bank
Another chink in its armour is weak operating cost control .Though the bank has been improving its cost control recently ,Access Bank cost to income ratio still stays above its closest rivals . . Though it increased from 55.8 % in quarter 1 ,2021 to 59.8% in quarter 1 ,2022 , in full year the bank improved on this in 2021 .Despite the increase in Operating Expenses, its Cost to Income ratio reduced significantly by 454bps y/y to 58.8% in 2021 from 63.4% in 2020
The challenges faced by banks in Nigeria including Access could be situated on challenging business environment as well as policy summersault from the regulatory authorities. However , the survival and success of any organization are usually influenced by its ability to respond to the competing pressures particularly changes in the business environment ,its strategic capability including its resources and competences as well as expectations and purposes of its stakeholders . External environment in which an organization is operating creates both opportunities and threats . A major threat confronting banking sector performance remains a low interest rate environment and this has become a hard nut for many players; this is responsible for such a less impressive performance of Access Bank in some critical segments .
In the face of lower interest rate environment, analysts believe benign funding cost, asset quality improvement, lower provisioning, and resilience in non-interest revenue (NIR) will be central to earnings . Also, in a low-growth revenue environment and faced with digital disruption, cost discipline and efficiency improvements will be key drivers of earnings growth and profitability longer term for the banks, .
However , many of the players in this industry could not implement their strategies successfully or perform at the level that is required for success for lack of strategic capability that fit the environment in which they are operating and opportunities and threats that exist .Not only that, absence of strategic capability that could serve as a leading edge to tap new opportunities by stretching and exploiting that capability either in a way which competitors find difficult to match or in genuinely new directions is another handicap .
Only few banks are proving their worth over the above challenges Access Bank has found it difficult to come up with a business model that is difficult for its competitors to replicate. The issue is that it finds it difficult to operate a low cost, revenue efficient model that relies less on manpower but more on prudent risk asset allocation while attracting cheap deposits
The lesson for its management is that the starting point for understanding strategic capability of any organization is an understanding of what shareholders value and this helps to distinguish capability of different players in an industry .; what the shareholders require are maximum or adequate returns on their investments in order to remain invested in the bank and to be willing to continue to provide additional resources and when needed. For any organization to live to the above expectations , they must ensure that the external environment in which they are operating is put under control to exploit the opportunities and tame the prevailing threats
For Access Bank to become a profit leader it s Net interest margins or management skill and operating costs must improve competitively .Banking management is coterminous with risk management; it is no more than managing risks—the risk of mismatches between assets and liabilities and between borrowing and lending rates .Only a bank that is armed with world class skills to control risks and costs could lend safely and profitably .Access Bank has gotten the resources than its closest rivals but it must it realize that core competences not threshold competences are the weapons to outperform competitors to generate critical success factors that deliver leadership in a true sense of it .