Home Banking Interview with Mr. Obeahon Ohiwerei, CEO of Keystone Bank Limited

Interview with Mr. Obeahon Ohiwerei, CEO of Keystone Bank Limited

by internationalbanker

Today we are fortunate to have Mr. Obeahon Ohiwerei, CEO of Keystone Bank Limited, with us to discuss the achievements of one of Nigeria’s most ambitious and successful banks. The bank has its beginnings in 1981, as Habib Bank Nigeria Ltd., and only became known by its current name in 2011, the same year the Central Bank of Nigeria granted it a commercial license. In 2017, new investors Sigma Golf-Riverbank Consortium took over the management of Keystone Bank Limited, following Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria’s (AMCON’s) divestment. After undergoing some repositioning for growth and competitiveness, Keystone is prepared to fulfil its mandate to deliver convenient and reliable financial solutions to its rapidly growing customer base.

Mr. Ohiwerei, thank you very much for joining us today. 

Keystone’s stated vision is to “set the pace in financial-services delivery, creating utmost value for our stakeholders”. What does “setting the pace” mean?

Keystone Bank Headquarters in Lagos, Nigeria

The statement above is our former vision statement. Our current vision is “tobe the preferred platform for delivering convenient and reliable financial solutions”. In doing so, we consistently leverage people and technology to deliver superior customer experience and enhanced stakeholder value. In my view, the word preferred takes us above the fray; it elevates the discussion beyond traditional metrics of balance-sheet size, asset base.

Our customer-service strategy is to deliver such unique customer experience at every touch-point that it engenders customer loyalty, repeat business and ultimately greater customerlifetime value.Ours is a paradigm shift from simply a transactional mindset to one that is focused on achieving enduring relationships with our customers. Our major drivers for this are:digital channels and platforms; interactive 24/7 contact centre; customer loyalty and reward schemes;metrics and information-driven feedback processes that help us tap in effectively to the voice of the customer.

How significantly has Keystone’s earnings been impacted by the slump in oil and gas prices? Do you think Keystone is well-positioned to capitalise on Nigeria’s recovery from recession?

Keystone Bank had significant loan exposures in the petroleum downstream sector, and a strategic decision was taken to consciously wind down these exposures and diversify actively into other trade sectors. Overall, while the slump in oil prices had some impact on our earnings, our cautious and largely bearish approach to risk-asset creation in the sector moderated this as well.

I believe it is safe to say that the recession is past, and barring any major socio-political upheavals, it is unlikely to recur, at least not to the scale witnessed in 2016 through 2017. As a bank we are well-poised to capitalise on this recovery. On our assumption of office in the third quarter of 2017, my executive team and I embarked on an extensive restructuring process. We have remodelled our digital platforms for collections and payments, to provide increased convenience and value-addition to our customers’ lifestyles and business. So far the market response has been positive, and our customer deposits have grown in excess of 40 percent over the last three quarters. 

Keystone aims to partner with more than 50,000 SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) as part of its strategy to become the fastest growing retail bank in Nigeria. Do you also plan to partner with fintechs?

Mr. Alhaji Umaru H. Modibbo, Chairman of the Board, Keystone Bank

With over 15 million SMEs dotting the Nigerian landscape, we are poised to ensure our customers in this segment actively grow their businesses through our partnerships and focused initiatives in the segment. We shall continue to partner with the government and other developmental agencies in making intervention funds available to the segment. Our SME proposition is the “Growbiz Account” with three variants that address their cycles of growth from infancy through maturity and stability.

Partnerships form a major part of our strategic growth imperatives, especially with fintechsin Nigeria, and this has introduced new dynamics that are fast replacing traditional payment structures. These new frameworks ensure transactions and payments are done efficiently and transparently. To date, we have collaborated with fintechs in different areas, ranging from agency banking, online payments, mobile platforms, loyalty schemes to retail loan creation using data analytics.

Are you satisfied with the level of coverage provided by Keystone’s 154 branches nationwide?

Mr. Adeyemi Odusanya, Executive Director of Corporate Banking & South Directorate, Keystone Bank

Nigeria currently has about 96.4 million adults, and Keystone Bank is focused on driving an all-inclusive retail growth structure from the underbanked through high-net-worth individuals.Weare currently deploying a range of solutions to serve the unbanked population, which include: deployment of ATMs to locations with little or no access to financial services; deployment of our agency-banking solution, KeyServ Agency Banking; co-locating with the Nigerian Postal Service to reach both rural and semi-urban dwellers at minimal cost;partnering with other strategic organisations to ensure our agent network is spread across Nigeria in the next 12 months.

We have 154 active branches in Nigeria with strong presence and multiple locations in key commercial nerve centres. We have progressively changed the narrative from merely having physical presence to achieving effective presence in the minds of our customers, through a massive yet sustained deployment of ubiquitous digital and agent platforms that are literally within reach of our customers. For us it is about taking the bank to our customers and not just building structures and expecting them to come to us. Where we need to complement our brick-and-mortar network, we deploy nimble yet effective touch-points that fit with our customers’ businesses and lifestyles, such as e-centres and galleries, Fixed Agents in the local grocery stores and Teller Implants, all of which still take banking to the customer. 

The bank is launching an exciting new digital financial-services platform. What are some of the platform’s key features?

Artificial intelligence (AI) strategy is playing a critical role in driving Keystone’s operations via the adoption of chatbot functionality, Oxygen, both on Facebook and Telegram. AI allows us to improve customer experience by turning several transaction steps on Internet banking and the mobile app to simple conversations in a chat environment, achieving huge time-saving and convenience for busy customers.Chat apps are rapidly replacing emails and other media for customer engagement.

As part of our efforts towards building a digitally driven bank, we are focused not only on growing our social-media presence, but on integrating our digital services into social media in order to make product access and support available to our customers online.

How is the bank designing its digital-technology platform toward Millennials?

Mr. Premier Oiwoh, Executive Director of Operations & Technology, Keystone Bank

Our goal is to be the “youth friendly and upwardly mobile bank” that is constantly responsive to the needs and demands of the Millennials of today. The ability to attract and keep them is hinged on seamless services delivered via mobile platforms. Statistics show that there are a lot more mobile phones than there are personal computers across the board. It, therefore, follows that a lot more market share would be captured using mobile platforms. Feedback from customers across all touch-points has been quite impressive, both on our VOC (voice of customer) surveys and app store reviews, while our current rating on the Google Play store is 4.2 on a scale of 1 to 5.

Keystone Mobile Banking App has introduced a new level of banking with exciting offerings and features, most of which were hitherto non-existent across the entire banking industry. These include:Zero-Data Banking, which allows customers to transact using our mobile app even without data on their phones; Chat Banking service, which allows customers to transact while they chat via Telegram and Facebook; “Meet Account Officer” feature, which introduces customers to their assigned account officers and allows them to interact directly on the platform; Foreign Currency (FCY) Transfers, through which customers are able to make transfers to banks across the globe right from the mobile app; Movie Tickets, which allows customers to view available movies and book tickets; Standing Instructions, which allows scheduling of recurrent payments and transfers; self-booking and liquidation of fixed deposits; enabling and disabling of cards, which can be a useful safeguard in the event that a customer loses any of our electronic cards. Our new USSD code *7111# also allows customers to transact from just about any type of mobile phone, offering such exciting features as bills payment, airtime top up, account opening, account reactivation. 

What measures does the bank have in place to combat cyber-attacks? Are you utilising innovative technology in order to more effectively deal with regulatory challenges?

At Keystone Bank we have taken a holistic approach, leveraging not just technology but people and processes to build the culture, knowledge and hands-on skills required to proactively identify and forestall such attacks. In addition, we are currently in the process of building an enterprise Security Operations Centre (SOC) that comprises threat monitoring, forensic investigation, incident management and security reporting. The proposed SOC will enable us to identify, monitor and manage security risks.

We are indeed leveraging technology to enhance regulatory compliance, and our solutions cut across fraud management, anti-money-laundering (AML) tracking, know-your-customer (KYC) and due diligence. Essentially, they detect and deter non-compliant conduct as well as retroactively investigate and create audit trails as may be required.The bank has also invested in solutions that screen customers at the point of account opening against designated terrorist lists.

Of all your corporate-social-responsibility initiatives, which would you say has been the most effective and successful?

Mr. Abubakar Danlami Sule, Deputy Managing Director, Keystone Bank

To date, our youth and women empowerment programs have been the most successful in the bank, both as independent initiatives and as partnerships with reputable organizations. Our focus is to empower indigent youths and women through training, education and other forms of learning, to achieve sustainable job creation and income generation. We have consistently won awards in recognition of these initiatives, the most recent of which was the 2018 Global Impact Leadership Award for “Best Bank In Women Entrepreneurs Empowerment Category”.

The Pink Account is designed to meet the needs of our female working class and SME customers, and provides such benefits as access to attractive loans, customized electronic debit cards and access to discounts from partner stores; while the Pink Network is an online forum that empowers our female entrepreneurs with free mentorship and capacity-building sessions.

Also, Keystone Bank is conscious of its environmental footprints, and we have an Environmental and Social Management System (ESMS) in place, which sets out the principles and arrangements for maintenance of a safe and sustainable environment during all of the bank’s business activities and operations respectively. 

How do you describe your own personal leadership style, Mr. Ohiwerei? By the time you end your tenure as CEO, what is the one goal that you hope you will have achieved?

It is very difficult for me to see any goal or target as impossible. Some say I am audacious to a fault; maybe they are right, but it’s just not in me to set mental barriers to what I can achieve in life. I guess this translates to my leadership style as well; I challenge my colleagues to pursue audacious goals, believing they can achieve them.

I would love to leave with a sense of satisfaction that I delivered on the mandate of our investors by making Keystone a Tier 1 bank. I also want to leave behind a tested and proven team of passionate and highly motivated people who refuse to see any barriers to what they can achieve; people who are able to compete shoulder-to-shoulder with any leading bank in the industry. At the end of my tenure, the recurrent customer feedback should be “my bankers are highly professional solution providers, responsive and always within reach”.

That will indeed be the consensus amongst the bank’s customers if Keystone stays on the same track you are on today. Mr. Ohiwerei, thank you very much for your time today.


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Jopley July 13, 2018 - 11:43 am

Thank for good article!

María Monica Padurean March 5, 2020 - 4:45 pm

Me podrían decir porfavor la dirección del banco y dónde se encuentra? O algún número de teléfono? Porfavor ayundenme.Se llama el banco habib bank ag zurick – Lagos Nigeria? Sacáisme de la duda .porfavor pido ayuda.


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