Uzoma Dozie is the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Diamond Bank Plc. In this interview, he talks about his foray into banking, advocacy for the use of digital technology to enhance its operations and his other interests
Diamond Bank Plc is one of Nigeria’s foremost banks. As its Managing Director/CEO, how are you delivering on its mission and vision?
If you look at our mission statement, it’s about the people, customer experience and delivering superior shareholder value. From the best people perspective, it’s all about getting the right staff and creating an enabling environment for staff to work, so that when people leave the organisation, you can pause and say, “How have they left and what value have they added?” People are very important to us because when it comes to delivering on customer service, anybody can do that but the great moment for us is that they come back to us satisfied because we have added value to their lives. Therefore, you need the right kind of people to be able to meet these demands. If you do that, all will be well. At Diamond Bank, we don’t chase profits because we strongly believe that if we deliver on our promises, that will follow suit and we’ve seen that happen.
Tell us a bit about your core responsibilities.
My core responsibilities are actually very simple; it’s about people management and also being the brand ambassador of the bank. My job is making sure that I create an enabling environment, promote the brand and I am at the forefront of ensuring that the culture of the organisation is kept intact. My job here is not about sitting behind a desk, it is all about taking the front burner to lead by showing example in the workplace and on the field. There must be good leadership even at teller points in the banking hall because those who are there must realise that their jobs are important. You must be able to make your team know that their jobs are important. A typical example is this: if you are a man and your driver knows that you cannot drive, you are like a hostage within your own space. If he knows that you can drive better than he does, he won’t take you for granted and that is exactly the kind of things that we are trying to promote here.
What is the place of Diamond Bank in today’s banking sphere?
We want to be the best retail bank in Nigeria. Every bank wants to be a good brand but the question is how many people can you service every day and what value are you adding to their lives? We are different because our style of banking is different. We also know that banking of yesterday is not the same as what’s obtainable today and banking of tomorrow will not be what is obtainable today.
What has changed in terms of banking structures since you came on board?
I think what has changed is our strategy. We have moved to a digital platform which is the only way to revamp banking services and that also means leadership by example. Let me give you an instance; we have decided that by the end of 2017, all our transactions will become paperless for many reasons. It enforces our digital drive and from a sustainability perspective, it will reduce the cost of paper. Beyond that, going digital reduces cost, enhances security and also facilitates creativity and innovation. For you to be successful at that, you must be able to guide your staff. For the mere fact that I don’t sign any internal documents means that everything has to come up electronically and it is not the question of a document getting to one source that scans it and sends it back to me. Everything is done electronically.
What specific things are you doing to train and retrain your staff to meet up with these demands?
We are very fortunate with our staff because we have a young management team and staff, so we have people who are digitally literate. We are the ones who have had to train ourselves and keep up with the society. Anybody can use a mobile phone; people use mobile phones to text and chat but there are many other things that you can use a smart phone to do. Our job is to enhance and increase that capacity from 20 per cent to about 50 or 60 per cent and that’s where the innovation of going digital is.
Apart from digital technology, what other innovations have you brought into banking?
There are three that I will tell you about; Diamond Yellow, Cash Deposition and Esusu. Let me start with Diamond Yellow; it took Diamond Bank two years to get six million customers and we added six million more in a space of two years. When the new customers actually opened their accounts, there was no paper, it was just self-registration and it was across the country. Not one of them actually entered a banking hall, so that is a feat.
In doing that, how were you able to cater to the needs of those who are not lettered?
That is where the beauty of the Nigerian population lies and we sometimes underestimate the Nigerian population. We often think that people are not lettered but they use their mobile phones, send text messages and recharge their phones as well. That is where the art of retail banking comes in handy; communication must be simple enough so that people can actually understand and that is what we’ve focused on. We also know that the kind of banking that we do for our corporate clients is completely different from the one that we do at the bottom of the pyramid and it has to be simple. It’s not about reinventing the wheel but showing them a better way and communicating with customers in the language that they actually understand. In terms of the Esusu innovation, we took the local thrift system (ajo) and amplified it, so we are not doing anything new. We needed to do something that someone like the local market woman will completely understand. We just told her that using the ajo system is more secure, you can collect your money 24/7 and you can also save. The proof of the pudding is that in two years, we’ve had over half a million people and over N5bn in balances and about 92 per cent are happy with their transactions and most of these people are found in the market. If you go to Iddo market for instance, you have a bank there but people don’t walk into the banking hall because it is not convenient for their working hours and some of them don’t even understand how the banking system works. The innovation that we have taken there is not come and bank with us, rather, we will take banking to you. There is an analogy that my mother tells me. She says that when somebody comes to your house and you are eating, there are two questions that you can ask him. They appear the same but they are different: Do you want to eat? or Come and eat. They are two different things, so for us, the question is not do you want to bank, rather, it is come and bank and that is our philosophy.
In this period of recession, what is Diamond Bank doing to help SMEs grow their business?
There are things that we are doing today and we hope to do much more tomorrow. That is one of the reasons we are at the forefront of promoting a digital and cashless Nigeria. We are in business, so we know the cost of going digital and this cost is not just from a financial perspective, it’s from an operational perspective or should I say business enablement. Now, despite the recession, Nigeria is a place where there is a market and several opportunities in the retail space because you can see that we have a lot of consumers who do not have products. We have a lot of people in some parts of the country who do not have access to goods and services. Our role therefore is how do we help you to provide much more than banking services? By banking with Diamond Bank, you belong to a community that gives you access to over 10 million customers. You’ll also have access to financial advisory services. Nigeria is actually the most entrepreneurial country in the world so you have people who are entrepreneurs scattered all over the country. You only have to go to Aba to see what is happening there, so we provide financial advisory services and access to markets. We also create a lot of awareness about products. We are now bringing a lot of people into our market so, if I produce goods, how do I take these goods from point A to B, how do my customers access these goods? Business is not just about providing the goods; it’s about creating enough channels through which they will get to the customer, regardless of where he is in Nigeria. Those are the kind of things that we are doing and it is part of our beyond banking philosophy. It’s not just about the transaction that a customer will carry out, it’s all about the share of wallet and because the cash is no longer in the wallet, it might be elsewhere. Hence, if you are part of the customer’s life, the share of wallet will take care of itself.
How have you been able to maximise profit regardless of a failing economy?
Banking is very simple and it’s all about making your customers happy through the services on offer. What we are trying to do is that we’ve realised the need to diversify the economy so we must provide services to a wide range of people and not just a small group of people. The reason why Nigeria has the problem that it has now is that we are not maximising the opportunities in the country.We are only focusing on oil and not looking at Agriculture and other sectors. We are not even looking at how to make money out of our Nollywood industry and other things attached to it. The Made-in-Nigeria theme should resonate more. About five years ago, we said to ourselves that our business model was not sustainable and we went back to the drawing board and started a retail journey and that has allowed us to grow, especially in the area of the Treasury Single Account( TSA). Now, we have a retail base and our next journey is how to play a role in providing credit facilities regardless of the inefficiencies in the macro-economy.
What solutions would you proffer to some of the economic challenges facing the country?
First of all, I think we’ve already invested in infrastructure in Nigeria, especially when it comes to payment platforms and telecoms. With the right policies in place, I believe that government is really going to enforce the cashless policy. That will help to create a lot of commerce in Nigeria. It will also reduce the cost of doing business and reduce corruption. As you know, corruption actually disables businesses. It will also save cost and I’ll give you a typical example; you know in Nigeria, you can actually do away with Point of Sale terminals as people don’t need it because they already do mobile to mobile payments. You can also do away with the POS because it still involves using a card to transact business. The fact that I can send money to someone and he can get it immediately is amazing. Even in the United Kingdom, for me to be able to do that you will pay an extra fee and it is not applicable to everybody so, we have deployed a lot of solutions in Nigeria. Using POS is a good choice but people are already using their mobile phones as a form of payment technology and they can just wake up one morning and decide to make a particular mobile money transfer which has been very successful in the last 24 months.
Talking about digital technology, in what other ways has it transformed banking services in Nigeria?
If you look at the number of transactions that people do today as opposed to 20 years ago, it has quadrupled and the cost of that is not in proportion to the number of transactions. 26 years ago, when I started banking, for a bank to break even, it will take about two years. Now, 80 per cent of transactions are not done in the bank, you have ATMs, Point of Sale terminals and all and it means that people are no longer coming to the bank , you are doing 10 times more the transactions that you do electronically. Electronic payment is just basically information. I transfer money to someone; he doesn’t see the cash but receives information that money has been transferred into his account. It could be in the form of a text message or an email, so I am moving information around. Therefore, the speed of information has increased. In the past, what you had was that you walk into any branch of a bank; you pay in the money, collect the teller and then, send it to the person. Then, the receiver will have to go to his or her own bank to check and that whole process takes a minimum of two days. Once you increase the velocity of money, it increases commerce because you would be able to take decisions quicker and enhance operations in banks, including ours. The beauty of this is that you are also able to carry out audit because you know who, when and how money is moved around. The fact that you can take decisions much quicker will enable commerce and it has a direct relationship with the GDP growth. You only have to look at what is happening in Kenya in terms of receiving money.They are doing things much deeper and differently. As a country, we have much more potential but we haven’t been able to unlock them and we can do so much more because we are twice the size of Kenya.
What was your career path after you left the university?
After I left the university, I was at a crossroads because I didn’t know what to do.
Why was that?
I guess I was looking for a job in a place that would allow me to be independent of my parents so I knew it would be either banking or oil and gas. I decided on banking and started with Guaranty Trust Bank, now GTBank.
What stirred your interest in banking?
My father was a banker so it just came naturally to me. I had already spent a year working in a lab and I did a master’s degree but I wanted to try something new and decided on a one year experiment in banking which has turned out to be 26 years now and I’m still here. Also, sometimes, when you start in the right place, it encourages you to see what you can do. From there, you’ll just continue and see what you make of your career. We’ve been fortunate enough to see the growth of the banking industry from private companies to limited liability companies. We have also seen banks move from Nigeria to other parts of the continent and we’ve also seen how customers and lifestyles have changed and how we have also followed the trend. For me, the most important thing is how we have been an industry that was behind that of Europe to one that is now at par with it, in terms of the type of services that we provide for customers. We have our mobile banking app and I have not seen an app in any American or European bank that actually matches it. It’s a lifestyle app and we continue to improve on it. What I’m trying to do is to create a mobile app such that when they throw me out of banking, I won’t have to walk into any bank again. I have an app that allows me to interact with the world without a human interface.
What personal traits have enabled you to be successful at what you do?
I’ll have to thank my father, Pascal Dozie, for that because he is a very simple man. He has taught me the virtues of simplicity and contentment. You must be content, whatever the situation is. On my part, I try to keep things simple and that also works for what we are trying to do in Diamond Bank as well. As an individual, be content and you will get the best in life without even knowing that it is there. It is not the pursuit of great things that matter, it’s how you actualise it. For me and my team, why we actually enjoy our jobs is that we are constantly trying to create new experiences and different things. Anybody can do the mundane things of life but you need to be able to do extraordinary things so that you can retire well. For me, I want to retire with excitement to face every day.
What are some of the lasting legacies that you’ll want to leave when you exit as MD/CEO of Diamond Bank Plc?
I would like to see a situation where people don’t just see Diamond Bank as just a bank but rather see it as a place for everyone. One of our commercials describes the bank as a place for everyone; from the customers who are looking for services and products to people who want to actually create services and products for the future of Nigeria. Many organisations that are quite big in the world today thrive because they are people-focused. We are not just a bank because we actually provide much more than banking services to people, we are actually part of the community.
How would you describe your personality?
Before I became the MD/CEO, I was just the regular Uzoma Dozie who was an executive director and everybody knew me. Even till date, I don’t put on airs and graces. I walk up and down this office with ease but as soon as I became the MD/CEO and I walked into the boardroom, everybody stood up and addressed me by the title. I told all of them to sit down because I didn’t see it as a big deal and I kept driving that point home. If I walk in now, nobody will bow their heads and that is because here, power rests in the character of the individual and not the power of the office. I came into office as Uzoma Dozie and I will leave in the same manner. I think I’m a very simple person and I have an open-door policy, whereby people can walk in and talk to me. When you have to manage people, you must always be reachable. My phones are always on because you have to always deal with situations and people. I answer calls and always give a yes or no answer, with a promise to get back to them.
How do you unwind and relax?
As MD/CEO, I’ll probably unwind when I retire but I’ll tell you about my hobbies and I try to integrate my hobbies into my day-to-day activities. I like photography, so I take a lot of pictures.
What are the inspirations behind some of the shots that you take?
Landscape, people and action. Nigeria is a huge concept so there is always inspiration from everywhere. I am looking forward to having an exhibition someday. I love to capture moments and it is all about how you capture what you are doing and how you capture the right moments through pictures.
How do you handle competition as a bank?
Our competition is not other banks, our competition is those things that they are doing. We find out who is the best in delivering service and cross-match them. What can you take from other people? That is one of the things photography does: you can capture a moment and take a good shot. I also play golf and tennis. I am a sports person.
Do you read books?
I read books when I can and the last book that I read was The Meaning of Life by Viktor Frankl. It is a story of a man who survived the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camps and he was talking about finding the meaning of life and wondered why people commit suicide. The book drove home the point that everybody’s life, regardless of whom and where you are, has a meaning. Relating it to the Nigerian situation, we are in the struggle of making Nigeria great. Since I became MD/CEO, we have had all types of issues and I’ve realised that maybe that is where my meaning lies: my meaning is to take the organisation through this great struggle and what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The goal is to come out as one of the strongest banks in Nigeria.
Apart from your father, who are some of the people that you look up to?
They are all dead and I will give you their names. There are two people; Alexander the Great who I like for the simple reason that he was a visionary leader. He led from the front a small army of people and redefined their thinking. There is also Steve Jobs because regardless of what happened, he created solutions and beautiful designs for people. His gift to the world was in his simplicity which we have talked about before and his ability to create beautiful designs.