Jim-Ovia’s Zenith Bank is one of Nigeria’s biggest business success stories of the last three decades that hasn’t received a deserved chronicle, aptly explaining how the Zenith People have leveraged technology to deliver services that transformed the entire banking industry!

In this report, Newsonspot.com.ng attempts to put the pieces together to serve as an inspiration to a new generation of leaders, who need to pursue dreams that will be relevant on the global stage.
Important Context
Nigeria’s financial system is made up of a consortium of government bodies and private organisations, majorly banks.

The desire to achieve efficiency of this system has triggered several reforms in the past aimed at catalysing economic growth and prosperity.

Before the late 80’s, banks were at the mercies of the government bodies. The Central Bank of Nigeria Act of 1959 was an effort at starting an expansionary revolution of Nigeria’s financial system. Though the Act, as driven by the created CBN, was a great start, it was the Structural Adjustment Programme of the Babangida government that indeed liberalized the financial system and kick-started the expansion.

The period of deregulation saw the establishment of many banks and other financial institutions as the policy made it lucrative to own and run a financial institution. Between 1986 and 1991, a plethora of banks came into existence, because the licensing procedures were relaxed, allowing politically connected people to obtain licenses and operate, while discounting the statutory requirements of qualifications and relevant experience.

Jim Ovia’s Zenith Bank was one of the 1990 set. A group of youth-led banking firms that changed the game, reinvented the culture and innovated the system to regional and global relevance. But unlike the other founders (most of whom have now faded away), who leveraged political affiliations to get their licenses, Jim Ovia’s 10-years of banking experience, qualification and N20million startup capital was more than enough to kick-start what is now Nigeria’s biggest bank by Tier-1 capital.

Zenith Bank’s humble beginnings in a shared residential apartment at Ajose Adeogun, Victoria Island have now been completely eclipsed by a brand with presence in all major towns and cities of Nigeria, some key African cities, United Kingdom and Asia.

What Is Zenith About The Bank?

It is not in doubt that the new generation banks totally transformed the Nigerian banking industry. A trip down memory lane would make one value the amount of work the young leaders of these banks put in to get us to this place. Zenith Bank is a prime member of the class of 1990 that have become the powerhouse of Nigeria’s financial services. Amongst other things, this set achieved rapid adoption of technology in their processes, digitally transforming their operations and enhancing their ability to meet customers need in the ways that create new pleasant experiences.

The price was enormous, but passion and vision drove the new banks into investing huge sums on websites, sophisticated software packages, teleconferencing equipment, broadband networks, mobile communications and other digital technologies.

Zenith Bank was at the heart of this digital transformation in the banking sector. And this is attributable to the convictions of the leadership of the bank. Jim Ovia, its founder, while studying for a degree in Business Administration in the US, developed a keen interest in computer science and information technology, so serious that he decided to incorporate it into his program. To further equip himself, he worked as part- time computer operator at the defunct Baton Rouge Bank and Trust Company. This was even at a time ICT wasn’t much of a big deal to the general public.

Armed with knowledge and experiences in both domains, Jim returned to Nigeria and joined Union Bank. He later acquired a banking license to offer Zenith to Nigerians, on a mission to buttress banking with information technology.

One of the firsts of Zenith Bank was the development and launch of the bank’s official website in 1995, the first by any company in Nigeria. At the time, websites were more of a fancy project. Even bigger companies in the developed world didn’t have one, but Jim’s Computer Science and IT enthusiasm were the right motivations to help him cue the bank on a future path of innovation and excellent service delivery, powered by world-class technology infrastructure.

The ‘pass-book’ and branch-dependent banking days are over all thanks to the zeal and determination of banks like Zenith. Surmounting the peculiar infrastructure problem in Nigeria, Zenith bank achieved complete branch interconnectivity, through heavy investments in Wide Area Networks in a record time. This availed customers the much sort-after convenience of ‘branchless’ and ‘paperless’ banking. The competition that emanated from the successes of branch interconnect and process automation (powered by software) catalysed the other digital revolution like e-banking, mobile banking, USSD banking, and other innovative digital products now creating immense value for millions of bank customers across Nigeria.

The top-level minds at Zenith have always boasted of multiple domain expertise covering banking, finance and information technology. In fact, the immediate past GMD/CEO holds a degree in electrical and electronics engineering. This makes reason for the bank’s frontline role in building, supporting and implementing pivotal technology initiatives. One apt instance is the critical role Zenith Bank played in helping Mitchel Elegbe realise the Interswitch dream. Unlike the traditional banks, the Zenith Bank team encourage the development of a Switching System for Nigeria banks with a major equity investment at the time most industry players discredited the idea or pampered their fears of losing control of customer data.

The consortium of banks led by Zenith Bank that invested in Interswitch gave room for the further liberalization of financial service, birthing inter-bank transfers, ATM cash withdrawal and Credit Card solutions.

This bank-vs-digital transformation conundrum is yet in play with the disruptive activities of fintech companies. And again, Zenith Bank, unlike other major players, is seeking collaborative opportunities with fintech companies rather than muscle them out.

When Jim Ovia initiated the Zenith Bank dream, he must have aptly captioned its vision in one word and named the organization by it. Beyond basic brand communications and advertisement, the Zenith Bank brand have validated the merits of vision-driven, value-giving operations over massive persuasive marketing communications, which have indeed popped the bank to the zenith of banking in Nigeria. In its three decades of existence, Zenith Bank has become identifiable with excellent service delivery, ingenious customer-focused products, and massive value creations benchmarked only against global best practices. This has earned it undisputable recognitions both locally and internationally, and has seen it maintain a profile that remains attractive to investors across the world.

First, the company has returned a mammoth 35,000% to her funding investors in terms of equity value. For context, imagine one had the opportunity to have invested N1,000 when Zenith Bank started in 1990, that investment would be worth N35,000,000 now! The bank that started with a humble N20million capital has grown investors funds to a jaw-dropping N704billion in 30 years. This scale of growth is only comparable to those of the high-flying US brands like Amazon, Monster Drink, etc.
Zenith Bank’s Total Assets and Net Income have been growing on an average of 15.7 and 15.5 per cent, respectively within the last five years. A trend financial analysts have affirmed will be sustained for the next decade due to the the unusual ability of the company to match dynamism with consistency.

Most Financially healthy Bank In Nigeria

Time and over again, Zenith Bank has been named the biggest Tier-1 bank in Nigeria by reputable world financial authorities. This in simple terms implies that Zenith Bank is the most financially healthy bank in Nigeria.
A little education on Tier-1 and Tier-2 Bank under the Basel Accord, a bank has to maintain a certain level of cash or liquid assets as a ratio of its risk-weighted assets (Risk-weighted assets, or RWA, are used to link the minimum amount of capital that banks must have, with the risk profile of the bank’s lending activities (and other assets)). The Basel Accords are a series of three sets of banking regulations that help to ensure financial institutions have enough capital on hand to handle obligations. It recommends that a bank’s tier 1 and tier 2 assets must be at least 10.5% of its risk-weighted assets (under Basel III).

Tier 1 capital is a bank’s core capital and includes disclosed reserves – that appears on the bank’s financial statements -and equity capital. This money is the funds a bank uses to function on a regular basis and forms the basis of a financial institution’s strength. Tier 2 capital is a bank’s supplementary capital. Undisclosed reserves, subordinated term debts, hybrid financial products, and other items make up these funds.

Tier 1 capital consists of shareholders’ equity and retained earnings—disclosed on their financial statements – and is a primary indicator to measure a bank’s financial health. These funds are critically useful when a bank must absorb losses without ceasing business operations. Tier 1 capital is the primary funding source of the bank. Typically, it holds nearly all of the bank’s accumulated funds. These funds support banks when losses are absorbed so that regular business functions do not have to be shut down i.e., a measure of its financial health.

Some Of Zenith Bank’s Recent Recognitions Include;

The Best Bank in Nigeria by Global Finance Magazine

Best Commercial Bank, Nigeria, by World Finance;

Biggest Bank in Nigeria by Tier-1 Capital, The Banker;

Most Valuable Banking Brand in Nigeria, by The Banker;

Best Corporate Governance ‘Financial Services’ Africa by Ethical Boardroom

Successive Successes

The far-reaching achievements of Zenith bank cannot be unconnected with its quality of leadership. Starting with a visionaire extraordinaire, Jim Ovia, the bank’s operations have been chiefly managed by seasoned individuals, who have been well groomed to run with its crystal-clear vision even while blind-folded. Like Godwin Emefiele, who moved on to become the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Zenith Bank GMD/CEOs take on bigger national and international assignments upon completion of their term, a system that has earned the Zenith Bank boardroom the reputation of a ‘Groom Room’.

A Foot On The Global Stage

Owing true to its vision of becoming a well consumed international financial brand, Zenith Bank’s explosive growth has diffused into global prominence, attracting both investors and customers alike, who jostle for a part in the future successes the brand promises. In April 2007, Zenith became the first Nigerian bank in 25 years to be licensed by the UK Financial Services Authority (FSA), opening a window of seamless financial interactions between the highly associative economies of the two nations. Zenith Bank’s shares are high yielding on both the Nigerian and London Stock Exchange, returning value to her over one million shareholders.


The consistency of Zenith Bank’s rise is unrivaled. Though a highly dynamic organisation, the marvel remains how it has been able to keep the entire team and operations focused on the vision. Once Zenith Bank attains a new feat, it consolidates. Some industry watchers have narrowed this skillful marriage of dynamism and consistency to the underlining resolve and passion to create value for her numerous customers. Whereby, it never matters the financial and human resource cost for improving the customers experience, the entire system is sold out for it. From recruitment to training, remuneration to infrastructure expenditure, strategy to policy formulations, the Zenith Bank management has successful built a culture of planning and executing really and truly, in the customer’s best interest.

This article was first published by Freelanews.com


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here