In a revealing interview with Business Insider Africa, Jeremy Awori, the visionary leader of Ecobank, unveiled the bank’s strategic direction less than a year into his tenure. Seizing the vibrant platform of the TotalEnergies CAF African Cup of Nations Côte d’Ivoire 2023, Ecobank launched an innovative brand campaign, leveraging the continent-wide appeal of football to strengthen its connection with communities across Africa. This move, Awori explains, is just a part of a broader agenda to reinforce Ecobank’s presence and enhance its services across its 35-country network.
The conversation that follows offers a deep dive into the bank’s response to the rapidly changing financial landscape, its commitment to innovation, and Awori’s personal vision for driving economic growth in Africa.
BI Africa: Launching the new brand campaign at AFCON is an interesting choice. How do you anticipate this association with a major sporting event will impact Ecobank’s brand positioning and market presence across the continent?
Awori: Football unites us across geographies, age, gender and language. It brings out our passion, drive and creativity. This tournament is about family and friendship as well as being a celebration of Africa and Africans. Even when our countries lose or do not qualify to participate in the games, we still celebrate with those who win because at the TotalEnergies CAF African Cup of Nations Côte d’Ivoire 2023, Africa always wins!
As a financial services Group, we see this competition as an opportunity to showcase Ecobank’s Pan-African network of 35 countries and our Pan-African payment platform, which enables real-time payments. We also assist customers with banking services whilst travelling and attending the tournament.
BI Africa: The financial sector is evolving rapidly with technological advancements. How do you stay informed and adapt to these changes to ensure Ecobank remains at the forefront of innovation?
Awori: I travel widely across the continent and beyond, and in every country, I engage with customers and clients, industry players, policymakers and regulators. The objective is to understand firsthand their ambitions, needs, differing perspectives, innovations and challenges. I also participate in thought leadership and engage with other thought leaders in banking, fintechs and telecommunications from across the world, with a focus on innovation, technology and financial services. I am particularly excited about the opportunities we have created to engage with fintechs, venture capitalists and others in innovation through our Fintech Challenge and our Fintech Fellowship Programme. This provides a rich repository of ideas and learnings, and some of the fintechs develop into some of our best partners.
BI Africa: In your view, what are the key challenges and opportunities facing the African banking sector in the coming years, and how is Ecobank prepared to address these?
Awori: The macroeconomic environment continues to pose significant challenges, marked by currency depreciations, illiquidity in some markets, and inaccessible equity and debt markets due to the prevailing interest rate environment. However, we are beginning to see growth in activity.
I also see significant opportunities for the African banking sector. We must remember that in a developing environment, there are immense opportunities to grow. Furthermore, as observed by the Statista Research Department, 45% of sub-Saharan Africa’s adult population remains unbanked. This provides huge and accessible growth potential and can turn around the fortunes of many markets.
At Ecobank, we are targeting this unbanked population and seeking to grow the use of our products and solutions by the banked. We are also ensuring that we offer a range of non-financial programmes to increase financial literacy and the development of business skills.
Finally, technology presents a great and transformational game-changing opportunity. This is why we are making huge investments in technology for the benefit of our customers, clients and our Group.
BI Africa: As a leader in the financial industry, what personal experiences or guiding principles have shaped your vision for Ecobank’s role in Africa’s economic development?
Awori: As an African leader, my purpose and passion are to make a lasting and positive impact in the financial industry across the continent. I believe in the power of technology and innovation to develop relevant and affordable financial solutions for customers across Africa.
Ecobank stands as a Pan-African success story with a unique purpose of driving economic growth and regional integration across the continent. Aligning with the visionary aspirations of our founding fathers, I am guided by the principles of collaboration and innovation to continue making a lasting impact. To achieve this, it is critical to join forces with fellow change-makers who share the same passion for the economic growth and development of our continent.
BI Africa: Can you share a challenging decision or situation you’ve encountered as CEO and the valuable lessons or leadership principles you gained from that experience?
Awori: One of the significant challenges I faced as a CEO was navigating the uncertainties that came with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 while swiftly achieving business continuity. The first principle in such situations is to manage yourself as a leader. Effectively leading a team and addressing the heightened uncertainties and anxieties require calm, thoughtful analysis and informed, as well as timely, decision-making.
Leaders must also find the right balance between short-term profits, business risk assessments and people’s lives and well-being. For me, the COVID-19 pandemic reinforced the importance of the human side of leadership, without which you cannot achieve business success.