By Joe Iniodu
Akwa Savings and Loans Limited (Mortgage Bankers) incorporated 23 years as a primary mortgage institution (PMI) to undertake mortgage financing and other banking services became anaemic and ran into near insolvency between 2016 and 2017. Thanks to Governor Udom Emmanuel, an accomplished banker turned politician who obviously sees the bank as a veritable platform and believes that repositioning it as a State-owned bank would best address the interest of the people.
In the nineties, mortgage banking joined the league of banks to assist in meeting the then development goal of provision of shelter which was envisaged as achievable in the year 2000. Mortgage banking, which, however, was not making a debut became the vogue. It came on the heels of merchant banking which then was on hand to invigorate commerce. While most of the mortgage banks which were established by both government and private investors had long gone under, Akwa Savings and Loans Limited showed resilience and weathered on until it confronted institutional challenges which almost constrained its ability to function.
Governor Emmanuel has reversed the trend by correcting the anomalies and rebuilding public confidence in the institution. He started by first setting up a committee to understudy the challenges of the bank and submitting report cum recommendations to enable government take informed decision. Armed with the report, the State Government in August, 2016 inaugurated a new executive management for the bank. Of course, it is made up of square pegs in square holes since the intent is to bring back the institution and position it for viability. The management team has Mr. Ebong Bassey, a seasoned banker with over 25 years of experience in the industry as the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer. The Board of Directors which has six members is chaired by again a seasoned banker of repute in the person of Mr. Uduak J. Ewitat. The quality of personnel in the leadership echelon selected to run the affairs of Akwa Savings and Loans Limited evidences Governor Emmanuel’s sincerity and commitment to restore the bank to regain its lost glory.
So far, the board of directors and executive management have not disappointed given the mileage made in this teething phase of its resuscitation. Both bodies have proven that due diligence was invested in the choice of the personnel. They have not only shown capacity and the value of experience, they have demonstrated beyond common doubts that they have what it takes to reposition the bank and corrall it to achieve its vision of being a dominant full service mortgage institution in Nigeria with the inhered mission of delivery of quality and affordable homes for every class of persons through the creation and sustenance of value added services.
And so within the short period, the newly positioned Akwa Savings and Loans Limited has achieved the following to wit: It has renewed customers confidence in the bank as demonstrated in the increasing patronage noticeable in deposit generation from N286 million to N458 million as at December 2017. The bank has recorded the establishment of new accounts and reactivation of dormant ones. Akwa Savings and Loans Limited through its new management has instituted an aggressive loan recovery plan which has upped its recovery profile from N136million in 2016 to N298 million as at December 2017. The bank has also recruited highly qualified and experienced personnel to beef up the internal skill pool and fill some of the positions within the management structure vacated by retiring staff. These decisions have brought back focus.
Most importantly, the bank has once again procured the confidence of regulatory bodies such as Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC), Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN) etc. This is evident in the willingness of the bodies to accommodate some requests like waivers and approvals from the bank.
Perhaps the icing on the cake which has given greater impetus to the repositioning efforts of Akwa Savings and Loans Limited is the movement of its corporate headquarters from the dilapidated structure on Oron Road, Uyo to a befitting ultra-modern edifice at Plot 1, Unit 1, Abak Road Federal Housing Estate, Uyo which unveiling and commissioning was done by Governor Emmanuel on March 23, 2018. The governor during the commissioning event acknowledged the achievements recorded by the institution from when it was established in 1995 adding that by spreading business offices across all the Federal Constituencies of the State, it has taken banking services closer to the people accompanied with financial instruments and facilities in line with Dakkada philosophy which urges our people to venture into businesses. Governor Emmanuel, himself a seasoned banker lauded the management of the bank for diversifying its portfolio and venturing into real estate development noting that while many State-owned primary mortgage institutions had folded, Akwa Savings and Loans Limited is still waxing strong. The governor said that the administration is aware of the challenges the bank is currently facing, pledging to continue to support the bank to fulfill the purpose for which it was established. “We will continue to work together as partners in the provision of affordable homes to the good people of Akwa Ibom”, the governor enthused. He further said that he has directed the commissioner for finance to ensure that the recapitalization process is completed soon. He advised the new management/board to seal all the loopholes and wastages so that the operations of the bank will be seamless. The governor charged the bank to recover debts owed her, pledging to assist with every legitimate instrument in the efforts to recover the debts.
The future of Akwa Savings and Loans Limited is undoubtedly bright with the intervention of Governor Emmanuel. The Chairman, Board of Directors, Mr. Uduak Ewitat hinted on this but with technical details during the unveiling/commissioning of the new head office of the bank. Hear him: ‘The future of this bank will depend heartily on the mortgage facilitation therefore we are confident that His Excellency will continue to support us with further allocations even as we humbly request for more”. The Board Chairman said that the bank began to have hiccups in its operations when it lost the business of the State Government due to its inability to provide E-Payment platform which led to the instruction that civil servants close their salary accounts and migrate to banks that can provide the platform. He said that the bank is currently networked with INTERSWITCH/REMITTA and now capable of providing all the online services including revenue collections for federal, state and local governments. The chairman therefore appealed to His Excellency, Mr. Udom Emmanuel to kindly cause the State Government to partner the bank as it is capable of doing business of any magnitude.
The introduction of ICT facilities to the bank is at the verge of bearing fruits. Governor Emmanuel who is determined to reposition the state bank has authorized that the bank be part of a sizeable revenue collection for the state.
This is indeed a welcome development. The relevant ministry must also ensure that the recapitalization which the governor had directed is completed to enable the bank meet regulatory compliance in terms of minimum solvency, hire qualified personnel that would add growth value to the bank, procure additional viable branches, achieve collaboration with other mortgage agencies like Federal Mortgage Bank, Nigeria Mortgage Refinance Company, African Development Bank and Shelter Afrique etc; and finally, qualify the bank to secure a national license and thus leverage on profitable opportunities in the industry.
But the biggest hurdle standing before Akwa Savings and Loans Limited is recapitalization which would not only help the bank avert sanctions from regulatory authorities, it would also widen profit opportunities for the bank. It is heartwarming that the governor has noted and taken this seriously. Governor Emmanuel’s efforts so far have brought the once ailing bank to the path of revival. Within a short time, his midas touch would return the bank to viability and profitability. This is what is obtained when one puts square pegs in square holes.
Joe Iniodu is a Public Affairs Analyst.