WAKING UP LAZARUS AT POLARIS BANK
“Polaris Bank records N27.8bn profit.”
PUNCH, 27, 2020, p 25.
The story by Nike Popoola went on to say that:
“POLARIS Bank Limited said it recorded N27.8bn profit before tax in its first audited IFRS 2019-compliant financial result.
“The result showed that POLARIS Bank’s capital adequacy ratio of 14 per cent and liquidity ratio of 81 per cent were well above regulatory requirements, demonstrating strong prudential compliance…”
“Miracles happen mostly to those who believe in them.
VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, p 160.
Once in a while, every prophet of doom hopes he is proved wrong. For me, the first prediction in a long time which had turned out not to be totally correct and which I am happy about in with regard to POLARIS BANK. As everybody knows, a brave attempt was being made to revive POLARIS from the ashes of former SKYE BANK whose affairs were so badly managed, by its last Board and Management, it had no chance for survival. On account of my health challenges, as well as lockdown restrictions, it will not be possible for me to provide solid evidence to remind readers that I had predicted the fall of SKYE right from the time the forced marriage of five incompatible banks by Professor Soludo during the banking consolidation exercise in 2005/2006. Investors paid dearly for that monumental error of judgment by all those who took the decision to establish it.
WHY THE SKYE FELL
“An organisation has no pants to kick and no soul to damn. And by God it should have both. Oliver Wendell Holmes Snr, 1809-1894, VBQ p 179.
Granted, business organisations are not managed like religions. But, the longest enduring enterprises have developed some ethical standards by which they operate – especially when owned by several million people. Those in charge should not run the business for the benefit of a few and the detriment of the majority of stakeholders.
Of all the forced mergers, SKYE Bank with former AFRI BANK as the core bank was the most vulnerable for reasons too numerous to explain in a short article. At any rate, those reasons no longer should delay us here. At a time when the economic landscape is strewed with the ashes of business enterprises – big, medium and small – a real success story, such as POLARIS’S, provides the sort of psychological stimulus we all need to restore our faith that all is not lost. Without flogging a dead horse and exposing the the major causes of the decline and fall of the SKYE, one reason stands out as the most probable. The bank lost its soul. Trust is the most important asset of any bank – which once lost is difficult to regain. A bank often associated with shady deals attracting the attention of security forces has already lost its licence. The SKYE inevitably fell on account of poor ethical standards.
WHY POLARIS IS RISING FROM THE DEPTHS
I had written off POLARIS as a lost cause and advised many people to avoid it like well, COROVID-19. The result posted has proved me wrong and I am happy at the outcome. Granted, some of the bigger banks had also posted positive results which should provide optimism about the future – especially of the banking sector which is the most vital for our national economic recovery.
“A chain is as strong as its weakest link.” What makes POLARIS remarkable is the fact that until now it was regarded as one of the weakest links in the chain. If so, its performance is not just a vindication of the trust reposed in the current Board and Management of the bank by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN. There is a collateral benefit for the banking sector as a whole. The sector might be stronger than most of us realise. I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome. If POLARIS had failed, it would have gone down with more public funds at a time Nigeria can least afford another bank failure. Its success provides hope for the future. Two years before SKYE BANK went belly-up, I got published an article urging its stakeholders to re-think their positions. The bank through its top board members and executive directors was involved in too many unethical and illegal transactions which threatened its existence. A totally new leadership was required to resuscitate the moribund bank. I was sceptical that the CBN could put together such a team to rescue the bank. The change of name and corporate logo were cosmetic changes which would not affect the operations of the bank – especially its moral tone. More was needed to revive a dying bank.
Unexpectedly, the bank took notice of what I had written and sent a team of its managers to engage me and attempt to persuade me that they had a credible plan — at a time when I was getting ready to advise one of my clients with millions in shares held to throw in the towel. I listened with an open but critical mind. Instinctively, I was convinced that they were on the right track. They were technically sound; but so were those who ran SKYE aground. POLARIS needed a moral compass. Will the new team provide that?
WHAT WAS ACHIEVED?
Obviously, more was provided by the CBN than drums of paint and technically professional leadership. The results for the first year have surpassed expectations. Now even doubting people like me must now take notice and respond accordingly. For me, what was most reassuring was the statement by Mr Adetokunbo Abiru, the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer who said:
“The emergence of Polaris Bank on September 21, 2018, has heralded a new dawn as it laid the foundation for institutional competitiveness and service innovation in the nation’s challenging banking space.
“We shall continue to run an ethnically governed Bank; upholding sound risk management practices and proactively taking measures to mitigate the impact of the adverse business environment while the Board and Management continue to guide the Bank towards a path of sustainable growth.”
The turn-around of Polaris Bank is only the second time in my thirty years of writing these columns when a moribund bank was literally rescued from death’s door by a new Management led by a determined MD/CEO. The First was when my friend Ayo Olagundoye, was lured from Chase Merchant Bank to head dying National Bank and reposition it for take over. Like Olagundoye, Mr Abiru had grasped the idea that of the two components of leadership – competence and character – the most essential need of his bank in 2018 was to establish a new and acceptable ethical standard. It serves no useful purpose to be known as the bank where anything goes or where results are achieved by means fair or foul – usually the latter. Polaris has re-branded itself. It is no longer a rogues’ bank – one ferrying illegal funds around the country.
Granted, one year does not constitute a trend. At best, all it tells us are the potentials in that bank for sustainable growth in the future. However, hope is a scarce and elusive commodity in Nigeria these days. We must celebrate it wherever we find it – especially if it is from an unexpected source. My instincts tell me that we have not seen the best from Polaris yet. The full year financial results did not come by accident. It was the product of team work and unusual devotion to duty by all the staff. I had cause to enter Polaris branches about six times in the last one year. One thing is certain; they try harder to please.