From chemical engineering to chartered accountancy is not a common path, but it is the one Olukayode Akinbinu has taken.
What’s your story?
I am actually a chemical engineer who transformed into a chartered accountant and now works in the biggest bank in Nigeria heading its strategic planning group. I have lived all my life in Lagos, except for the stint of 2 years when I worked in Johannesburg with PwC South Africa which was an interesting experience, professionally and culturally. Before going to Johannesburg, I met the love of my life Bola, married 13 years ago and have three girls. Currently I am in discussions to take up a board apprentice role while I position myself for a NED in a PLC.
What excites you most about your industry?
The banking industry, especially the innovation we are seeing in retail banking seems to know no bounds. These days you can open an account and complete the required KYC, save your funds or even request a quick loan, onboard unto a digital channel and begin to transact all within the comfort of your home just by simply having a smartphone. Most of this innovation has been accelerated by the FINTECHs who deliver agile, nimble and quick technologies that allow customers a store of value, access to finance and the ability to transact using mobile wallets.
What drives you in your career to push beyond what other people consider normal?
My insatiable thirst for improvement and excellence has been my motivation over the years. That is a legacy I have from my Dad who always pushed us to become better. I remember in grade 4 when I was top of my class and I thought my Dad would hand me my desired bicycle. He said to me, “Kayode, you come top of your class again and you will get your bike”. I will never forget that because it took me another two years before I finally achieved that as the competition in school was fierce.
What have been the most useful skills you have learnt and applied in your journey?
I discovered at a young age that when other people tended to avoid numbers, rather I was fascinated with it. Data analysis is something I still love doing. When you take all the data from the end consumers or the figures in the spreadsheet report for electronic transactions, I love ploughing through it and connecting the dots, finding patterns and insights. This led to me creating some huge cost reductions in my current role at Zenith Bank and improving the financial indices that the bank is measured on.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Don’t start your career in Banking but you can always get there.” That was given by my late Dad, a former banker. I took it seriously and started in a professional services industry, then worked my way up after 12 years and joined Banking in senior management (having four levels of advantage over my peers that started from scratch). Secondly, never get discouraged because of setbacks because those are very necessary on your journey to success. Every mistake you make along your professional journey simply teaches you one tactic on how to better succeed in your professional career.
Who inspires you?
Tony Elumelu the Chairman of Heirs Holding and the founder of the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) that empowers and mentors young entrepreneurs and businesses in Africa. Tony is a multiple entrepreneur, ex-banker and also the Chairman of United Bank for Africa (UBA) who has succeeded in multiple enterprises. Tony was not born into wealth and what inspires me is his quest to always give back to society and help Africa raise more billionaires who can help solve the continent’s problems.
What have you learnt recently that blew you away?
The power of good communications for any enterprise. In communicating one has to be authentic, and your message needs to be well tailored to your audience. Good communicators also prepare well in advance and practise their lines a lot. Effective company boards need to have a clear and defined communications strategy both in normal times and in times of crises. Communication is even more important in a crisis situation. It needs to be proactive so as to be on the front foot, it needs to show empathy and finally silence is always a sign that you are hiding something.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Well, I think I would have first created a startup maybe two years after college and before getting married and having kids. I would have taken big risks and gone entrepreneurial, opening multiple interrelated businesses that created value and solved problems in the society. I would not be afraid to fail in business, just as long as I can pick myself and go at it again without being worried. Several years down the line I could then either go into academia to teach some of the lessons I have learnt or become a corporate executive/NED.
How do you unwind?
I usually unwind by watching series or movies on Netflix.
What is a major mindset change, belief shift or ‘ah ha’ moment that you’ve experienced in relation to your career?
There is almost no business venture, trade, service offering or idea that cannot be digitalized and in order to be able to scale exponentially in business and hope to become global then every business model has to be digital in conceptualization and digital in execution.
Everyone in business should read this book:
Winning by Jack Welch
Shameless plug for your business:
At Zenith Bank, we distinguish ourselves with our “outstanding customer service” and “customer centricity”. In an era where banking technology is almost ubiquitous, our distinguishing factor is the willingness of our people to go the extra mile to satisfy our customers’ needs and exceed their expectations.
How can people connect with you?
Social Media Links?
This interview is part of the CallumConnects series.