Mrs. Florence Omolola Banji-Alabi who was born in Owo, Ondo State, was recently decorated as Fellow Chartered Institute of Bankers in Nigeria (CIBN). She attended Lagos Anglican Girls’ Primary School, Surulere, Lagos and Imade College, Owo in Ondo State. She attended the then Ondo State Polytechnic, Owo now (RUGIPO) for her National Diploma in Accountancy and obtained Higher National Diploma (HND) in Accountancy from the Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro, Ogun State. She was an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Bankers in Nigeria.
She did her youth service programme with the now defunct Societe Generale Bank of Nigeria in 1991, and also worked there for one year before joining Union Homes Plc, the mortgage arm of Union Bank Plc where she was until February 2008 when she moved to the then Oceanic Bank Plc for few years, before joining the family business as a director (Mortgage Services) in Banji Alabi and Co., a property development and financing firm. In this interview with GuardianWoman, she talked about the challenges in the banking sector and suggesting that core professionals should be allowed to run the sector.
What are your views on the banking sector?
Banking in Nigeria ordinarily is a good and thriving profession. However, looking at it critically, I am compelled to ask if we are truly practicing banking in Nigeria the way it is practised in other parts of the world, particularly in Europe, the U.S. and other genuinely developing countries. The real ethics and culture of banking is not here. The universal standard of how banking is run is clearly absent here.
If you go to some other countries, especially the United Kingdom, you would have walked past or driven past before you know that banks exist in a particular place. But here in Nigeria, it is the mansion or structure that is the bank and not the services. Here, you see a lot of fortune being invested in a building that is going to house a bank.Besides, the type of marketing practised abroad is different from what you have here in Nigeria. What is done there is e-marketing, not the kind where in Nigeria, ladies in mini-skirt and other provocative dresses are sent out to go and market. This strange marketing culture is made worse when these ladies are given unattainable targets. They also face harassment here and there. I think this is not how banking should be done.
Giving target is not the real problem. Target is good in the real sense of it, because target motivates to achieve results. The way targets are given and the kinds of targets that are given, the conditions attached to these targets and the way these girls go about pursuing these targets, leave much to be desired. I know of banks, but I don’t want to mention their names, where girls were told that if they don’t meet their targets, a sizeable percentage of their salaries would not be paid. So this makes most of these girls to throw away all forms of morality and decency to do anything to achieve their targets. This is what gave rise to the sudden indecent and provocative dressing that has now become the way of life of most of these marketing ladies.
What is the solution to this indecency?
I am of the view that the regulatory bodies must begin to intervene so that morality, etiquettes, social and national values are not sacrificed on the altar of crazy modern banking as some want to believe. But like I have said earlier, this is not how modern banking is done elsewhere, this is largely peculiar to Nigeria. These bodies must let bankers know that they have other binding responsibilities to their environment and the society at large. While I would not be calling for a particular dressing code, as it is the case today in some tertiary institutions in the country, at the same time, the well known decent and elegant dressing culture in the sector should be upheld. These bodies should also design a mechanism to detect, discourage and even sanction banks which give unattainable targets, of course, after failure to heed warnings.
Do you think the mortgage sector is fulfilling its role?
The problem with the mortgage sector is that while people want to obtain mortgage loans, the interest rate is too high. If you want a mortgage loan in Nigeria, I can categorically tell you that there is no bank that will offer you less than 26 per cent interest; that is high. A lot of people cannot afford to take a mortgage loan in Nigeria. If you go abroad, you will notice that the interest rate is very low. That is why they can afford it, and it is in different categories.
Abroad, there are mortgages of 20 to 30 years, but in Nigeria, it is not so. If you take mortgage loan in Nigeria, pray that you will be alive to pay up the loan. In other parts of the world, governments intervene in strategic and essential sectors like this. In such places, governments promote shelter, but in Nigeria, it is not so. In Nigeria, we are using short-term investment to finance long-term investment. Government should intervene and save the mortgage sector. That is the only way to guarantee shelter for most people in Nigeria.
What are your thoughts on the on-going reform in the banking sector?
Regulators and operators alike need to be sincere about the reforms they are putting in place. In the spirit of the reforms, we must ensure that the right person is put in the right place. For instance, the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN) came with a policy making it mandatory that some key positions in banks must be held only by professional bankers, but very sadly, this is not being enforced. So, if we want the reforms to impact very well on the system, then all these policies must be enforced. Professionals should be allowed to run the banking industry. Appointing people into key positions should not be on the basis of god-fatherism, or ability to mobilise certain funds for a bank. Before you know it, this group of people are pushed into the management, they now become management staff. If professional bankers were allowed to do the job, then banking would be what it is supposed to be.
How did you meet your husband?
My husband, Barrister Banji-Alabi and I grew up together at Owo. He is a very close friend of my elder brother, Mr. Dare Aruwajoye, and therefore a very regular face at our house in Owo. But at that time he never noticed me, maybe because I was very young then. After my ND programme, I was to do the compulsory industrial attachment, so my senior sister, Mrs. Bisi Anifowose, suggested that I should go and see Barrister Alabi who was then working at Guinness Nigeria Limited. When I got there, he was amazed that the little girl he used to know that time, that himself and my brother were sending around to buy drinks for their friends, is now a very big girl. He proposed to me and I was shocked as I always looked up to him with respect as a senior brother.
But one thing is that he was one of the best-dressed guys at that time in Owo and, therefore, was able to attract to himself a lot of admirers. He was simply the best-dressed person around and at every occasion that I met him, he stood out as the most sophisticated and most celebrated. He lives a life of celebration. He is an incurable optimist. He swept me off my feet and I fell for him despite initial protests from my senior brothers.
What’s your advice to young girls?
Please don’t give up on your dreams. I know too well the feelings of frustration one passes through in waiting times for a manifestation of a desired state or what is often referred to as a break in life. Many people continue to pass through this at various stages in life. What will you do? Will you abandon the desire and settle for a lesser portion, or would you decide to go for the real deal? I keep meeting people who “sell” their destiny and happiness for sometimes a temporary fulfillment. My advice is, don’t let go of your destiny once you’ve discovered it. Run away from married men; look for young guys with great potentials. Please do not sell your destiny and happiness for temporary fulfillment or monetary needs.
What is your take on women in development?
I think so far in Nigeria, it has been a deliberate policy that women must be carried along in everything, including politics. Although the level of women’s participation in politics is still low, in my own profession, banking, they have been very visible there, and nobody can take them for a ride any longer. We are, however, looking forward to ladies becoming governors and becoming president in Nigeria.
Interview by: Ijeoma Thomas-Odia
For : Guardian