How Access Bank designed a winning business model for MTN – Aig-Imoukhuede

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Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, former group managing director of Access Bank and founder of Africa Initiative for Governance (AIG), has revealed how the lender created a winning business model for MTN in Nigeria.

He was speaking on Thursday during a virtual interview with African Banker magazine, the veteran banker explained that it was challenging to convince MTN to work with Access Bank.

In February 2001, MTN Nigeria won 1 of 3 new licenses awarded through an open auction process as part of the liberalisation of the telecommunications sector.

According to Aig-Imoukhuede, through the use of a “value-chain model” and indepth understanding of the telco’s businesses, Access Bank was able to come up with strategies which helped MTN to navigate the Nigerian market.

“We deconstructed the entire value chain of MTN. In doing so, we came up with two issues for MTN. One, they needed a distributor model that would work for Nigeria. The traditional models that they knew in other African countries did not lend itself easily to Nigeria. We didn’t have malls, a retail footprint as you would have in other markets, as well as digital technology that would allow for airtime distribution,” he said, at the event attended by TheCable.

“You needed a physical distribution system that worked. So, we partnered with them to create, identify and train distributors. We came up with a dynamic distributor financing package.

“Another issue was their infrastructure. There are two things that make a good telco. One was their ability to distribute their airtime but the quality of the airtime is also fundamentally important.

“Rolling out a national telco infrastructure in Nigeria is not an easy thing to do. The geology and geography of Nigeria can be very challenging. We identified local construction companies who could go out there and do this rollout but they didn’t have capital.

“We came up with a concept called a cell site in a warehouse. We had these giant warehouses and a supply chain management system where we import the components of a cell site such as generators, steel and we would release them to local contracting companies at about five cell sites at a time. So, the risk was limited. Even though there was enough in terms of thousands of cell sites in a warehouse, the risk of failure was managed by us.

“Importantly, we didn’t just limit ourselves to the domain of finance. We found ourselves doing things as McKinsey or a consultant company would do. It turned out to be a winning model. We rolled it out not just for MTN but across corporate Nigeria.”

Responding to a question on what he would do differently if he could go back to the drawing board, he said he would acquire more shares in Access Bank.

Aig-Imoukhuede also emphasised the importance of partnerships in businesses, adding that the mutual belief he and Herbert Wigwe, his business partner, had in each other, drove the success of Access Bank.

In his new book titled ‘Leaving the Tarmac: Buying a Bank in Africa’, he recounts the events leading to the acquisition of Access Bank in 2002 and growing it with Wigwe, present chief executive officer (CEO), into Nigeria’s biggest bank by customer base and Africa’s banking powerhouse.

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