Financial Brands

First Bank: The Exit Of A Gentle Giant

At age 53, some people are still battling with their careers. Some others would be doing well in their mid-careers while some may even be planning to switch careers. But, that is not the case for this gentle giant. He has conquered his terrain and perhaps spoiling for a fresh start on another challenging but interesting plane. In just fifty three years, he has straddled through life like a colossus spending 30 of those years in the banking industry with most eminently and fruitfully spent in Nigeria’s premier banking institution, the First Bank of Nigeria Plc.
For Mr. Stephen Olabisi Onasanya – a seasoned banker and a chartered accountant of no mean feat, his has been a life of eventful fulfillment. Bisi, as he is fondly called by his peers and close associates is a highly respected and personable executive who has established a reputation at First Bank for solid performance and sound judgment.
Since he cut his teeth in banking, starting out in 1985 as a Senior Accountant with Wema Bank, Bisi has never stumbled nor looked back. Banking to him is second nature. So when he joined First Bank in 1994, it was like continuing with the love of his life – being paid for what he loves doing – hence it was so easy for him to flourish and accomplish even in the face of challenges. Banking was truly his passion and in no time, it manifested in the streak of appointments that trailed
his hard work including his promotion as the Group Head, Finance and Performance Management, Managing  Director/Chief Executive Officer of First Pension Custodian Nigeria Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of First Bank – where he developed initiatives that drove best practices in the nation’s pension custody industry – and Executive Director, Banking Operations and Services.
He maintained this coordinating role as Executive Director until this appointment as GMD/CEO. These appointments that profoundly testified to his capacity for high grade performance further fired his zest to ignite his best. He threw all he had to it – his energy, intellect, drive and all. In no time, it became obvious that he was bound to catapult the bank to loftier heights. He started by pledging his commitment to the bank’s ongoing growth and modernization plan at the time. This saw him coordinating several of the bank’s projects including the Century 2 Enterprise Transformation Project in 2004.
Bisi managed what is perhaps acknowledged today as the most critical phase of the bank’s early transformation, to ensure continuous CEO-First-Bankcompetitiveness. The latest Corporate Identity/ Brand Rejuvenation project which heralded the bank’s brand resonance to her various stake-holding public nationally and internationally is easily credited to his ingenuity and savvy leadership based on creativity, innovation and people management.
According to an official report from the bank, “he is widely reputed as the architect of the modern First Bank, associated with various innovative and creative achievements. A corporate strategy and development pacesetter, Mr. Onasanya has ensured the steady internationalization of First Bank, which under his leadership now boasts of subsidiaries with operations across Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. He is also reputed as a people person having pioneered significant transformation in the development of staff at First Bank. His tenure saw the transformation of the bank’s
training centre into First Academy, a best in class corporate university that recently clinched the 2015 Global Council of Corporate Universities Award for best impact by a corporate university on the implementation of business strategies. The bank has also received the highly coveted Best Place to Work away”.
That is the mark of a man known as an articulate and insightful thought leader in the financial services industry. He is reckoned to have made meaningful contributions as a member of the Bankers Committee and is the Chairman of the Sub Committee on Ethics and Professionalism. He has served as a member of the Chartered Institute of Bankers Sub-Committee on Fiscal and Monetary Policies and a member of the Presidential Committee on Reduction of Interest Rates. He has also delivered several papers and served on various conferences C-Suite panels across the globe. He is Editor of the new book, “Perspectives on Banking in Nigeria”, featuring a collection of learned articles by banking and finance professionals including operators, regulators and academics.
It is also recorded that Mr. Onasanya is a Director of Africa Finance Corporation (AFC) and has been Chairman of First Registrars Nigeria Limited, Kakawa Discount House Limited, FBN Bank UK Limited and Unified Payments Limited. A Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria he is also an Associate Member of the Nigerian Institute of Taxation and a Fellow and Member of Council of the Chartered Institute of Bankers. Mr. Onasanya was early in 2015 honoured as The Sun Man of the Year 2014 and Newswatch Man of the Year 2014 respectively, in recognition of his outstanding contributions to national development in the financial services industry.
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Under Mr. Onasanya’s leadership First Bank was back to back winner of both national and international awards, having been named “The Best Bank Brand in Nigeria” four times in a row – 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 – by the globally renowned “The Banker Magazine” of the Financial Times Group. For four consecutive years, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 First Bank has been named the “Best Retail Bank in Nigeria” by the Asian Banker International Excellence in Retail Financial Services Awards.
Other recent awards include the “Best Bank in Nigeria” in the Euromoney Awards for Excellence, “Best Bank in West Africa” and “Most Innovative Bank in Africa” in the African Banker Awards, “Best Bank in Nigeria” in the EMEA Finance African Banking Awards for the fourth time, “Best Foreign Exchange Services in Africa” in the EMEA Finance Treasury Services Awards, “Best Banking Group in Nigeria” by World Finance Banking Awards, and “Best Financial Reporting Company” by Africa Investor.
Mr. Olabisi Onasanya, retiring from First Bank Plc has conquered in his career and also in life as he is happily married with four children

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