Barr. Mercy Oluwatoyin Ojo is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria and the Chairperson of Association of Professional Women Bankers (APWB) – An association aimed at providing a platform through which female stakeholders in the banking industry can exchange ideas and proffer solutions to help boost the industry as well as the nation’s economic growth. In this interview with Kehinde Esan, she speaks on her career, personal life and the importance of women in the society. Excerpt:
Having been in the industry for long, how would you describe your experience so far?
I have been in the banking industry for 37 good years and I can say that I started my banking career from the scratch, and I rose through the ranks. My experience has been very interesting. Being a banker is very interesting. When you are a banker and people entrust you with money, you feel that sense of responsibility to be truthful and honest and trustworthy. It is very interesting because over there, you get to meet different kind of people. Some people bring unbankable business, you try to see how you can make it bankable and eventually when the business starts thriving, it gives you joy, and so that was part of my joy, that I worked and I was able to help people in my own little way.
What are the key challenges faced by women in the banking sector, and how are you addressing these issues?
I believe that women are as intelligent as men. It is your determination to be successful that matters. As a woman, you have to be determined, focused, and resilient, to do what anybody can do. We have women who are more professional and more ethical than men. As far as I am concerned, there is no challenge. It all depends on individuality – what do you want for yourself? What do you want to build for yourself? We hold seminars and we encourage our young ones to be focused, because knowledge is power. We have mentoring programs where we “catch them young” and arouse their interest in the banking industry right from the secondary school, we let them know that what we have achieved they can achieve it as well. We also offer them career advice and we have role models in the banking industry whereby these role models and professional women bankers tell them their experience.
Chief Mrs. Eniola Fadayomi, the chairman of Africa prudential Bank has passion for women to succeed. She really has interest in ensuring that women have a work-life balance. Last year, we were able to hold a seminar, where she gave us a talk on “Work-life Balance: The Way Forward.” It was very educative and informative. We do all these things to encourage our fellow women.
As the chairperson of the Association of Professional Women Bankers, what steps are you taking to move the association to the next level?
APWB’s mission is to be women who will promote the culture of integrity and professionalism in the banking industry. Also, the vision statement is to promote friendliness, good conducts and build bridges or positive growth amongst our members, the institute the financial cycle and the corporate world. This we have been able to do because we have not limited this to the financial world alone. We want to influence the youth, we go to secondary schools by holding career counselling and also sponsor schools debate by encouraging them to have confidence in themselves, building them from their teenage. APWB has ambassadors and mentors that mentor the upcoming ones from the banking industry.
In moving the association forward, in a digital era, we have our channels where we reach out to our fellow women across the world, and people are aware of our association as an affiliate of the chartered institute of bankers of Nigeria and many women wants to associate with the association, with the backing of Mrs. Sola David Borha who is currently the regional director Stanbic IBTC who is also a member. These are people pushing forward for the association to move forward. There’s also Mrs.Demurem, chairman of GTBank and Chief Mrs. Eniola Fadayomi.They stand as mentors and ambassadors that we follow to achieve.
As an association, we hold seminars, even with some market women, entrepreneurs, because information is very key, some people they have ideas but they don’t know whether that idea is bankable. But they just have ideas, so, through these our seminars and workshops, we hold these seminars to educate these women on how to setup business and also we offer services of writing and doing their projections for them, on a consultancy basis and they pay just stipends. If they bring it, we help them with their business proposals and then also follow through, because, if you give them money and they go and spend the money anyhow and then the business collapses, we feel that we have failed, so we try to monitor them.
We go inside the market, hold workshops for them and go to the basis. Financial literacy, how we teach them how you can keep your records. But we found that those women are very intelligent, they just know if I take my money and trade it. And then we encourage them to have savings, even now, the women, the ladies everybody in the banking industry we encourage them to save for the rainy day.
We believe that if you set something aside, as time goes on, we will have something to fall back on. So that is what I encourage people, even in the industry. That is why you see many people, immediately they lose their jobs, within six months they are on the road, but if they have mentors like us, people in the association of professional women bankers, we will be able to advise them.
And how do you balance your personal with professional life?
Well everything is time management and like I said earlier, you can juggle your personal and professional lives by planning. When I was in the banking industry, we had daycare where we can take our children to, and we still had to work over the weekend, but it is crucial to note that the little time you have, go to the market buy whatever you want and make use of the time. It Is also important to note that when you come back home no matter how tired you are, try to speak with your children. I make sure I interact with my children, look at their school work. We talk by coming down to their level, I play games that I’m knowledgeable about, and I would love to encourage the upcoming ones to find time for their children. The experience that you have acquired should be able to teach and nurture your children to the way that is right and also don’t forget that I’m an advocate of the fact that, “teach your children in the way of the lord so that when they grow up they will not depart from it.”
How would you describe your leadership style?
My leadership style I would say is inclusive, and I have an open door policy, anybody can talk to me and can meet me anytime and I believe in team work. I cannot do it alone and I believe in creating committees. The committee will enable you to move forward. For instance we have strategic committee, education committee ,mentoring committee , whatever they come up with together they will bring it to the Executives, the EXCO will then decide which is our priority , what is our focus , what do we really want to project this year. But I must tell you education is our number one.
If you were to make three wishes, what would they be?
I want to see more women-assisted businesses, when you help a woman you have helped a nation. Also I wish funds are easily accessible for the women. They have funds for women but how many women have been able to access it?Trust women.Give them money, they will trade with it and still pay your interest and as well the principal, so we need more assisted women businesses whereby will be able to monitor themselves and help each other.
As an advocate for women and children, my personal wish one day, I’m hoping that we have a woman president, we can do it and it is possible. If women rally round their own, we can do it.
One day I’m wishing that we have a woman senate president in this nation, woman president and we have a woman controlling the house of reps. If you look at the US, the women are moving. I want Nigerian women to be there as well.