Bola Agunbiade, an Economist, Chartered Accountant, Risk Manager and Financial Advisor, with over 20 years working experience in various aspects of accounting, finance, risk and asset management. She is the Founder/Managing Director/CEO of CandourCrest Africa Limited, a Company she set up in 2019 and has grown significantly over the years.
Prior to setting up CandourCrest Africa Limited. She was the Chief Executive Officer of CFS Financial Services Limited. She held this position for over four years, having had prior acting appointment in the same role for five months, and dedicated a total of 14 years of service to CFS Financial Services (Formerly Citicorp Financial Services).
Bola, who hails from Epe in Lagos State, had her first degree in Economics from Lagos State University, and a Higher National Diploma in Accountancy from Yaba College of Technology, Lagos State. She is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), and holds professional specialist qualifications in Risk Management, from the Institute of Risk Management of the United Kingdom, as well as being an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Marketers of Nigeria. She is an alumnus of the prestigious Lagos Business School, where she participated in the institution’s Chief Executives Programme.
She was the first female President of the Finance House Association of Nigeria, the umbrella body of all finance houses, and an advocacy organisation, which witnessed revival and vibrancy under her leadership.
She is a member of the Women in Management, Business and Public Service (WIMBIZ).
Bola is a devout Christian married to Kolawole Agunbiade, and they are blessed with three children.
In this Interview with Oyinlola Sale, Bola Agunbiade explains the importance of empoweing women with financial literacy.
You have over 20 years working experience in various aspects of accounting, finance, risk and asset management and this led you to set up CandourCrest Africa Limited in 2019, tell us how you managed to accomplish this monumental task as a woman?
Looking back over the years, something kept coming into my mind, ” those were years of hardwork, diligence and sacrifice”.
Getting to the top is not cheap. It requires you at each turning point to make a huge sacrifice that will cost you, your time, your resources and your energy. In fact people around you, your immediate family especially your spouse will need to support you in the journey.
In my journey, my family played and is still playing a vital role. I can remember some days we had to close very late sometimes till 2am just to ensure we deliver some reports. I can remember days we had to be at work on Saturdays and Sundays just to meet deadlines. I can remember periods I had to be at work even barely two months after delivery. I couldn’t have achieved this without the massive support and understanding of my family.
I have encountered some challenges from my superiors, subordinates and peers in my journey. At a point, I had wanted to resign but was fortunate to meet a friend who made me realised that those challenges I am facing are in every work place. The question then is “why quit” because of a challenge which probably can be seen in every work place. I made a resolve then to ride on every challenge by turning them to an opportunity to create something new for the Company and an opportunity for me to grow personally. I say to myself any time I encounter a challenge “Challenge is the most powerful catalyst of Growth, ride on it” Bola.
Thirdly, I have realised that Integrity is the pathway of unlocking ones SUCCESS. People are looking for men and women of integrity. Person who keeps his or her words, person who say things as they are, person they can trust with their funds, I strive/try as much as possible to be that person. I strongly believe this is one of the reasons it was easy for us to get partners for the business we started in 2019 immediately I resigned my employment.
Being diligent and being good is a very good quality one must also have. Developing the passion to create something out of nothing was also something that kept me going. As the Company was growing, I had the opportunity of taking up new challenge and roles within the business and develop the departments into full fledge department. From being the Chief Finance Officer to being the Head Internal audit and Compliance to being the Head Risk and Asset Management. In order to function properly on these roles, I had to undergo some personal and external learnings to get certification in relevant filed. This assisted me to broaden my knowledge in those fields.
Ability to make valuable contributions, make bold decisions and express your opinion on the seat is also very important. I recall, one of our shareholders mentioning this at one of our meetings. It makes you relevant particularly if you are a woman.
How has CandourCrest, empowered women to become financially literate?
One of the value-added services we render to our clients, women inclusive is the provision of free financial advisory services and financial literacy education.
We provide bespoke service to them to help them understand the importance of budgeting, cash flow planning, investment and its returns, debts structuring and management.
Since we deal with mostly micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME), we show and teach them how their personal life affects their business and what best structure fits.
As the first female President of the Finance House Association of Nigeria, what impact did you make during your tenure and what would you have done, if you were given more opportunity?
It was indeed a priviledge to be elected and lead the Finance House Association Of Nigeria. The first assignment undertaken during our tenure was stakeholders engagement. We held one on one engagement with both the practitioners and our regulators. We engaged with our regulator Central Bank of Nigeria and other institutions such as Development Bank of Nigeria, Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation etc. This improved the visibility of the aassociation with these institutions.
We also engaged in various capacity building programmes and training in order to improve our members capacity, skills and knowledge to perform successfully in the finance subsector.
The Association has made some remarkable improvements. However, there are still more work to be done especially in ensuring participation of finance companies in some of the policy and intervention funds made available by the Central Bank Nigeria.
How has your Company, CandourCrest changed the game in the Financial Sector?
For us, making the fund available at the right time to our clients is important. As a result, we work hand in hand with our clients in order to achieve this objective.
In addition, we see our clients as “partners” as such we strive on a daily basis to deliver and add value to them both personally and in their businesses by providing private and business advisory service on personal and business finance.
What gender equality, were you faced with when you occupied big positions, like the Chief Executive Officer of CFS Financial Services?
Recently, in the finance sector, we have seen an improved representation of women at the Board level and this should be sustained and improved upon. I also belief that there is the need to change mind set of people. There is this general belief that women may be too soft to hold the position of a CEO of a financial institution because of the tough decisions and the level of work required. I have had to make tough decisions and work extra hard to change those notions.
I think there is also this general belief that women do not need money particularly if she has a spouse who has the capacity to feed the home. I think this notion should be changed. A woman should be renumerated with all the required benefits due to any roles she occupies and should equally be rewarded according to her performance in line with what would have been obtainable if it were a man.
What would be an ideal plan to structure the economy of Nigeria with your wealth of experience?
Abraham Maslow hierachy of needs reflects the universal needs of human and human motivation. He stated that there are 5 levels of human needs. The lowest is the most basic and this is called the psychological needs. It is my belief that a government whose policies and budgets are geared towards addressing these needs will go along way in solving the problem of its people.
The basic need of any individual is Food, shelter, clothing and Education. To restructure the economy of Nigeria therefore, the government needs to pay attention to these areas. Make food available at an affordable rate, provide free and quality education etc., once these areas are consistently addressed the other issues such as security safety will be addressed in due course.
When we were growing up, we used to hear phrase such as ” A good name is better than gold and silver”. This is gradually being eroded. I think the Nigerian citizens (both young and old) needs a general re-orientation of value benefits and importance of Integrity to the development and growth of the nation.
Government also needs to address the issue of revenue by increasing its base through export and other internally generated revenue areas. In addition, the issue on government expenditure needs to be addressed and taken seriously.
Restructuring the Nigeria economy does not lie in the hand of the government alone but also in the hands of its citizens. If we can all choose to do things differently, choose to patronise made in Nigeria goods, choose to be accountable, choose to be fair in our dealings etc and Nigeria will become a great nation.
Does CandourCrest Africa have a financial package to support female entrepreneurs in Nigeria?
We have products that cater for different categories of entrepreneurs. For women, we have designed a bespoke prof=duct refers to as SheCredit. This product offers female entrepreneurs in sectors such as education, healthcare, Food, trading etc access to non-collaterised credit to a maximum of N5million.
What are some of the challenges you have faced so far in building CandourCrest Africa?
One major challenge was the issue of funding and access to cheaper source of funds for onward lending to our clients.
At our early stage, we encountered some difficulties in getting funds from institutions and this challenge is still occurring till date. We had grown the business majorly from borrowings from friends and relatives.
What were some of your fears when setting up CandourCrest Africa, have you overcome them finally?
The Company started with the Lagos State money lenders license in 2019 but eventually got its Central Bank of Nigeria license in 2021 under the name of CandourCrest Finance Limited.
The Capital intensiveness of establishing and growing a financé business can be a deterrent. Access to funds and funding required was a challenge as personal funds were insufficient. Approaching prospective investors required as expected several presentations of our business plans and in certain instances, investors requested for my personal guarantee. Yes, I had the fear that we may be unable to get the required capital and funds to start and grow the business.
We have big plans and aspirations; we are not yet there. Those fears still comes up, I can’t therefore say we have overcome them.
Another fear was the fear of failure. Resigning my position as the Chief Executive Officer of CFS Financial Services Limited and having to start from the scratch was a big deal. Thinking of the various expectations from colleagues, families and friends to succeed particularly having gotten offers from about three institutions in our subsector to come resume as their Chief Executive officer. However, the fear of failure keeps me going everyday. Every day I wake up and think about how to grow the business, how to improve our shareholders wealth, how to ensure quality risk assets are created. It keeps me wanting to do more.
What policies can the Government put in place to support the financial sector in Nigeria?
For any economy to grow, access to funding must be made easy and at a cheaper source or rate. I strongly belief that one of the factors hindering the growth of the Nigerian economy is lack of access of funds/credit and of cheaper source of fund/credit for businesses. There is money in Nigeria, however most people instead of making the funds available to financial institutions for on ward lending to the MSMEs would rather invest those funds in treasury bills, keep as cash in the bank etc. which is hindering the amount of funds available to be given as credit to the productive sectors.
We cannot blame them but rather government needs to provide enabling environment to encourage them to invest particularly in Nigeria and this can only be done if people who failed to meet their obligations are made to pay for them through speedy resolutions of cases relating to financial dealings in the court.
Secondly, the global standing instruction initiative should be made available to the benefits of all financial institutions
What height do you hope CandourCrest Africa would have attained, when you celebrate your 10 years anniversary?
Our vision for CandourCrest Africa is to be the pan African financial services partner proving Investment, loans, leases and advisory services etc to clients across Africa. We hope to have attained this height when we celebrate our 10 years anniversary.