“I belong to a good number of professional and social groups. Apart from being a member of CIBN, I am a member of Association of Women Bankers.”
For Mrs Lola Banji-Alabi, a seasoned banker, and a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers in Nigeria (CIBN), hardwork and discipline are some of the values that helped to shape her life.
She believes that with these virtues, women can confidently pursue their goals and excel in whatever they set their minds on.
She spoke to Daily Sun recently on her profession and and the need for the relevant authorities to rescue the sector
How was growing up?
I was born to the famous Afolabi family of Owo in Ondo State in the 1960s. We were taught the values of discipline, integrity and hard work at a very tender age. This shaped my later life when I moved to Lagos, where I attended Lagos Anglican Girls’ Primary School, Surulere, and Imade College, Owo, Ondo State. My National Diploma and Higher National Diploma were done at Ondo State Polytechnic, Owo, now Rufus Giwa Polytechnic, and Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro, Ogun State.
How did you find yourself in banking?
I did my youth service programme with the defunct Societe Generale Bank of Nigeria (SGBN) in 1991, and worked there for one year before I joined Union Homes Plc, the mortgage arm of Union Bank Plc. I was there until February 2008, when I moved to then Oceanic Bank Plc for a few years. I branched into the family business as director, mortgage services, Banji Alabi and Co, a property development and financing firm; I am an associate member of the Chartered institute of Bankers in Nigeria.
What is your impression of the banking sector in Nigeria?
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 this country the way it is practiced in other parts of the world, particularly in Europe, the United States and other genuinely developing countries. The 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 in Nigeria, it is the mansion or structure that is the bank and not the services. Here, you would see a lot of fortune being invested in a building that is going to house a bank. Besides, the type of marketing practiced abroad is different from what you have here. What is done there is e-marketing, not the kind we have here in Nigeria.
Is it true that banks promote prostitution in the name of marketing?
Yes. Ladies in mini-skirts 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 targets is not the real problem. Targets are good in the real sense of it, because targets motivate people 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 some banks, I don’t want to mention their names, where girls are 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 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 way out?
The regulatory bodies must begin to intervene so that morality, etiquette, 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 to call for a particular dress 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 that give unattainable targets, of course, after failure to heed warnings.
How were you able to juggle banking and family?
My husband, Barrister Banji-Alabi, and I grew up together in Owo. He was 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 elder 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 he and my brother were sending around to buy drinks for their friends, was now a very big girl. He proposed to me and I was shocked, as I always looked up to him with respect as a big brother.
But one thing is that he was one of the best dressed guys at that time in Owo and 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 elder brother. I think having known ourselves well assisted a lot because it ensured a lot of understanding.
What is 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 awaiting times for a manifestation of a desired state or what is often referred to as a breakthrough in life. Many people continue to pass through this at various stages in life.
Would 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 temporary fulfillment. My advice is, don’t let go of your destiny once you have discovered it. Run away from married men; look for young guys with great potential. Do not mortgage your destiny and happiness for temporal fulfillment or monetary needs.
What is your position on Nigerian 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, and nobody can take them for a ride any longer. We are, however, looking forward to ladies becoming governors and becoming President in Nigeria.
Tell us about your social life?
I belong to a good number of professional and social groups. Apart from being a member of CIBN, I am a member of Association of Women Bankers. I am a frontline member of Lions’ Club. Under my presidency of the club, we built a maternity centre at Ipaja, Lagos, which has been handed over to the local government.