My life has been a miracle to me; my path from youth had been divinely ordered, says Otunba Michael Olasubomi Balogun, FCMB founder, in this interview preceding his 88 years birthday coming up March 9, 2022
The last time we talked, you said you love swimming, now at 88, do you still swim?
By the grace of the almighty God, every home I have built, I have always had a swimming pool because I have been anticipating that by the time I get old, I will not be able to amble around, as I normally do.
The one thing that has actually assisted me apart from the grace of the almighty God, is that I have been a bit restless. I try to exercise every part of my body and my cerebral capacities. It is very important because the grace of God has been with me. Sincerely, the good Lord has been so much with me in my life. For most things I have done, people are wondering how I was able to do them because they look a bit extraordinary.
But I always talk of the ultimacy of our maker, our eternal father, the harbinger of everybody’s career in life. And with God as my infinite guide in my life, I seem to be measured successful, in whatever I do.
Having a swimming pool is one exercise you can go into and without much stress, you can stretch your limbs because the gravity in the water will reduce the amount of energy you have to put in, but it’s still very effective, even more effective than strolling. I have always had the ambition that I will live long, and so far, the good Lord has been with me.
As a pioneer in the financial industry given what the economy is like now. What do you think can be done?
I try not to talk about what somebody is doing right or wrong. Rather, I spend my quality time praying for this country. I tell you something, whenever I kneel down to prayer, I, first of all, thank my God. Then I thank Him for what He’s done for my wife, my family, my children, the FCMB Group, then to my neighbours, and then ask God to bless Nigeria. That’s the routine I go through every day, I don’t dabble into that because ultimately, God does what he wants to do.
Sir, do you see Fintech companies as a threat to commercial banks?
Every bank is expanding into different businesses. Quite a lot of banks have diversified into pension funds management.
And technology has been a critical instrument. In our own case, capital market and normal banking will meet together. If you are trying to raise money from the capital market, we have a company that handles that, if you want to buy shares from the stock exchange, we have. And if you want to go into real banking, even mortgages, even as we speaking I have that our bank is trying to help people who want to get their own homes, so we are doing everything.
That was why I said I conceived the idea of Group structure and with a due sense of modesty, I think I would be one of the people who first started the idea of Group. I called it First City Group.
There are a lot of avenues a bank or a financial institution can go into. And I am encouraging the younger bankers not just to limit their activities to core banking but to go into different aspects of financial services.
Truth is that what I would call financial assistance to communities is very wide, which may include what is today expressed as financial inclusion, where technology has become the vehicle.
Fintech companies are merely complimenting what the traditional institutions had first started. FCMB this morning, I read in the newspapersor instance, is asking people to come take money, to build their own houses, we’re getting strong into pensions, we’re asking for assets to be managed for us, we’re trying to be financial advisers.
That was the idea I had, I call it financial supermarket. Any igneous banker would not just stay in mundane banking. For instance, if you go on the streets of Lagos, you will see some locals selling dollars. Some institutions have institutionalised this and added it to their banking.
Let me emphasised this, there’s no end to what you can do with financial services, not just banking alone.
There is hardly nothing that is not within the financial services today, which we generally call banking. I started as a capital market man and I still recall people calling me ‘Colossus’, the ‘Grandmaster’ because I dabbled into many things. I was always seen in the market.
The one thing I am thankful to God for is that He has always made me a multifaceted businessman. Young CEOs should go beyond mundane banking, they should extend their tentacles, buy into other companies by acquiring their shares.
When you started out as young entrepreneur many years ago, you had some ambitions. But your businesses seem to have gone beyond your expectations. How do you feel about this sir?
It makes me humble. As I have always said, God is my guide and consummate supporter. I started out as a stockbroker and with due appreciation to my God, I was the first Nigerian to single-handedly set up a stockbroking firm, just as I was also the first Nigerian to setup a merchant bank. I call it the grace of God. Let me tell you one thing.
A very wellknown Nigerian who runs a financial institution, in fact, a conglomerate, once came to me and said, sir, you hardly speak for one or two minutes without referring to your God, and I smiled and said, you have said it all. Let me tell you a secret, all the businesses I have established, the good Lord had suggested them to me, and I have always been a pioneer. May be you didn’t know that I only trained as a lawyer.
Subsequently, the government of the then Western Region trained me in the British Parliament to be a parliamentary draftsman. When ultimately the government of Nigeria, in fact, the leader of the central bank decided to set-up a development bank, and brought in the World Bank as their partner, I was just in my place when a very good friend, Gamaliel Onosede (may his soul rest in peace) came to my house (I was then living in Glover Road, Ikoy) and said Mike, there’s this development bank being set-up by the government and the World Bank. I am sure they will need a legal draftsman to be drafting agreements.
Given your background and the fact that you seem to be multifaceted in your different interests, I think this could be a situation that will open your eyes to so many things. He asked me to apply for that job, and I did.