Very few women of her time made their mark in the Nigerian banking sector the way she did. Beautiful, intelligent, vibrant and still energetic in her 70s, Rose Okwechime stands out, even after retiring from the banking industry.
Okwechime started her banking career in 1971 with the Bank of England where she spent almost a decade. Within the space of 9 years, she was shuffled within the Economic Intelligence Unit, the Clearing Unit, Banking and Accounting Departments and finally worked as a Cost Analyst. These positions allowed her to acquire a varied but rich experience in strategic planning, systems development and problem-solving within the bank.
She returned to Nigeria in 1980 and resumed with the Bank of Credit and Commerce International Nigeria Limited (later known as African Int’l Bank Plc or AIB) in 1981. Given her experience, it did not take much to get Okwechime into executive management positions and for the next 10 years again, she had the opportunity to flex her administrative and managerial muscles. She served as Assistant Manager, Operations Manager, Principal Manager and rose to become Head of the bank’s corporate banking unit.
In 1992, she left AIB to go start her bank. Speaking about the decision, Okwechime said in an interview; “I believe it was destined for me. With all the hard work I put into working in the financial industry, God has big plans for me. I am really passionate about what I do. Passion takes you higher and faster. I was super driven, and I had a lot of energy. Sometimes I worked long hours. My customers at AIB were my inspiration. I loved providing a great customer experience and they appreciated my hard work and efforts. They wanted to invest in me and encouraged me to start a bank.”
At first, Mrs Okwechime was not certain which kind of bank she was going to start. She applied for two bank licenses, one for a mortgage bank called Abbey Mortgage Bank, and another for a Commercial bank called Pearl Bank. She decided that whichever license was approved first would be the indication of where God wanted her to go. Within a short period, the first license was released for Abbey Mortgage Bank.
It commenced as a Building Society, and with time metamorphosed into a full-fledged Mortgage Bank. Expectedly Rose Okwechime became pioneer Managing Director/CEO. With her rich experience in banking, who else could have been better suited for the role?
The vision was to grow Abbey Mortgage Bank into a leader in the mortgage industry and a one-stop financial solution firm in Nigeria. The Mortgage Banking sector was very much behind the Commercial sector and bedevilled with numerous challenges, so there was much work for Okwechime to do. She injected the same energy and passion she had used in her previous experiences to grow the bank and spread its services across the country, one step at a time. Abbey Mortgage Bank has several branches nationwide and employs hundreds of staff.
Abbey Mortgage Bank also invested significantly into its Corporate Social Responsibilities, making donations for kids in the hospital, physically challenged children and orphans. The bank also sponsored events for kids on Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), as far back as the early Nineties when it was just starting out.
She retired from Abbey Mortgage Bank in 2020. but remains confident that the directors can push the vision as the organisation was steeped in a “build to last” mindset. “The institution will outlive my leadership tenor. I am indeed very happy and confident in the new directors to deliver on the corporate vision and increase value for all stakeholders. Since my retirement, the new management has recorded a laudable milestone of development and transformation which further gives comfort that Abbey is on the path of enhanced growth,” she remarked.
Other positions served and interests
She has an MBA in Banking and Finance, and has taken part in the OWP Executive Leadership Educational Program at the Institute of Management Development LouSanne, Switzerland. Mrs Rose Okwechime is a recipient of a Honorary Doctorate Degree from Baze University. She is an Affiliate member of the Institute of Personnel Management of Nigeria; Fellow, Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria; and a member of the Chartered Institute of bankers, London.
Okwechime sits on the board of Rosabon Financial Services Ltd, a company she co-founded in 1991. Thanks to her competence and experience, Okwechime has been invited to serve on several boards of banks and financial institutions in the past. She served on the board of Platinum Bank Ltd from 2002 – 2005, Standard Trust Bank Ltd 2005-2007 and United Bank for Africa Plc (UBA) from 2007–2010. She was reappointed into the board of UBA in June 2012 again, and would also serve on the board of UBA in Ghana and the UK at various times.
“UBA got me to see things from different viewpoints which was an important skill for me. Understanding work ethics, values, and communication approaches of the people we interact with. I also got to watch my giant Tony Elumelu fly high!,” she recounted.
Since 2000, Okwechime serves as a Director on the board of Madonna Ashib enterprises, a family business with vast investments in real estate, and other publicly quoted businesses. She served as CFO of Deltic Energy Limited from 2011, and as an Executive member on the board of African for Housing Finance.
In the early 2000s, Rose Okwechime made a foray into the educational sector. With her husband, she co-founded Infant Jesus Academy, Asaba, Delta State, a Catholic co-educational school.
She also moved on to serve as Proprietress of the private school. It could seem an unusual route for someone who founded and built a Mortgage Bank to return to serve as Proprietor of a school, but Okwechime says it is a service to the community for her.
Now in her 70s, Mrs Rose Okwechime makes no secret of her bias towards philanthropy. In many ways, she has shown support towards the physically challenged, and supported causes like the Down Syndrome, Pacelli Schools and Wesley Schools for the Blind and Partially sighted, Spinal Cord Injuries Association of Nigeria and orphanages. She has also extended into scholarship awards and provided aid for medical treatments. It is a wonder that she does not have a foundation yet.