Not every Executive Director is lively enough to dance at a photoshoot like Bukola Smith. As the Executive Director of Business Development at FCMB, Bukola is proof that focus and faith are important ingredients for success. In this interview, she reveals her growth as a banker and commitment to mentorship.
I was a shy young lady and quite introverted (well I still am) who was fully focused on work, nothing much seemed to be more important than work. One of my senior colleagues many years ago wondered if I will ever get married or have a family given the length of time I spent at work. I come from a strict but very loving family, so growing up was fantastic, full of love, contentment and discipline. My parents placed a lot of emphasis on academics and without necessarily forcing me, they helped guide my career choice – my dad is an Economist while my mum is a retired Banker.
I studied Economics in school. Being an Economist has given me a broad perspective to life and business while accountancy helped me focus on finance and strategy.
I am one of those fortunate people who knew exactly what she wanted; I have always wanted to be a Banker. My vision for my career was to get to the top, I am still on the journey but confident that I will make it to the pinnacle of my career by the grace of God. Earlier in my career, people including my supervisors always said they saw me reaching great heights in the industry primarily because of my focus, commitment and doggedness.
ON DEALING WITH CHALLENGES
I started my career with FSB international Bank and worked there for 8 years before moving to Fidelity. I worked at Fidelity bank for 6 years before moving to FCMB. Interestingly FSB and Fidelity merged about a year before I left for FCMB. The challenges are numerous, however most important to me is that I believe that challenges are simply a part of our daily lives, so when I am faced with a challenge; big or small, I simply focus on finding a solution as quickly as possible – a solution that serves all parties concerned and ensures that the work is not hindered. Over time, I have realized that these challenges are only as big as we make them.
I remember an incidence that could have truncated my career growth. I made a decision that resulted in a loss for the institution I worked for at the time. I immediately owned up to the error and carried my supervisors along on steps to ensure non-recurrence. This and the fact that I had consistently made profit in the bank saved my job. This re-enforced a value I grew up with which was, “never attempt to cover the truth, no matter the price”, and it has helped me all through my career.
ON LEARNING AND GROWTH
For me knowledge is power. I will only stop learning when I die which is why despite my busy schedule, I still seek knowledge. I read, research and attend courses to keep myself updated about new developments in the market. I am a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Accountants (ICAN), I have an MBA and have a number of certifications. I learn from everyone and anyone whether young, old, junior or senior as I know that everyone that comes my way has some information to enrich my knowledge base in one shape or form.
EMPOWERING WOMEN THROUGH SHEVENTURES
Female entrepreneurs are saddled with limited access to funding, fear of borrowing and not being able to repay due to the high prevailing interest rate, balancing responsibilities, relatively lower levels of financial literacy in comparison to their male counterparts, unfavourable business environment, lack of access to collateral to secure loans timidity and fear of failure.
In less than 2 years, SheVentures has impacted businesses, given out loans, mentored, provided networking opportunities and trained hundreds of women in business. We are still in our infancy stage, but we are very excited about the progress we have made within this short period.
Leveraging on our extensive experience in building and supporting local and national businesses over the years, we recently launched a zero-interest loan, where short-term working capital loans are given to select micro and medium-sized female-owned entities to assist them to scale up their businesses.
Understanding that collateral is a major issue, we have risk-sharing arrangements with our partners, which enables us to minimize the request for collateral. We have an SME advisory team that provides advice in different areas of business including equity raising, taxation and human resource management to SMEs including female-owned, helping them confidently scale up their business. In the last one year, over 2,000 women have been trained on building a profitable and sustainable business, 240 have gone through our mentorship and coaching programs while 120 of them have been offered the zero-interest loan to expand their business. The impact has been great both for our customers and the bank. We have seen more women coming forward to borrow more confidently and a better understanding of financial management amongst those that we have trained. We are encouraged and plan to do a lot more this year.
A COMMITMENT TO IMPACT LIVES
A few years ago, I conducted a research with three other people on why women dropped out of banking at middle management level. We saw that this period coincides with the period in their lives when they got married and had children. I became passionate about mentoring to reduce this impact. I plan to continue mentoring and replicate myself in more people in banking, especially women. I will guide them through their chosen career paths or provide guidance to help them make good career choices, marital and general life decisions to ensure they attain their life goals and avoid the common mistakes most young people make early in their lives. I will also continue to push my organization to have more women-friendly policies that will help them climb the career ladder. In addition to these, I’m part of an organization which mentors secondary school students on career choices, I will continue to provide support for them.
ON BECOMING A WONDER WOMAN
I attribute my success to my faith in God, He has blessed me and shown me favour, so I will say, do not neglect God. Learning is a life-long process, continue to develop yourself, stay focused and humble. Continue to seek to be a better version of yourself as you have been uniquely made by God. Do not be in competition with anyone but yourself, enjoy what you do, watch out for opportunities and please be happy.