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A rising female star in Nigeria's investment banking industry.

Summary: Fiona Ahimie is Managing Director of FBNQuest Securities in Lagos. It is a subsidiary of the FBNQuest Merchant Bank and one of the strongest brokerages in Nigeria providing a range of services to investors including high-net worth individuals and institutions.

Before Ahimie took up her position a year ago, she was Managing Director at African Alliance Securities.

Ahimie is one of the few rising female stars in Nigeria's investment banking industry. In this conversation with Rafiq Raji, she discusses the current state of the Nigerian stock market and what it takes to be successful as a woman in the highly competitive sector.

The Nigerian stock market has been dull for quite a while. How has FBNQuest Securities been able to remain profitable?

The last 10 years have been very challenging for the equities brokerage business in Nigeria. Traded volumes have fallen and share prices keep testing new lows.

The Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) All Share Index (ASI) closed the first quarter of 2019 down 1.24% at 31,041.42 points. The value of trades recorded on the NSE was 54% lower compared to the value traded in the same period in 2018.

Investor participation in Q1 was at a low point -- a combination of global anxiety and typical of an election year. Average daily turnover was 3.32bn naira, compared to 6.98bn naira in Q1 2018.

The second quarter however recorded decent volumes following the listing of MTN Nigeria Plc shares on the NSE and the divestment of Femi Otedola's shares from Forte Oil.

But these are selected transactions; the broader market continues to struggle. To stem the tide, FBNQuest Securities has continued to build and leverage on strate- gic partnerships at home and abroad. We have also improved on our digital and on- line platforms to ensure a greater customer experience. Our research has also been deepened with new sector and company coverage initiatives to help our clients make sound and informed investment decisions.

How much of the success of your business would you attribute to foreign customers? Our foreign clients account for over 60% of our turnover. Foreign portfolio investors (FPI) are a force when it comes to activities in the equities market in Nigeria. Even though internationals did not participate actively in trading MTN Nigeria Plc shares on listing, they accounted for circa 49% of the turnover on the NSE as at the end of May 2019.

In light of recent telecoms IPOs, what is your view on the outlook for IPOs going forward?

The telecoms companies getting listed on the NSE is very positive for the market. The market was excited with the news of MTN Nigeria Plc coming to the market and investors went all-out to try to buy the shares.

The unfilled bid volume on the day of listing was an impressive 165m shares and the stock closed limit up. Total unfilled bid volumes on day two of listing were 225m shares.

In spite of the market sentiment still being very weak, investors will and should always care about strong companies. We are expectant that these listings will encourage more high profile listings in the market. The market could do with some depth.

What strategies would you recommend to encourage more listings?

Companies will list if they see the benefits that listing in the market brings. Ensuring a seamless process in listing and creating more incentives for listing through regula- tion will make a difference.

The category of investors that drive decent volumes in the Nigerian equity market are Institutions: pension fund administrators (PFAs) and asset managers. PFAs are highly regulated and cannot just invest in any company due to these regulations. Investor education is also paramount especially among the retail investor category.

What is your vision for FBNQuest Securities?

My vision for the business is very broad but I can summarise by saying I want to build a strong, successful brokerage business of relevance to all categories of our clients, both local and international.

How would you say your first year as MD has gone thus far?

My first year has been mixed; there have been highs and lows. Building a business in the current environment is challenging to say the least; considering the current state of the nation and the equities market.

The year started very well despite the low volumes in the market. We lost some market share due to non-participation in some significant block deals. But we are picking our market share back up and working on getting on some strategic deals that will help the business.

As an MD, your people are your most important assets. For me, my people are my partners. I am learning to focus on the long-term goals, not losing sight of the near-term hiccups. I am grateful that I have support from my board with respect to the emphasis on the long term.

What are the challenges you've faced as MD thus far and how did you surmount them?

The first challenge was separating and iso- lating myself from my previous role and stepping into the new MD role. This was a major drain on my time and effectiveness and prevented me from staying ahead of [the] competition.

I had to make a conscious effort to make the right additions to the team, restructure the team, putting square pegs in square holes. This was to ensure that my team members are playing to their strengths so I could create time for reflection. The process is ongoing.

Your quick rise in a tough Nigerian business environment is remarkable, as you are also relatively young and female. What would you say has been responsible for your success?

A summary of all that propelled and made my current status a reality is this: I made conscious efforts and invested in build- ing trust, competence and dedication. I have been fortunate to work with amazing, passionate and great leaders who gave me opportunities to express myself, be the best I can be, trained me to take charge of my career as well as face any challenges.

I recall an incident in the first months of my career when my boss pushed me to the point of tears and frustration. I got so emotional and was brought to this. Moments like that shaped me. I have been in situations where people made desperate efforts to pull me down, even women. There were days when I felt all hope was lost.

All I do in those moments is to remind myself of my dreams -- and to remember that many people believe in me. After reflecting on the factors motivating me, I pick myself up and get back to the drawing board.

I reflect a lot. I weigh everything I do or say and I am deliberate with my actions and don't take anything for granted. In my subconscious, I believe that nothing would be handed to me on a platter of gold; I have to earn it. I have to prepare for it. I have to work for it. I am not an ad- vocate for laziness and tackiness. I believe in putting in the work, getting the required competencies and having the right attitude.

Are you mentoring any female colleagues?

Yes. I mentor quite a number of people. I see young people with potential, yet no di- rection. I have had the grace of great men- tors in the shape of bosses in my life and I do not hold back from helping younger people discover themselves.

What would your advice be to other women who desire similar career success?

Being a woman is not a limitation. Everyone will tell you that I roll and play the game of the boys. For me gender is not a barrier if you know what you want; prepare yourself for opportunities and grab the opportunities at first sight.

No one will hand you anything on a platter of gold. If you put yourself out there as a weaker sex with limitations, you will be treated that way.

As a woman, play to your strengths and work tirelessly to improve on your weak- nesses. Don't play the victim card and don't give in to victimisation. You are stronger than that.

Why do you think there are not as many female business leaders as would be ideal in Nigeria?

I don't think there is any such thing as an ideal proportion of male to female leaders. However, I agree that the top positions are widely held by our male counterparts. We should also not lose sight of the fact that it is only recently that more women have started to pay attention to their careers and compete with their male counterparts for recognition and managerial roles at work.

So with time, we will gain good traction. The women who have prepared themselves, positioned themselves for the opportunities and express their desire to operate in the MD position might get the opportunity to function in the role. So you see, getting to the MD or CEO position entails taking deliberate actions.

What do you think is FBNQuest Securities' competitive advantage? In other words, why would customers do their trades through you and not others?

FBNQuest Securities is a part of a big and reliable brand. The brand opens the door for us but the quality of our professional service output and our attitude when helping our clients achieve their goals makes the difference. Our clients trust us to look after them. n

As a woman, I would say, play to your strengths and work tirelessly to improve on your weaknesses. Don't play the victim card and don't give in to victimisation. You are stronger than that.

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Publication:African Banker
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:6NIGR
Date:Aug 5, 2019
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