Move Back to Nigeria is a series on BellaNaija which aims to encourage young and not-so-young professionals in the diaspora who are trying to make the decision of whether to move back to Nigeria. In collaboration with the brilliant team at MoveBackToNigeria.com, we hope to bring you a weekly interview with individuals who have successfully made the leap, considering the leap, as well as those who have tried it and realized it is not for them. MoveBacktoNigeria.com’s mission is to showcase stories of Nigerians abroad who have moved back home and are taking giant strides, often against all odds and to serve as inspiration to others.This, however, does not preclude us from sharing stories of the people who have moved back and are facing various challenges.
We are delighted to present an interesting interview this week, with Michael Okon, who moved back to Nigeria to work in the Investment Banking industry. In this interview, find out how working in the investment industry in Nigeria differs to working in more developed markets, and what opportunities await those willing to make the leap.
Can you please start by introducing yourself?
My name is Michael Okon and I’m an Investment Banker. I have been in this business north of 8 years. I moved back in 2013 and currently work for a Nigerian Investment Bank.
Please walk us through your educational background?
I attended Adesoye College, Kwara state for my secondary school education.
There are a few people who confuse Adesoye College with Olashore International. Which is better?
(Laughs) Adesoye College is much better. On a serious note, I can’t speak for Olashore; however, my fondest memories to date are from my time at Adesoye College (ACO). I built very strong relationships and at this very moment my closest friends are ACO Alumnis. My experience there played a huge part in defining who I am today. I still even have quirky habits which originated during my time there. For example, we were not allowed to walk on the grass at school and up until today, I subconsciously avoid walking on grass, even in parks.
What came after your days at Adesoye College?
I moved to England to complete my A-Level education, which happened to be in a Monastery in Yorkshire. At the time, I thought to myself “which kind suffer I come suffer for England”. However, in hindsight, it was a unique experience with lots of fun memories. I was also able to concentrate on my studies and obtain the required UCAS grades to go to a good University. I completed my A-levels after two years and attended the University of Nottingham to study Finance, Accounting and Management.
How come you chose to study Finance, Accounting and Management?
To be honest, at the time it just sounded cool. Plus, I had completed my A-Levels in Math, Further-Math and Economics which I felt equipped me with the right pre-requisites to excel in the undergraduate course.
How was life in Nottingham?
It was fantastic; freedom had finally come to a man who had persevered the harsh winters of Yorkshire. From an academic standpoint, the University had an excellent business school, and I had the opportunity to be taught by some of the most qualified and renowned professors in England. Socially, it was also excellent; Nottingham was one of the hotspots in England at the time. I must confess my first year came with several distractions; however, I was able to put a lid on it and worked very hard in my final 2 years to obtain the required grades.
And after graduating from Nottingham?
After graduating from Nottingham in 2005, I decided to do a Masters in Investment Management at Cass Business School, London. My rationale for doing so was to equip myself with a technical advantage in London’s extremely difficult and competitive Investment banking market.
On completion of my Masters, I was able to secure a 6 month internship with JP Morgan (a US Investment Bank) via the SEO (Sponsors for Educational Opportunity) programme. At the end of the internship, I was offered a full time position on the Emerging Markets structuring desk.
What was your role in the Emerging Markets structuring desk?
The structuring desk was responsible for providing bespoke derivatives solutions to the firm’s clients. My regional focus was predominantly Eastern Europe (i.e. Russia, Turkey, Poland etc.) and South Africa where we covered Multinationals, Governments and Financial Institutions. The business was assembled into 3 key areas; the Asset, Liability and Funding business. I began my career on the Liability business desk which entailed providing cash-flow and revenue hedging solutions on the back of our client’s debt obligations and liability management requirements.
I was at JPMorgan for approximately 5 years and then moved to UBS (a Swiss Investment Bank) to take on a much broader mandate. My new role covered all business areas aforementioned. The experience was very gratifying, as I was able to develop a range of solutions for a very diverse group of clients. On the Asset side, I provided yield enhancing products to high-network Individuals/Private Banks/ Asset managers who were seeking to invest their money at attractive interest rates. On the funding side, I provided short-term financing/leverage (with embedded derivatives) to Financial Institutions (FI’s), parastatals etc. On the Liability side, I helped Governments/Corporates/ FI’s hedge out their FX, Interest rate, Credit and Duration risk on their liabilities. This exposure gave me a well rounded insight into banking and fostered a skill set that eventually transformed into strong expertise.
Whoa I feel like I’ve just had a chat with the Wolf of Wall Street (just kidding)… Anyway, how did all of this culminate in your move back to Nigeria?
I have always kept in touch with a few reliable Emerging Markets headhunters and I also had great relationships with friends who had already made the move back. So I was constantly informed about opportunities within the industry and found it rather straight forward to connect with the right people locally.
So when did you move back to Nigeria, and what opportunity was this for?
I moved back in September 2013. This was for an Investment Banking role in Lagos. I was in contact with a few institutions, however, my preferred choice of institution showed a lot of commitment and growth potential. So it was only natural to join such an establishment that understood my value-add and would empower me with the right work environment and tools to build a successful business.
Thanks. Can you please tell us what you do in your current role?
What I do now is similar to what I did at UBS and JPMorgan – providing bespoke solutions to our clients. However, the Nigerian market is not as developed as the western market, so there are significant limitations to the types of products we can offer. But that in itself creates an opportunity for me to play a significant role in developing the market based on my experience and expertise.
Admittedly the Capital Market in Nigeria is not as developed as in the West. What role do you think diaspora returnees have to play in developing our capital markets to Western Standards?
I think it’s great that individuals with international experience come back home; this only serves as a positive to improve our financial market. However, let’s not discount the importance of the existing local talent pool. My success really comes from working very closely with my colleagues to understand the local market; they have provided me with the crucial support necessary to maneuvre this terrain. I believe the right mix of international expertise and local knowledge is the perfect balance.
More broadly, how do you find life in Nigeria and cope with the day to day dynamics?
I grew up in Nigeria, so I’ve always had to deal with PHCN and all the nuances of Lagos. I knew things were going to be different from London but I think it’s all about getting on with life. If you are looking for an excuse to move back abroad, you will definitely find one. Most people in Nigeria are also facing similar frustrations, so I try not to dwell on the issues or complain all the time, but instead find solutions to matters that may arise, and move on.
Socially how do you keep yourself entertained in Lagos?
Personally, I’m happy with the local entertainment in my vicinity. There are nice restaurants, bars, shows, joints and clubs to go to from time to time. I think you can always find something that could be of interest to you. If everything fails, your day to day hustle and banter with Nigerians will definitely keep you entertained.
Do you ever see yourself leaving Nigeria or moving back abroad?
At the moment, my focus is to make an impact and be successful in Nigeria. I have no intentions of leaving, but I’ve learned to let God guide me, and so far it’s been working out pretty well.
In the next 3 – 5 years, where do you see yourself?
I see myself still working in the banking Industry. I’m currently running a structured products business which I believe in and I see huge potential with significant growth prospects.
What advice would you give people thinking about moving back?
I think it’s very important that you clearly understand what makes you an asset. You also have to be extremely clear about what you want to achieve and how you plan to do so while managing the nuances of Nigeria.
I must admit you can never be too prepared, so you also have to be flexible, dynamic and focused. The transition isn’t easy but with God, family, perseverance and a hint of luck, you will do just fine.