Iconic, beautiful, fearless, ageless, determined, matriarch, are some of the words that best describe Rose Okwechime.
Banker and Service Leader, Rose Okwechime served and led in the corporate world for over 40 years, now retired, she still shares her love time and service with Children.
As she marks her 74th birthday today, we had a quick sit down with Rose Okwechime to know her, celebrate her and understand what has driven her spirit of excellence this long and how she keeps going.
- Can we meet you? Give us a brief bio:
My name is Rose Ada Okwechime. I am an executive manager with over 40 years’ experience as a Company Director, including UK and overseas Banks, with extensive experience of strategic planning, systems development and problem solving.
Where my career started, was with the Bank of England for an illustrious 9 years of experience in various departments ranging from the Economic Intelligence, Banking and Accounting Departments. I am also the founder of Abbey Mortgage Bank and a Director at UBA Nigeria and UK. As a service to my community and the educational system, I took on a new direction to become a proprietoress of a private school in Asaba called Infant Jesus Academy. I love children so much. My joy is seeing children happy and follow their life purpose. I especially love helping kids with all sorts of disabilities.
- When did you get into the mortgage industry?
I started Abbey Mortgage Bank 29 years ago. 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. Time flew so fast because I enjoyed what I did.
- What inspired Abbey Mortgage Bank?
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. I decided to apply for both a mortgage bank called Abbey Mortgage Bank and a bank called Pearl Bank. As God had a plan for me, the license for the mortgage bank came out first and that was my calling. When I started Abbey Mortgage Bank, I really got into CSR. I hosted parties and donating money for kids in hospitals, blind kids, and motherless babies. I guess that was when I knew I had the philanthropic energy. I believe we were the first bank to sponsor NTA events for kids 29 years ago.
- What was and is your vision for Abbey Mortgage Bank?
My vision for Abbey is for the bank to attain leadership in the mortgage industry and metamorphose into a one-stop financial solution firm in Nigeria.
This means Abbey will dominate the mortgage industry and transform into a dynamic commercial bank with creativity and agility to provide innovative financial solutions to every stratum of the Nigerian demography.
- Did you ever feel gender-biased among your peers?
As a businesswoman, wife, and mother, I have always recognized that women possess compassion, drive, and most of all intuition, which our male colleagues are not endowed with. We bring an edge and that extra layer of quality leadership to complement the male-dominated workplace. So, I pick empowerment of women according to their strengths and these attributes every time. Please note that the tribute to female empowerment cannot end without appreciating the men who have supported us, women, in making our dreams a reality. I would, therefore, like to say thank you to the husbands, fathers, partners, business associates, stakeholders, and colleagues who continue to support us in our journey.
- Tell us about your time as the Director and Vice-chairman at the United Bank for Africa?
I have seen UBA grow into a powerful bank and brand. I’ve enjoyed the interactions, the training, the challenges, the contrast, and the expansions.
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!
- How do you deal with the difficulties that come with being a female leader?
I have been in leadership long enough to recognize and appreciate the power struggles, where gender is concerned. It is the very first step to take if you want success. I harness my inner passion and sense of direction to articulate my position. I’m also prepared to acknowledge when a battle may be lost, to come back to win the war.
Women must choose their battles wisely.
- How would you rate the mortgage system in Nigeria?
The Mortgage System in Nigeria is still at its infancy stage, although we have made significant progress over the years there is huge room for improvement. The market needs to be more flexible, dynamic, and innovative and I believe that the new generation in the space will drive the development required for the industry.
- What is it that Nigerians are getting wrong in the system?
The first challenge is the general interest rate level in the country. With the risk-free rate being so high, mortgage rates cannot be an exception without being subsidized and in my view, the subsidy is not a sustainable structure. Apart from the commercials, another major challenge is the weak judiciary support and loose foreclosure framework which has caused most mortgage banks significant losses as they deal with huger non-performing loan portfolios.
- You retired last year and handed it over to new directors. Do you think the new directors will continue to push your vision for the company?
Over the years, we have continued to build the organization with a “build to last” mindset so the expectation is that 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.
- What is your retirement plan? What is next for you?
The steps have already been taken. I want to continually inspire others. Be a role model and mentor to women and men. I want to start a foundation to help young children with disabilities.
- Any word of advice for young people in the mortgage and business system?
I want every young person to know that they are valuable and capable of achieving anything they put their hearts into.