Lola Aworanti-Ekugo (Weekend MBA 2019)

Programme: Weekend MBA 2019

Nationality: Nigerian-British

Undergraduate education: Bachelor's of Business Information Systems, Middlesex University

Job prior to studying at the Business School: Consultant, Applications, BNP Paribas

Job after studying at the Business School: Head, Digital and Innovation, Union Bank of Nigeria

Your time at Imperial College Business School

Why did you choose to study your programme and why specifically at Imperial College Business School?

Imperial is one of the most prestigious universities in the UK with a strong focus on innovation and entrepreneurship and has been acknowledged for global excellence in both. It is also diverse, bringing together people from different disciplines, cultures, backgrounds, and life experiences.

This was important for me, given my career path revolved around solving problems and breaking boundaries through the delivery of digital experiences and innovations to the industry. I chose Imperial as I wanted to experience the best as well as further develop a global network for myself.

What was the most important learning point you took with you from the Business School?

“Now is always the right time for growth!”

I learned that outside your comfort zone is truly where growth and development lie. Personally, it was one of the most challenging tasks I have embarked to date. Working full time and studying is no easy feat. It required much sacrifice, prioritisation, focus and hard work, but it was one of the best and most rewarding decisions I have made so far, with tangible results in my career trajectory to show for it. It was well worth it in the end.

I also had a very diverse cohort, with which included people working in various sectors like the medical field, energy, financial services, sports and entertainment, fintech, hospitality etc. and based in different parts of the world. What surprised me most about this was realising the power and value when you have brilliant and diverse people from various sectors and countries sitting in the same room and learning together. The ideas/knowledge exchange across sectors was amazing; it was very refreshing, constantly engaging and learning from the cohort even outside the classroom.

What advice would you give to a prospective student considering studying the same programme as you?

Do your research to ensure it fits into your career/business objectives, and the timing is right.

The Imperial Weekend MBA programme is designed to fit nicely into a busy schedule and allows you specialise in what you want. The programme, content and delivery were also very well structured. However, it is intensive and requires dedication and focus, but well worth it in the end.

Once you start, focus on gaining knowledge, growing your network and exploring growth opportunities from the get-go. 

Tell us about your job

What is your current role?

I currently head up the Digital and Innovation arm at Union Bank of Nigeria (UBN), where I am responsible for defining and implementing the enterprise Digital & Innovation strategy and roadmap with a focus on implementing new digital product/service/fintech opportunities, optimising the customer experience across channels and improving operational efficiency using technology.

A typical day at work involves problem-solving and proffering solutions to real-life customer problems, organisational efficiency and industry challenges using technology in the bid to drive innovation, revenue generation and cost savings for the bank.

Developing an innovation culture within the organisation and a pipeline for innovation either from employees in-house or co-creating with fintechs/startups within the ecosystem is also an important aspect of my work that helps drive our simpler and smarter bank ambition at UBN.

How has your programme contributed to your career success? 

The Imperial MBA programme has played an essential role in my career development. Imperial is a well-respected institution globally, and the MBA was helpful to unlock even more career growth opportunities for me. The content and delivery of topics like leadership, organisational behaviour and strategy were also quite important for navigating the leadership roles.

I was able to move into Nigeria to take on the role of Head, Digital Innovation Labs at First Bank of Nigeria, one of the largest financial institutions in Nigeria, even before the completion of the MBA.

I found it helpful to hit the ground running when I started the programme. If you want a change career path or gain a promotion, you should not wait to complete your MBA before you start looking for those opportunities or visibly positioning yourself for the next level through value add to your organisation. Start applying the knowledge gained during the programme outside the Schools’ boundaries as soon as possible.

How do you plan to use the skills and knowledge you gained during the programme within your career going forward?

The MBA has undoubtedly expanded my perspectives and changed the way I think about and approach certain things for the better. The skills and knowledge gained during the programme are a part of me now and all very relevant within my career and even beyond.

What do you enjoy most about your current work?

I enjoy being at the forefront of the rapidly evolving financial services landscape while re-imagining banking as we know it. Every day is an opportunity to proffer innovative solutions/experiences to solve important problems in Africa, and this is very exciting!

At Union Bank, we are empowering our customers with simpler and smarter banking services and exploring the most innovative ways to provide value. I work with a fantastic team and have been given a platform to express my passion, skills and talents.

What are the most exciting and difficult challenges facing your sector currently?

The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it, the start of a ‘new normal’. The need to deliver seamless customer experiences outside the brick-and-mortar service points became a necessity with accelerated digitalisation of payments, digitisation of service requests and digital-first business models becoming more widespread. Collaboration between banks and fintech startups has also become more prevalent as all work towards a common goal, 'customer delight'.

Financial inclusion also remains prominent on the agenda for Africa with approx. 36.8% of the population is still excluded from financial services in Nigeria and a mandate of the overall achievement of 95% financial inclusion by 2024. Financial institutions are looking to stay ahead of the curve and strengthen their capacity for financial inclusion through internal and external developments and innovations.

For the foreseeable future, we will be living against the backdrop of the radical shift in consumer behaviour and possibly the next wave of ground-breaking innovations. It is an exciting time to be in the industry.

What is your proudest achievement in the job so far?

At First Bank of Nigeria, I championed digital transformation projects for Nigeria and across its African subsidiaries, transforming them into 'Digitally Led Retail' banks as part of the bank’s strategy as well as the introduction of new banking channels.

At Union Bank of Nigeria, we have launched new digital experiences for our customers through our internal innovation programme and external co-creation efforts with startups in the ecosystem. Union Bank also became the first financial institution in Nigeria, to respond to the pandemic by seamlessly crossing over its workforce to remote work given its prior investments and implementation of the remote work infrastructure on our digital readiness/fitness programme for employees. We also recently launched a Digital Academy for employees focused on strengthening and developing a knowledgeable, skilful, digitally flexible, and proficient workforce to support our digital-first and digital-always ambition.

I was also profiled by Fintech Africa as one of the 30 exceptional women playing leading roles in their various companies and shaping the Fintech sector in Nigeria in 2020.

Alumni community

In what way is remaining connected to your alumni network important to you?

Meeting new people has been one of the most valuable aspects of life at the Business School. Maintaining a relationship with my Alumni Network has been important. Every now and then, we reach out to discuss potential trends and opportunities in our different locations around the world. The School also organises programmes and events which have been very relevant and valuable.

Supporting others through volunteering

Volunteering is an important part of my journey, I actively serve on different committees including the Tech Committee of Women in Management, Business and Public Service (WIMBIZ) Africa, the Digital Transformation Committee of JA Nigeria and She Leads Africa as a mentor.

I also advocate for STEM – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – fields, and founded Techstart Africa to address the growing skills gap in Africa’s technology industry by providing individuals with easy access to resources, skills and opportunities and serve as a mentor for Girl Code Academy which advocates for greater representation of women in STEM.

Is the Weekend MBA right for you?

Programme: Weekend MBA 2019

Nationality: Nigerian-British

Undergraduate education: Bachelor's of Business Information Systems, Middlesex University

Job prior to studying at the Business School: Consultant, Applications, BNP Paribas

Job after studying at the Business School: Head, Digital and Innovation, Union Bank of Nigeria