Case Studies

Access Bank’s public relations strategy after CEO’s sudden death

Access Bank’s Public Relations strategy after Herbert Wigwe’s sad death

On February 9, 2024, the financial world was shaken by the tragic news of the untimely death of Dr. Herbert Wigwe, the Group CEO of Access Holdings Plc, along with his wife and son. His sudden demise has left a void that extends beyond the personal loss to the bank’s overall operations, including its public relations programmes and strategic direction.

As the leader of one of Nigeria’s largest banks, Dr. Wigwe has played a pivotal role in shaping Access Bank’s growth and operational excellence since joining the institution in 2002. Here’s the possible public relations road map, post-Herbert Wigwe.

The Immediate impact

Access Bank’s Public Relations strategy after Herbert Wigwe’s sad death

  1. Leadership Vacuum

Dr. Wigwe’s passing creates an immediate leadership vacuum within Access Bank. As the face of the organization, he was instrumental in building investor confidence, maintaining stakeholder relationships, and representing the bank’s vision and values.

His absence will be felt not only by employees but also by clients, shareholders, and the broader financial community.

  1. Emotional Shockwaves

The suddenness of Dr. Wigwe’s death has sent shockwaves through the bank. Employees, who looked up to him as a mentor and visionary, are grieving. The emotional toll may affect productivity, morale, and overall organizational stability.

  1. Investor Confidence

Access Bank’s stock price and investor confidence may experience fluctuations in the short term. Investors often associate leadership stability with financial stability. The uncertainty surrounding the appointment of a new CEO could lead to market volatility.

  1. Public relations and CSR continuity

Access Bank has a strong public relations footprint in the banking ecosystem. Its PR programs span across sports, entertainment and community initiatives including:

  • Lagos City Marathon
  • IBB Golf Club Sponsorship
  • Malaria to Zero
  • The  “W” Community, which provided sustainable tools for women to Access true financial inclusion and growth
  • Sustainability banking

The long-term public relations implications

  1. Reputation management

Access Bank’s PR team faces the daunting task of managing the bank’s reputation during this crisis. Transparent communication with stakeholders, empathy, and sensitivity will be crucial. The bank must address rumors, provide accurate information, and express condolences to Dr Wigwe’s family and the public.

  1. Succession planning

The Access Holdings has announced Ms. Bolaji Agbede instead of Roosevelt Ogbonna, head of the banking subsidiary, to the position if it had decided to go down the path followed by Wigwe, who was appointed group CEO after serving as the head of the bank.

“Further to its announcement dated February 11, 2024, the Board of Directors of Access Holdings Plc (‘the Company’) has today announced the appointment of Ms Bolaji Agbede as the Acting Group Chief Executive Officer of the Company following the unfortunate demise of its former Group Chief Executive Officer, Dr Herbert Wigwe, on February 9, 2024.

The board’s announcement of an Acting CEO will impact investor confidence and employee morale. The new CEO must continue Dr. Wigwe’s legacy while steering the bank through this challenging period.

  1. Stakeholder relations

Access Bank’s relationships with clients, regulators, and industry peers will be tested. The bank must reassure stakeholders that its operations remain stable and that it is committed to maintaining the highest standards of corporate governance.

  1. Strategic direction

Dr. Wigwe was a driving force behind Access Bank’s strategic initiatives. His absence necessitates a review of the bank’s long-term plans. The new leadership must align strategies with the changing landscape and ensure continuity.

  1. Public relations continuity

Access Bank’s public relations strategy will also be tested. But a radical change of direction is unlikely, as the bank’s growth and strong reputation can be partly attributed to its robust public relations strategy and sponsorships.

  1. Ridiculous targets or purpose driven?

Those who knew Herbert said he set “ridiculous” targets, such as demanding that a new digital banking product “that was ahead of its time” hit a million users within three months, said Editi Effiong who worked on the project.

“He set ridiculous targets at all times. But guess what? We hit a million users,” said Effiong who is now a film maker and worked with Wigwe on his personal branding for years. “Every weekend we would meet and we would talk about his life and his work.”

  1. Legacy PR

One project that Wigwe dedicated his time to in the last few years is a university that he was bankrolling in his village outside the southern city of Port Harcourt to help students hone the skills needed for the finance and technology industries in Africa’s most populous nation.

The university’s board of trustees has assured prospective students, faculty and staff that it remains committed to ensuring that the dreams of Wigwe and his aspirations for the project are fulfilled.

Wigwe told Bloomberg in November that he planned to teach and mentor students and engage some of the country’s prominent entrepreneurs, including billionaire Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest person, to teach at the university

Final PR word and balancing act

Balancing grief and reputation amidst loss has never been an easy road. And it will remain a fascinating public relations case study.

Dr. Herbert Wigwe’s sudden departure leaves Access Bank at a crossroads.

While mourning his loss, the bank must rally together, honor his legacy, and navigate the challenges ahead. The resilience of Access Bank’s public relations programs and strategic vision will determine its ability to weather this storm and emerge stronger.

As the financial community mourns, we remember Dr. Wigwe’s remarkable contributions and extend our deepest sympathies to his family and loved ones. May his memory inspire resilience and growth.

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