Editor's Note: This article is part of a series of profiles of Bank Technology News' 2015 Digital Bankers of the Year.
With Africa emerging as a hotbed for digital innovation in financial services, Uzoma Dozie has separated himself and Nigeria's Diamond Bank as a leader in this transformation on the continent.
By focusing on improving the financial lives of the underbanked and capitalizing on the popularity of mobile apps and payments in the country, the $10 billion-asset Diamond Bank has achieved significant growth.
The bank's digital initiative started in January 2014, when it launched a major redesign of its website to promote more digital services for its customers.
From there, the bank has led a number of projects that have translated to rapid growth on the retail side. Internet banking subscribers grew from 1.1 million to 2.83 million; mobile app subscribers reached 212,017 from 26,000; and Diamond Bank gained 1.23 million debit account holders and 1.3 million account holders overall.
"If you look around Africa at the moment, Nigeria is the next big economy," said Chris Skinner, author of "Digital Bank" and chair of the Financial Services Club networking group in the U.K. "A lot of people think it's flaky, filled with scams, but it's quite advanced and it could be the biggest in the continent over the next decade."
According to Skinner, "a young, go-getting management team" led by Dozie, who took over as CEO in October 2014, has "reinvigorated Diamond Bank with a digital focus." Among industry experts, "the perception is that the management team is setting great goals and objectives to turn the bank into a digital leader within the next year."
Diamond Bank has attracted new customers not only by adding more digital functionality, but also by capitalizing on the large unbanked population in Africa and the growing popularity of mobile banking. This year, the bank in partnership with telecom firm MTN launched a mobile payments initiative to attract underbanked customers, including millennials. The project attracted 1.27 million customers in six months, with a deposit base of $900,000. (That averages less than a dollar per account, but that goes further than Westerners might think, with the Nigerian naira worth less than a penny.)
The bank also released an updated version of its Diamond Bank mobile app for iOS, Android, and Blackberry. The app supports bill payments, bank transactions, and even helps purchase movie and airline tickets. "Who needs a P.A.?" Dozie asks in a slickly produced YouTube ad.
Diamond Bank was also the first bank in Africa to support Apple's Touch ID fingerprint reader for iPhone 5S, 6, and 6+ devices something few US banks have implemented.
The bank has been able to make its branches more appealing for customers something that banks across the world are struggling to do. By turning branches into "digital branches," with ATMs, video screens, and tablets for customers, Diamond Bank has made its branches into places people want to visit.
However, digital reinvention can be painful. A recent report by PM News Nigeria said the bank would lay off 1,000 employees, or a quarter of its workforce. "Whenever you're creating a new bank operation, some of the older ones become redundant," Skinner said. "With a new leader at the helm, some of the previous leaderships are dismantled."
Ian Kar is a freelance writer based in New York.