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US helicopter crash robs Africa of one of its most ambitious bank chiefs

Access Bank restructures after the death of its founder who had been establishing a pan-African financial network

Following the death of the founder and chief executive of Access Bank Herbert Wigwe in a helicopter crash on 9 February, its directors moved quickly to appoint Bolaji Agbede as the new chief executive.

After working at senior levels in financial institutions for 30 years and latterly as Access's executive director for corporate support, Agbede is technically well equipped to take over but faces tough challenges in Nigeria's embattled banking sector as the government devalues the currency and tightens financial regulations. Agbede has been at Access since 2003 and was appointed as the bank's executive director in 2022.

Wigwe and his wife and son were among the six people on board when their aircraft crashed in south-eastern California's Mojave Desert en route to attending the Superbowl, the United States' National Football League blue riband final, in Las Vegas.

Wigwe founded Access Bank in 1989 and under his leadership, it has emerged as one of Nigeria's leading financial institutions over the past decade, particularly after its acquisition of Diamond Bank in 2018. That, and its development of operations in 12 countries led to Wigwe's and Access's political influence rising sharply as he built a reputation as a scion of the Nigerian banking industry (AC Vol 63 No 3, Bankers circle the presidency).

Access has bought up operations in West Africa from Britain's Standard Chartered Bank and was expanding its reach into the rest of the continent under Wigwe's leadership. He also opened an Access office in Paris, working with President Emmanuel Macron to boost Franco-African trade.

'Wigwe had a big vision to make Access Holdings Africa's biggest, with all the unquenchable thirst for acquisitions,' said Tinubu's spokesman Bayo Onanuga on X (formerly Twitter).

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