Nana Esi Idun-Arkhurst: A Role Model for Black Women in Business and Leadership

The 10 Most Influential Black Corporate Women to Watch in 2023

The hallmark of excellent leadership is unmistakable. It’s recognizing when a meeting isn’t necessary and cancelling it. It entrusts most tasks to the team while taking charge of critical decisions when necessary. Ultimately, excellent leaders know when to intervene, when to step aside, and when to relinquish control completely. Nana Esi Idun-Arkhurst, the Divisional Director of Retail Banking at Fidelity Bank, has an innate understanding of these principles, so she has been recognized as one of “The 10 Most Influential Black Corporate Women to Watch in 2023.” This chronicle sheds light on the seasoned trailblazer’s formative years, professional trajectory, and notable accomplishments while capturing her valuable insights.

According to Nana, success is a personal and subjective concept. She contends that there is no universal definition of success, as it varies from person to person and evolves throughout one’s life. The ingenious lady emphasizes the importance of identifying one’s priorities, setting ambitious goals, and diligently trying to achieve them.

Nana’s Impressive Contributions to Financial Inclusion and Digital Transformation

When asked about her contribution to the financial services industry, Nana Esi Idun-Arkhurst conveys that under her leadership, Fidelity Bank had onboarded several strategic partnerships and co-created various blended-finance structures and programs to support vertical markets in multiple sectors, with a particular emphasis on initiatives to support young entrepreneurs and SMEs. Additionally, she has championed the growth of its retail network, which currently consists of 74 branches, 9 SME Banking Hubs, and over 5,000 Agents who serve over 2 million customers with innovative products and solutions. Furthermore, the Bank has ensured that many under-banked and unbanked Ghanaians have been included in the financial ecosystem.

The Divisional Director further reports that the Bank pursued a Digital Transformation Agenda to drive inclusion by leveraging technology and digital platforms. She is currently the Chairperson of the Culture and Mindset Workstream, which focuses on improving the mindset and instilling the right culture among bank staff to drive customer centricity.

As Board Chair of Sanlam Life Insurance Ghana LTD, Nana helped steer the organization through several key milestones and transitions, including an acquisition, regulatory recapitalization, and rebranding process. Currently, she is aiding in charting their roadmap through the government’s ongoing Domestic Debt Exchange Program to ensure that the company maintains its growth trajectory and remains on course to attain its vision to be among the country’s top 5 insurance companies within the next 5 years.

Differentiating Fidelity Bank Ghana LTD and Sanlam Life Insurance Ghana LTD in Their Respective Industries

Fidelity Bank Ghana Limited and Sanlam Life Insurance Ghana are two brands that operate in different industries but are associated with Nana Esi Idun-Arkhurst. Fidelity Bank Ghana Limited is a privately-owned indigenous bank in Ghana, while Sanlam Life Insurance Ghana is a specialist life insurance business.

Fidelity Bank Ghana Limited is known for delivering an exceptional customer experience through bespoke products, services, and initiatives. It offers tailor-made products customized to meet the specific needs of various segments of the Ghanaian Banking populace. The Bank is big on innovation, technology, and customer experience. This ethos has led to the roll-out of a series of market leading and fit-for purpose products, including their leading Inclusive Banking proposition for the unbanked and under-banked.

On the other hand, Sanlam Life Insurance Ghana is a client-led business with purpose to empower generations to be financially confident, secure and prosperous. The business is focused on offering society-first life insurance solutions to individuals, the informal sector, companies, and groups. Their solutions are tailored to client segment needs and are driven by an obsession with customers founded on the firm belief that “we all deserve an equal chance to live a better life.”

From Chemical Engineering to Banking and Beyond: Nana Esi Idun-Arkhurst’s Professional Journey

Without mincing words, Nana Esi Idun-Arkhurst is candid about disseminating how she was during her formative years.

“Mine has been a journey of exploration and self-discovery. I wasn’t one of those kids who would say, ‘ I want to be a lawyer, or a doctor, teacher etc.’ I was very curious and adventurous academically and moved along the path according to my strengths and interests.”

Scholastically, she expanded into uncharted terrain, making the most of her many talents. She began her educational career as a nerd and earned a BSc. In chemical engineering from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology.

For her, one of the courses she enjoyed the most during her undergrad was a third-year program in the Economics of Chemical Processes and its application in her final year project work on the Plant design for producing industrial-grade alcohol from cassava. Her research on the application of Economics in engineering opened her up to exciting career options, and she stumbled into banking with her engineering background.

Nana explains that the transition from Engineering to Banking was relatively smooth. Her engineering skills and frameworks, including the iterative process, solving from the first principle, and design thinking, are still applied in her day-to-day work. After three years in banking, she pursued an MBA at the University of Edinburgh Business School in Scotland (Chevening Scholar), which was a pivotal bridge. She had a learning curve in accounting, finance, and economics but overcame this by reading voraciously and asking many questions. She is still constantly learning and completed an executive program in Fintech, Data, and Analytics at Columbia Business School last year.

Life Before Joining Fidelity Bank

After completing her 1-year national service as a Teaching Assistant in the Chemical Engineering department at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Nana Esi Idun- Arkhurst began her banking career in 2003 as an International Graduate Associate at Standard Chartered Bank. She gained a comprehensive understanding of commercial banking through rotations in different businesses and support functions. Her international experience also allowed her to work with people from diverse cultural backgrounds during training and projects, exposing her to 18 markets.

Nana spent 13 years at Standard Chartered, working in various roles in SME Banking, Products, Strategy, and Wealth Management. Her last position was Regional Head of Bancassurance, Africa, where she developed and implemented innovative strategies to establish the bank as a Bancassurance leader across eight African markets.

Overcoming Challenges as a Female Leader

In a male-dominated industry, female leaders often face significant challenges. Nana Esi Idun-Arkhurst was no exception. Initially, she struggled to find her voice at the table as the youngest, only female, or both. She pushed herself to understand her business thoroughly and ask relevant questions to overcome this.

Throughout her career, Nana has been fortunate to work with fantastic, mostly male bosses who have influenced her leadership style. She has also had the chance to work directly and follow closely female role models who have risen to the highest levels in the industry. However, she has been challenged to lead in cultural settings where women are perceived as followers rather than leaders. Over the years, through her experiences, the resolute leader discovers that early team alignment, buy-in, assertiveness, and boundary setting are imperative and allow her to steer the course without interruptions.

Insights on Overcoming Setbacks and Lessons Learned from them

“It buttresses the point that a setback is often a stepping stone to new and greater frontiers,” says Nana Esi Idun- Arkhurst.

According to this industry leader, overcoming setbacks has been integral to her professional journey. Nana believes that setbacks are a natural part of every profession and that overcoming them requires resilience and a willingness to learn and adapt. Her experiences have taught her the importance of perseverance, effective communication, and a positive mindset, which have helped her and the company grow.

Nana says:

“For me, setbacks present opportunities to sit back, re-evaluate the current situation or direction and come back stronger and better. In fact, sometimes, the most golden opportunities come disguised as challenges.”

She cites the COVID-19 pandemic as an example of how the world adapted to new ways of doing things, with digital solutions becoming the norm. Fidelity was also affected by the pandemic, which challenged the company to test its business model and realign its growth plans. Instead, they focused on their core business, adjusted to the new normal, accelerated their digitalization plans, and introduced a new work culture for employees. Despite the challenges, Fidelity achieved record growth in the year of Covid. Sanlam also faced economic difficulties, with currency depreciation and inflation impacting disposable income and insurance uptake. However, the company survived and thrived by staying focused and seizing growth opportunities. Nana articulates:

“In a crisis, we stay focused and optimize opportunities as we learn, unlearn, and relearn as a business.”

The Evolution of Financial Services in Ghana: A Changing Landscape

Nana has been heedful of the transmuting terrain and observes that in recent years, the financial services sector in Ghana has undergone significant evolutions, transforming how Ghanaians bank, invest and insure themselves. These changes are driven by various factors, including customer behavior, technological advancements, and regulatory reforms, which have all been accelerated by the outbreak of COVID-19.

Mobile technology has revolutionized how Ghanaians access financial services, making banking and insurance more accessible, convenient, and affordable. It has increased competition from Telcos and Fintechs, who are vying for the customer’s wallet, forcing banks and insurance companies to adopt innovative strategies to stay relevant.

Furthermore, Ghanaians have become more sophisticated and demanding about the kind of experience offered by financial services providers, forcing companies to re-evaluate their business models and focus on customer-centric approaches.

In addition to the evolving customer landscape, regulatory regimes around market conduct, disclosure and transparency, data protection, cybersecurity, and emerging trends have become more complex. It has led to a growing emphasis on sustainability, governance, and social responsibility, becoming a key driver for banks and insurance companies seeking to differentiate themselves in the market.

Behind the Scenes of Retail Banking: A Divisional Director’s Perspective

As the Divisional Director at Fidelity Bank, Nana Esi Idun-Arkhurst is responsible for directing and overseeing the optimal performance and operations of the Retail Banking Division. She is responsible for creating and implementing strategies to help the Retail Division of the bank achieve its goals. Likewise, she has to manage the unit’s financial sheet and income statement to ensure continuous growth, asset quality, and profitability. Her role also involves overseeing the creation and effective launch of products and services that fulfil the different needs of the bank’s customer base. She has to ensure the team is well-resourced, motivated, and capable of delivering results. Nana is also in charge of fostering solid ties with partners and major stakeholders.

Leadership Insights: Keeping Nana’s Team Motivated with a Clear Vision and Support

The Fidelity Bank’s Divisional Director considers having a visual of what success looks like as a powerful motivator. She emphasizes that as a leader, clarifying the vision to the team players and helping them understand their roles in achieving the goal is crucial. Doing so makes getting the team’s buy-in easier and inspires them to come along. Nana provides ongoing support through progress reviews and feedback to keep the flame of motivation alive.

In her dynamic leadership role, she has chalked out her personal interests clearly. Nana defines them eloquently:

“I enjoy working with young people. I initiated the establishment of the Fidelity Toastmasters club. I mentor young people and also do coaching for scholarship applications. I am an avid gardener and love traveling to new places.”

Regarding her personal motivation, Nana says she is very ambitious and self-driven, seeking to exhibit remarkable excellence, add value, and impact every stage of her career. She believes that her presence or absence on a team must make a difference, which keeps her going.

Nana-Mantra for Work-life Balance

“There is a lot to juggle between leading the Retail Banking business of Fidelity Bank, being an Independent Non-Executive Director and Board Chair of Sanlam Life Insurance Ghana Ltd, managing my home, making time for personal development, and meeting social obligations,” acknowledges Nana Esi Idun- Arkhurst.

She feels to have gotten better at balancing her job and personal life. Even though she is progressing toward her goals, she still recognizes that she has a long way to go. By being more deliberate about her time management, delegating responsibilities, asking for assistance, and outsourcing where appropriate, she has freed up more time for more value-adding activities.

Nana has also developed a more holistic approach to her physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. She is more mindful of how she expends her energy and believes that achieving work-life balance requires focusing on all these aspects of life.

Nana Esi Idun-Arkhurst on Advancing Black Professionals and Businesswomen

When asked about her message to aspiring black professionals and businesswomen, Nana Esi Idun-Arkhurst emphasizes that they must focus on three critical areas: guarding their minds, periodically evaluating their skillset, and holding onto their intrinsic values and principles.

The experienced executive elucidates that a growth mindset is essential to training the mind to overcome limiting beliefs and achieve one’s goals. Individuals can stay relevant in a constantly evolving world by regularly evaluating one’s skillset and seeking opportunities to learn and upskill. Finally, holding onto intrinsic values and principles can unleash the impetus and inspiration to overcome challenges and maintain personal integrity.

She signs off with an empowering statement:

“What you stand for becomes the North star in situations where your personal integrity and discipline are challenged. Combining the right mindset, skillset, and heartset is the winning formula for achieving your ambitions.”