When in 2019, talks were underway for one of the biggest mergers in Nigeria’s banking history, Diamond Bank CEO, Uzoma Dozie had his competencies called to question over why an almost 30 years old bank founded by his father, should end with him, the son. After the merger, the younger Dozie went ahead to launch his Digital Bank, Sparkle and has since then released several products and services, effectively silencing his detractors.
Uzoma Dozie is the first of the five sons of Pascal Dozie (PGD). He was born in England in 1969 at the time when his father was working with Greater London Development Council as a young graduate. The family soon relocated to Uganda when Pascal Dozie was contracted by the Ugandan Government as a Statistician, to work with a team carrying out an economic study in conjunction with the African Development Society Group.
In 1971, Idi Amin overthrew the elected government of Milton Obote and crisis broke out in Uganda. The family had no option but to return to Nigeria, where the country was just trying to pick life again after the war. The family settled in Yaba area of Lagos, and Uzoma started schooling.
His secondary education took him across three schools, the Lebanese Community School (LCS), Yaba; Government College, Owerri, and Command Secondary School, Kaduna.
Uzoma remembers that he did not always have things figured out, and as a child, had conflicting career interests. He was first interested in photography and for a while, it seemed like he would pursue this passion, but he changed his mind when he became a teenager and picked interest in becoming a doctor – a heart surgeon.
“In Nigeria then, you were either a doctor or an engineer. It was when we went for an open day at the University of Sheffield, where I was told that I had to spend seven years to become a doctor, that I decided to change my intended course of study.
“I later went to the University of Reading where I studied chemistry. After that, I went to the University College London to obtain a master’s degree in organic chemistry. We worked really hard to develop products that would help fight a number of diseases,” he recounted in an interview.
While his studies helped him understand analytical processes, it only left him more confused about what he was to do professionally. He was quite certain he did not want to become a chemist but went ahead to work as a sales representative for a pharmaceutical company in the UK for a couple of months before relocating to Nigeria.
Back in Nigeria, Pascal Dozie had founded Diamond Bank and was doubling as Managing Director and Board Chairman, when Uzoma returned. With Pascal’s encouragement, Uzoma decided to test the waters of the banking career and see if it would feel like home.
Uzoma got a job with Guaranty Trust Bank (GTBank) on Broad Street, while Fola Adeola was the Managing Director. He learnt a lot from working there, and gradually, banking was becoming a little more than ‘daddy’s suggestion’.
“My father wanted me to gain industry experience, but he didn’t want me to start at Diamond Bank in order to avoid favouritism as the boss’ son, and he didn’t want to protect me as well, he needed me to find my own feet and fit. I spent a year at GTBank where I learnt a lot about developing a great work culture,” he said.
Shortly after spending a year at GTBank, the June 12, 1993 election crisis and accompanying unrest rendered Uzoma jobless for about a year. Afterwards, he joined Citizen International Bank (later known as Spring Bank), where he was placed on the oil and gas desk. This was a different experience, more demanding and challenging. He had to travel a lot to oil-producing areas like Port Harcourt, where he interacted with locals over their complaints.
Uzoma left Citizen bank after a while and proceeded to Imperial College in the UK for an MBA. Upon his return to Nigeria, he joined Diamond Bank. He later became the Executive Director in charge of Lagos Businesses for a couple of years before he was appointed Deputy Managing Director in charge of Retail Banking. In November 2014, he was unanimously appointed by the Board as Group Managing Director / Chief Executive Officer.
One significant take-home Uzoma got from heading the Retail Banking Directorate was the significant gap in the market for a new approach to services for retailers, and this later became the basis for Sparkle. He also observed the kind of growth Diamond bank experienced when it partnered with and built new services and new channels with fintech solutions, and says that traditional banking system constricted growth because of the limitations to human resources.
He recalled that it took Diamond Bank 20 years with 400 branches to acquire five million customers, but the mobile platform tripled the figure in 3 years, a sign that it was time to go digital.
Long before the official announcement of the merger deal between Diamond Bank and Access Bank, the grapevine had several versions of the story. Some of these versions portrayed the merger as a failure of Diamond Bank and blamed Uzoma for destroying a bank his father started.
“We just focused on making our customers, staff, and shareholders happy. The Diamond-Access merger was smooth. Herbert Wigwe and I did roadshows to answer as many questions as possible. The Diamond Bank investors were happy about the deal they got. The deal was a sweet deal for our investors; they moved from a tier II bank to a tier I bank. There was pretty much nothing to explain to anyone,” he said.
However, what these rumours meant was that Uzoma Dozie was going to have to prove himself with his start-up – Sparkle, and so far, he appears to be doing fine.
“Keep Sparkling” was the tagline that PGD held on to at Diamond Bank, insisting that all of his staffs were ‘Diamonds’ and must stand out always. This tagline later influenced Uzoma Dozie’s choice of name for his digital bank – Sparkle.
The goal was to use Sparkle to help retailers achieve their daily objectives and scale their businesses, providing a suite of innovative lifestyle services. Other services included in the innovation include customer experience-led support services, ranging from inventory management and invoicing statements to foreign exchange services.
Powered by AI and Machine Learning, Sparkle was also built to create a dynamic community around Nigeria’s retailers and consumers, influencing purchasing decisions based on user-generated behavioural purchase data.
Sparkle partnered Visa, Network International, as well as PricewaterhouseCoopers and Microsoft, to create the platform to enhance convenience & service, and allow outside developers to contribute and build solutions. Sparkle also has a customer service chatbot called Indy, which provides users with real-time information.
Uzoma secured a banking license from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to offer financial services, and so Sparkle allowed users to make purchases online and in-person with both Sparkle physical and virtual cards. Where necessary, users can also pay bills and split payments using SparklePay which lets users send money to people without knowing their account numbers.
About this innovation, Uzoma Dozie said “Retailers and consumers in Nigeria are currently disconnected; Sparkle is building the solution around its understanding of the challenges of small businesses, which will help reduce the operational risks small businesses are exposed to in their infancy. Sparkle is a product, a community, born out of necessity for Nigeria’s retail landscape. We will connect millions of retailers on a digital platform, providing a service they can trust, that is seamless, and that allows for frictionless transactions across all activities and business services.”
The startup recently launched a new service called Sparkle Business, to provide access to various products and services for small businesses and SMEs in the region, including services like Tax Advisory/Calculations, and Payroll/Employee Management.
There are no mentions of an IPO or external funding for the Digital bank, anytime soon.
Dozie sits on the Board of Women’s World Banking; and has spoken at several events around the world on the issue of technology and financial inclusion.
Even as a banker, he had developed an interest in the tech space, and launched TechFest in 2018 to bring together leading dignitaries of Nigeria’s technology and business sectors. He showcases tech start-up CEOs and founders in Tech Turks, his online TV show where he discusses opportunities and challenges in the tech industry.
Uzoma Dozie has also founded an angel fund called Black Knight, through which he has invested in a number of Nigerian technology start-ups. According to Uzoma, Black Knights is taking a long-term approach to investing in Nigerian enterprises by providing them with access to funding, access to market, access to business advice and mentorship, and creating a community of entrepreneurs.
As the son of PGD, the busy economic consultant and later on Founder, Uzoma recalled that he did not see much of his father, but when PGD was around, he would tell them stories.
“We learnt a lot about decision making, speed, and risk from our parents. I remember how my father took an early bet on MTN Nigeria and I don’t need to tell you how successful it is now,” Uzoma said.
He also noted that his mother’s advice on being transparent is one he has adopted in several trying situations as a Chief Executive. “My mother taught us to be open; if you fail, don’t hide it. She would tell everyone, ‘Look at my son, he failed in school’ and that would kill all the rumours. Transparency removes uncertainty, so you own the story.”