Paul Russo, former Regional Business Director at Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB), took over as Managing Director of National Bank of Kenya (NBK) in September 2019 following KCB’s acquisition of the lender.
He was tasked with leading the bank for a two-year transitional period during NBK’s integration with KCB.
KCB had sent home all senior management at NBK after the take-over. Formerly fully owned by the state, NBK had long been marred by claims of corruption and mismanagement.
Opening up on his first year at the helm, Russo revealed in an interview published on Friday, November 20 some of the challenges he faced, including assassination fears and gun drama.
He disclosed that he received several warnings from insiders at the bank on plots against him soon after the take-over. In one instance, Russo claimed, a defaulting customer placed guns on the table in his office.
“We’ve seen guys with bad loans come here and put guns on this table and I remember jokingly saying to one of them, “By the way, in Marsabit (where Russo hails from), we carry them kwa gunia (in gunny bags).
“So, a gun is nothing to me.” This tests you but it also gives you an opportunity to transform,” he disclosed.
Russo revealed that after taking the job, he was advised to beef up security for his family.
“If I show you the notes I got from people unsolicited before I came here, you will be shocked. People asked me to make sure I am the one who gets myself tea because I could be poisoned.
“People asked me to make sure there’s nobody in the leadership team that remains because they’re all bad. Or to move offices to a floor where nobody knows me. To have armed guards in my home or change my children’s school,” he stated.
KCB Group in January made a Ksh5 billion cash injection into NBK, representing the largest such re-capitalisation in Kenya’s banking history.
Another cash injection of Ksh3 billion was made in May, in a bid to improve the struggling lender’s liquidity, to allow it to mobilize deposits and extend more loans.
KCB Chief Executive Joshua Oigara expressed confidence that NBK would turn a profit by the end of the year.
“We are seeing very good progress in the subsidiary we bought, NBK is doing well contributing significant profit. So this year we expect NBK will cross Sh1 billion in profits which is a very strong contribution,”
“The customers who had not banked with NBK the past two to three years have come back and most of them are very good clients for NBK for very many years, public sector clients. There were customers who were a bit nervous but now with capital and KCB coming in that has given them an opportunity to come back, branches are up, customer service delivery and we have seen growth in our customer numbers at NBK in the last one year,” he stated in October.
The lender has particularly been working to woo back big corporate and government accounts which left NBK for other banks during its woes.