“One of the greatest misconceptions that people have about Africa, still, is that it is too risky. What they need to realize is that risk is easily translated into opportunity,” says Bolaji Balogun, CEO of Chapel Hill Denham.Balogun set up Chapel Hill, a financial services advisory firm based in Lagos, in 2005 but with keen ambitions to develop his business into a full-service investment bank, Chapel Hill merged with Denham Management in 2008, with Balogun at the helm. He has firmly established the business as one of Nigeria’s most trusted and well-connected advisers.
“The integration process when we first merged with Denham was interesting to begin with,” he explains. “We had tripled our number of employees and our client base had become a lot more diversified: Whereas we were used to serving institutional clients, we now had to increasingly serve retail clients as well.” After quickly overcoming these initial difficulties, Chapel Hill Denham has become the backbone of Nigerian investment banking, with leading positions in M&A, debt and equity capital markets. Any risks that were initially felt soon dissipated.
Throughout his career, Balogun has proved to be a self-starter and keen business-person, stepping away from the family business and carving out his own career. By contrast, his brother Ladi has remained at First City Monument Bank (FCMB), the bank that has been owned by the Balogun family since the 1980s.
In 2001, he left FCMB to try his hand as an entrepreneur before later setting up his own investment banking advisory firm. “At the time, the family business was transitioning from a traditional merchant bank into a universal commercial bank – something I wasn’t really interested in anyway, so it was a good time to try my hand at something else,” says Balogun.
One highlight for Balogun and Chapel Hill Denham was the advisory work the investment bank did during the banking crisis that hit Nigeria in 2008. Alongside Deutsche, Balogun and his team were brought in to advise Nigeria’s central bank on the rescue and recapitalization of the failing banks. Chapel Hill Denham led the work stream leading to the formation and funding of the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (Amcon).
“In effect we saved depositors from losing N4.5 trillion [$27.7 billion] in savings – a fate that people elsewhere were not able to avoid,” he says. “We worked well with the central bank and others to ensure that the taxpayer didn’t bear the burden of the downfall. This was a massive achievement for us, pivotal to cementing faith into the banking sector in Nigeria and supporting it.”
And as part of the banking recapitalization process, in 2011 Amcon issued zero-coupon bonds for three years with a face value of N5.6 trillion – the first time zero-coupon bonds were issued in Nigeria. “Before the bonds were due to mature in December 2013, there were concerns that Amcon could default, but we successfully lead managed a landmark N3.8 trillion refinancing deal for it,” says Balogun.