The crisis over corporate governance and leadership that led to
Tanoh's departure is seen as a test case for regulators and has put
a spotlight on the integrity of financial institutions on a
continent where economies are expanding rapidly.
Ecobank named Deputy CEO Albert Essien as its new chief executive.
It also announced the reinstatement of finance director Laurence do
Rego, which was a demand by Nigeria's securities regulator, which is
investigating alleged breaches of corporate governance.
"Ecobank Transnational Incorporated today announces the departure of
Group CEO Mr. Thierry Tanoh with effect from 12 March 2014.
Effective the same date he will no longer be a director of ETI," the
bank's holding company said in a statement.
Tanoh could not immediately be reached for comment.
Tanoh's supporters have said he was under pressure because of his
drive to expose and correct abuses of corporate governance that
pre-dated his tenure, which attracted powerful enemies nervous of
what he might uncover.
Essien, who is from Ghana, has been at Ecobank for more than 20
years and rose to deputy group CEO two years ago.
The 12-member board made its decision at a meeting in Yaounde, the
capital of Cameroon, a senior bank official said. Tanoh did not
The Ivorian took the reins as CEO in January 2013, having previously
served as a vice president at the International Finance Corporation,
the investment arm of the World Bank.
Ecobank is based in Togo and has a presence in 35 African countries.
There are few other pan-African banks, and the continent's biggest
financial institutions are based in South Africa.
Under Tanoh, profits grew 56 percent in the first nine months of
last year, and his defenders said those results reflected his
But his tenure was also marked by a row over his bonus and by an
investigation launched last August by Nigeria's Securities and
Exchange Commission (SEC) after do Rego told the regulator that
Tanoh had pressured her to misstate 2012 financial results.
Ecobank denied that allegation and said do Rego had previously been
suspended in a dispute over her qualifications.
The SEC in January criticized what it said was an absence of clear
vision and strategy at the bank, inadequate transparency in
recruiting and conflicts of interest.
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It also demanded that do Rego be reinstated as a whistleblower,
something the bank said would be against Togolese law.
Last week, shareholders at an extraordinary general meeting voted to
implement reforms designed in part to answer the regulator's
criticism. In an apparent snub to Tanoh, they also told the board to
reinstate do Rego.
A senior Ecobank official played down the impact of the crisis on
"It's obviously caused people to be a bit concerned, but if you look
at the share price it is slightly down this year, but it is still
much higher than at the end of 2012," the official said.
BOARD ROOM BATTLE
Tanoh's position as CEO was undermined by a series of defections
from the board at a bank that had attracted little adverse publicity
under the long tenure of its previous CEO, Arnold Ekpe.
"This (Tanoh's departure) was just a matter of time. I expect a
positive response in terms of the market's view of Ecobank's
corporate governance," an institutional investor said, declining to
Four executives on Tanoh's top five-person committee wrote on
February 13 to interim Chairman Andre Siaka to say Tanoh should
resign to solve a crisis of leadership.
That email was sent by Essien, who was executive director of
corporate and investment banking in addition to his duties as deputy
On March 1, non-executive board member Daniel Matjila denounced
Tanoh in a letter to Siaka and the board, calling for his contract
to be terminated immediately. Matjila represents South Africa's
Public Investment Corporation, the bank's largest shareholder with
His letter had the support of two other board members, which had
amounted to a total of seven who came out publicly to oppose Tanoh
before Tuesday's meeting.
(Additional reporting by Chijioke
Ohuocha in Lagos and Tiisetso Motsoeneng in Johannesburg; editing by
Joe Bavier and Jane Baird)
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