Chrisanthi Michaelides, the steadfast CFO behind Access Bank’s acquisition of Grobank

As the CFO, Chrisanthi has been instrumental in cementing Access Bank’s South African footprint.

To say that Chrisanthi Michaelides has been busy is an understatement. Throughout the process of the acquisition of Grobank by Access Bank, and the integration of the bank into Access Bank’s larger network, Chrisanthi has steadfastly been cementing Access Bank’s footprint in South Africa.

Access Bank is one of the largest retail banks by customer base in Africa, and, as its CFO, Chrisanthi has been trying to fit the South African subsidiary into its already existing financial framework, while making sure that rigorous financial regulation standards necessary for banking the South African market are being met, and – above all – that customers are assured of continuous service.

“It never ends, I run from one meeting to the next and try to do some work in-between,” she says. “I am constantly on the move and my brain needs to be split in two.”

Chrisanthi says turning the bank around with the resources available has been nothing short of laborious – and fruitful, as the bank is changing so fast. People, systems and the ambition to grow have been her biggest challenges so far.

She has been worried about a mosaic of things, mostly things that stem from adapting to the new set-up of Access Bank, and responding to the challenges that the organisation is going through. However, she is optimistic about the prospects of stability and long-term success, and confident that Access Bank is equipped to meet all its goals.

“Although these months have been difficult, we are trying to prepare for growth and new customers. That is our main goal – to be ready for customers when the doors open.”

Chrisanthi was appointed as the acting CEO of Access Bank at the start of September.

African integration and an African bank
Politically the African continent has been moving towards integration, with the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, a groundbreaking treaty that promises regional integration. This makes it the perfect space for a truly pan-African bank, such as Access Bank, to enter the South African market.

The treaty aims to set businesses up for a prosperous future by allowing access to one market. However, Chrisanthi says it’s not that simple: “As a bank we need to be ready to embrace the treaty, and we are thinking of ways to embrace it,” she explains.

“The difficulty with the free trade agreement is that we still have other legislation that we need to comply with such as risk and compliance,” she says. “So it doesn’t make things easier, but it is a mechanism that we need to consider for the future in addition to our already existing commitments.”

Chrisanthi thinks South Africans have a particularly adept manner of problem solving, thanks to our diverse workplaces. We are used to finding multiple ways to fix a problem, she points out, and can share that adaptability with the rest of the continent.

Chrisanthi is dedicated to problem-solving, and she wants to do so in a manner that is near perfect, so when working with teams she frequently needs to provide guardianship and corrections to people, which is not always easy. “I tell people it’s never personal, it is just about solving problems,” she says, adding that she has a deep dedication to the people in her team and a growing commitment to equity, so she’s learning to speak up for people when the issues are personal.

Finding the correct balance
Chrisanthi is a mom of two hockey-playing boys, whose ability to go to games has been hampered by the pandemic, but she says this hasn’t stopped them from being active – or hungry!

She is also an ardent advocate for education, and tells anyone who will listen to get a qualification, as it makes people competitive and ready for the job market.

When she’s not sharing her love of education or at work, she’s painting, which she says allows her to concentrate on something that is not busy, in order to pull together her thoughts. The constant buzz of leading in such a fast-paced, changing environment means it’s often a struggle to find the time for family and relaxation, but she feels strongly that we need to make the time.