Favour Femi-Oyewole: Exhibiting a Resolute Leadership Acumen in Cybersecurity

Favour Femi-Oyewole
Favour oyewale, Group Chief Information Security Officer, Access Banking Group

Outstanding leadership is the result of someone who takes great pride in bringing others along for the enriching climb up the ladder to success. This climb often leads to discoveries, advancements, and shared achievements. Achieving success in a technology management role requires more than just a fascination with the latest technology.

This is why Cybersecurity is often viewed as a technical and complex field. Few realize, however, that cybersecurity also focuses on how people work and the way they think.

Businesses do require skills like threat intelligence, network security, and incident response, but these should not be the benchmark to measure cyber leaders.

Cyber leaders always appreciate technical capabilities, but they need to be someone with an influential voice in business strategy, enterprise risk management, and technology decisions. Cyber leaders are focused on building authentic relationships across the business ecosystem alongside structuring, empowering, and growing teams.

They also maintain to translate abstract technical concepts into messages that can illuminate senior leaders both logically and emotionally and elicit their contributions. This is how Favour Femi-Oyewole, Group Chief Information Security Officer at Access Banking Group, excels as one of the proficient leaders in this niche.

In an interview with CIOLook, Favour Femi-Oyewole shared valuable facts about Access Banking Group, highlighting the significance of her staunch leadership acumen empowering advancements in the cybersecurity niche.

Below are the excerpts from the interview:

Favour, brief our audience about your journey as a business leader until your current position at Access Banking Group. What challenges have you had to overcome to reach where you are today?

I believe the journey of leadership begins with the self. Every great leader starts by consciously developing themselves into becoming an authority in whatever they do. I am a business leader, and I am also a techie; I know the techie may sound surprising. I have other post-graduate degrees, including in business, but my first degree is in a technical profession, computer science, to be precise.

As per initial foundations, you can say I am a techie, and added to this; I am also a woman. Starting my career in a technical profession and carving out a path as a computer security specialist required a good degree of determination and study, of course, both practical implementations and theoretical underpinnings. Combining this within the context of the larger activities that were fulfilled as part of living daily, I would say these conditions individuals by putting one in a rather difficult to discern inertial frame of reference.

Inertia is central in this conditioning, and it is such as to keep us from making a much greater impact than we are capable of. For example, one finds it difficult to move from impact at a techie level to leading business impacts at one stage. Another could be resting on one’s oars because of some wins.

This tendency to settle for the status quo has been the main challenge I have had to overcome each step of the way as I sought to add value and create and generate impact at every opportunity I have. Value to myself, the teams I lead, and teams led by others both horizontally and vertically in each organization I had the privilege to have been a part of both in work and non-work settings.

Overcoming the challenges of transitioning from technical specialist to business leader has been made smoother through the numerous supports received from my family, colleagues, and business leaders I had the opportunity of working with.

Tell us something more about Access Banking Group and its mission and vision.

Access Bank, a wholly owned subsidiary of Access Holdings Plc (“Access Corporation”), is a leading full-service commercial bank operating through a network of more than 700 branches and service outlets, spanning 3 continents, 17 countries, and 45 million customers.

Access Banking Group has evolved from an obscure Nigerian Bank into a world-class African financial institution. Today, we are one of the five largest banks in Nigeria in terms of assets, loans, deposits, and branch network, a feat that has been achieved through a robust long-term approach to client solutions – providing committed and innovative advice. Access Bank continued its impressive growth trend, both organically and by acquisition, and quickly became one of Nigeria’s leading corporate banks with a reputation for strong compliance, risk management, and trade finance.

Our core values are set firmly on the following Leadership, Excellence, Empowered employees, Passion for customers, Professionalism, and Innovation.

Our Vision – To be the world’s most respected African bank.
Our Mission – Setting standards for sustainable business practices that unleash the talents of our employees, deliver superior value to our customers, and provide innovative solutions for the markets and communities we serve.

Enlighten us on how you have impacted cybersecurity through your expertise in the market.

I formerly held positions as the first Chair of the Standard and Evaluations Committee and a member of Nigeria’s Cybercrime Advisory Council, both of which had the responsibility of implementing cybersecurity throughout all Nigerian industries.

The contributions at the forefront of my heart are positively impacting the African cybersecurity skillset and having professionals whose proficiency is at par with what you will find in the top cyber nations.

Through interactions and contributions, my contributions to attaining strategic objectives, increasing value, and keeping information safe have been recognized by my country and the business community. I have a leading position among the most enthusiastic and outstanding leaders of thought on cybersecurity & governance in Africa.

For example, contributions and recognitions such as Outstanding Cybersecurity Woman Leader 2020, Women in Cybersecurity Award (WiCA) by Cyber in Africa. I was the first woman in the world to win the Global Certified CISO (G C|CISO) of the Year 2017 from the EC-Council in the USA. and a member of the Global CCISO Advisory Board, EC-Council, USA.

Our core values underlie everything we do, and these are reflected in our everyday interactions at Access Banking Group. At the forefront, we can be seen leading positively in each dimension of corporate impact. We lead by taking the right steps, constantly improving, and habituation. For use, excellence becomes a habit and an effortless action.

So, through our targeted training and empowerment, our employees reflect intuitively on their passion for customers. Our customers feel the warmth of our professionalism, and mutually, we work together to grow their businesses and aspirations. The outcome is that together we grow, seek out better solutions, and drive sustainable innovation for our customers for a positive impact globally and through Africa.

Undeniably, technology is playing a significant role in almost every sector. How are you leveraging technological advancements to make your solutions resourceful?

Technology is a driving force in our business. Efficiency and the ability to reach a wider market are a few of the values we have enabled through making digital technology work for us. We understand that technology is a tool; hence, we ensure our employees are well grounded and trained so we can have the winning combination of people, processes, and technology to drive innovation and creativity.

Security is a tool, and with relevant automation, implementing solutions has become seamless. Many things can now be done with little or no supervision, thereby allowing us to maximize time and yield more positive results.

What change would you like to bring to the cybersecurity industry if given a chance?

Artificial intelligence (AI), Blockchain technologies, and Machine Learning (ML) are making it easier to make informed decisions more quickly, use cases to enhance trust, and enhanced predictive analysis; however, we would like to see greater interoperability in log data formats and its processing to reduce the man work that goes into the architecting to make it more seamless. Work has begun in this respect at a global level, but I would like to see an acceleration of these efforts.

What, according to you, could be the next significant change in the cybersecurity sector? How is Access Banking Group preparing to be a part of that change?

Advances in quantum technology promise to bring major changes, and globally there are concerns about what the massive increase in computing ability may bring. We are preparing for this both from the risk and opportunity perspective. One of our risk mitigation actions is embracing quantum-safe cryptography and creating awareness of why this needs to be considered and brought closer to the horizon. On the opportunity side, we see potential and look forward to driving greater innovation as the technology becomes more accessible.

Where do you envision yourself to be in the long run, and what are your future goals for Access Banking Group?

Making a greater impact, remaining a globally sought Cybersecurity & Information Risk Management expert, and championing the sustainable use of technology, AI, and Quantum technologies in a safe, ethical, and sustainable way. While I continue to work as an integral part of ensuring the strategy and business objectives of Access Banking Group are always achieved.

What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs aspiring to venture into cybersecurity?

My advice to them would be to never stop learning. Cybersecurity is a fast-growing field; new threats are being discovered daily. You must be at the top of your game.

Secondly, we need more entrepreneurs in cyberspace. I will encourage African entrepreneurs and skilled cyber professionals to synergize, create products, and tap into the global cybersecurity market to drive greater derivable value from an African perspective.