Ifeoma Chalokwu’s passion for finance was ignited while studying for her undergraduate degree in Business Management, and it wasn’t long before her skills and determination led to her heading up the market risk department of Nigeria’s Globus Bank. Having decided she wanted to learn more specific financial skills, Ifeoma left her home in Nigeria for the first time to travel to London, where she is thriving at London Business School.
I did my undergraduate degree in Business Management at the University of Nigeria. After completing a couple of finance courses I realised finance was the lifeline of every business; you can have great ideas, a great product and a big product base, as either a person, a company or an entrepreneur, but everything will go down the drain if you don’t have access to finance, or you don’t know how to manage your finances. We studied the stories of companies that had grown and then died off five years later; their ideas should have lasted beyond that time, but they didn’t have access to finance, or they squandered their funding, or they were unable to manage their growth.
This really caught my interest, and I knew I wanted to go into finance as a career. After university, I went to work in the insurance industry, starting as a policy renewal officer, before moving into banking, where I went into market risk. I worked as a market risk analyst at FirstBank Nigeria before moving to Globus Bank, where I headed up the market risk department. This was an important role for me because I rose from a junior level to assume the responsibility of heading up a unit. I started from scratch in setting up the policies and the structure for the department, and I’m very proud of these achievements.
In 2020 I led Globus Bank’s Internal Capital Adequacy Assessment (ICAAP), which meant I had to understand the different risks the bank was exposed to. I only had experience in one line of risk, so I had to learn as much as possible, which was mentally challenging. Initially, the ambiguity of it all got to me. I didn’t know where to start and it was a bit overwhelming. I spoke to my mentor and she said, ‘it’s not about your level, it’s about the office you hold’. This shifted my thinking, and once I understood what was required of me I started to feel more confident and relaxed. It was amazing when the assessment was finished and I could see the results; I was so proud.
I also spearheaded and coordinated Globus Bank’s first credit rating exercise. The project was important because it was like an audit for the entire bank, which I was leading on. It’s something you don’t usually get to lead on until you’re a senior manager, so it was a big deal for me. The pressure to impress made me go all out to complete the task, and when I was leaving the bank my boss fed back to me that they knew I would always deliver on tasks I hadn’t done before. They were happy to see me grow and to support me.
I decided to study for a masters because my undergraduate degree was very general, and I wanted to learn specific, quantitative skills. I also realised that I had a knowledge gap and needed practical exposure and training. I knew I wanted to do a high quality masters that would help me grow beyond the role I already had.
When I narrowed down my choice of top schools, the selection was based on the quality of the course content. I saw that London Business School offered courses that were very practical and practitioner tailored, and that no other schools were offering the same. So for me, my major attraction to the School was the curriculum. I also spoke to some of the alumni and they told me how the programme had helped them to expand and break into other industries, which helped me make my decision. I was convinced this was the right choice for and I wanted to go for it.
Finding out I’d been awarded the MiF Merit Scholarship (LBS Fund) was emotional and overwhelming. I felt really encouraged knowing that the School believed in me. It’s something I’ll be forever grateful for; it gave me hope that I could make it here.
Travelling to London to attend School was the first time I’d ever left Nigeria. When the tyres of the plane lifted off from the tarmac, for a few seconds tears came out of my eyes because of the rush of uncertainty and fear; I was leaving my country, and what if I didn’t like it? But coming here has made me realise travel is something everyone should do. I see the way other people do things and it’s different to the things I know. So my mindset has changed; there’s been a shift in the way I talk, the way I think, the way I answer questions.
London Business School really helped me adapt to all the changes. In class there are people from many different backgrounds, so it made it easier for me to blend in. All in all, it’s been an interesting experience and I definitely don’t regret it.
My highlight of the programme so far has been the courses. I came here because I wanted quality, and every day I attend classes I know I’ve made the right choice. I’m glad I’m here; it’s everything I wanted. I’m starting to understand the principles of finance in a very practical way; the course on understanding international macro economy was particularly amazing. Every member of my family knew I was attending it because every time I spoke to them on the phone I’d tell them about it! It helped me to really understand things that had been confusing; I was able to ask questions and the lecturers explained the answers beautifully.
It’s the same with all of the other courses; the lecturers come in and give valuable lessons and structure the assignments well. The lessons are very practical, and you can relate what you’re learning to what’s happening in the industry, which is very valuable.
The support from the career centre has also been amazing; I didn’t expect to receive the depth of support I have. They’ve helped with things like checking my CV, which they’ve done three or four times through one-to-one sessions. If you have an interview coming up you can just book in time with them, to walk through your story and help you prepare what to say, how to present your achievements, and how to sell yourself. I’m very grateful because it’s helped with my recruitment and I already have an offer. I took on their advice and saw the impression it had on recruiters; one bank rang back after my interview and said I was over qualified for the internship position, and offered me a full time role. I honestly believe I wouldn’t have made such an impression without all of the coaching from the career centre.
I’ve also enjoyed the networking sessions; I’ve learned a lot from them. I’ve learned how to walk into a room and introduce myself, and stand out. The experience in its entirety has been amazing and really good value for money.
For the next step in my career, I’m thinking of transitioning from market risk to balance sheet management, which I did a bit of in Nigeria. In five years time, I think I’ll have achieved the international experience that I wanted to get when I came to London, and I’ll probably be thinking about going back to Nigeria to take on more senior roles such as Chief Risk Officer. I’d like to have a greater influence on how the financial system is managed in Nigeria and possibly have an impact on reducing the risk and increasing the rewards.
My advice for anyone considering the Masters in Finance is simple: do it. I can tell you glowing things about London Business School but you might think I’m exaggerating because I’m here and I’m an ambassador. But if you’re going to do a masters, why settle for anything less than the best? Take the chance. It might look like a scary step; it’s not something where you just wake up in the morning, pack your bags and come here. It’s a big change and a big financial commitment, but it is definitely worth it. So forget about your fears and worries and just apply.