At a pivotal time for the region, we draw on Euromoney’s industry commitment and understanding to witness the ambitions and the challenges of Africa’s financial leaders, bringing to life the realities of banking and finance on this continent.
Africa has come out of a difficult three years in 2017. As capital controls and sovereign defaults reared their heads after the fall in the oil price in 2014, the return of an old cycle of commodities boom and bust looked likely.
However, the basis of Africa’s longer-term outperformance was and will be structural. Recent difficulties only underline the need for technocratic state leaders who will further propel these economies and reduce their reliance on commodities.
The crisis also offers a chance for the best African banks to consolidate and declutter the sector of local and international banks that don’t add enough value to stakeholders.
The exit of Barclays is momentous in this regard.
Africa’s recent downturn was apparently not the determining factor for the sale. What is clear is that the recent European regulatory push against global banks has highlighted the deeper fact that international banks can only be useful adjuncts to the sector’s African development.
In our cover story, leaders of Africa-focused banks draw a contrast to global groups, and explain how they can serve Africa’s businesses and people better. This includes talking to those taking over the former African parts of Barclays: Morocco’s Attijariwafa (buying the Egyptian unit), First Merchant Bank of Malawi (Barclays Zimbabwe), and Maria Ramos, CEO of the newly independent 12-country South African-based lender known for now as Barclays Africa.
Much to play for
As these stories show, what makes African banking so fascinating is how much there is to play for.
Its banks are as young and entrepreneurial as its population. The African banks that have proved most successful this last decade are much newer than colonial-era firms such as Barclays.
Equity Bank, Kenya’s biggest lender by market capitalization, was only set up in 1984. GTBank, Nigeria’s biggest bank by market capitalization, is even younger; chief executive Segun Agbaje says it could eventually buy a group like Barclays Africa.
The South Africa lenders tend to be older and bigger. But they too vastly outperform most European banks’ profitability, despite South Africa’s economic lethargy.
Meanwhile, Ramos – like other South African bankers – firmly believes the long-term future will be to grow her business across Africa.
Speaking to Bob Diamond, Euromoney can fully understand why one of the world’s most famous bankers set up an African banking platform when he stepped down as Barclays group CEO four years ago. It has not been an easy time to do it, and a tentative bid for Barclays Africa last year was slightly hubristic. However, the article here shows how Atlas Mara could validate Diamond’s initial optimism, thanks to a new cornerstone investor and Nigerian acquisition.
Little wonder that Diamond will by relying on digital channels – at least in part. Nowhere else on earth is the intersection between economic and technological development so clear as in Africa – in inclusive mobile banking, it has been a world leader. Technological innovation will underpin the future financial sustainability of the regionally beneficial project of pan-African banking, according to Ecobank chief executive Ade Ayeyemi. A facilitating environment for digital banking is also key to Rwanda’s growth as an east African financial centre.
As the first edition of Euromoney Africa goes to press, there are already signs that Africa’s two biggest economies, Nigeria and South Africa, are emerging from recession.
Smaller states like Ghana and Zambia, which experienced both extremes of the last decade’s investor sentiment, have a chance to rehabilitate their reputation as Eurobond issuers. Meanwhile, Zambia’s recovery from a currency crisis is an encouragement to diversify from copper exports, says central bank governor Denny Kalyalya in interview.
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