The parable of the blind men and the elephant applies to the African banking system as well. Depending on which part of the beast one examines, the feel is quite different. The financial system in Africa varies from the highly developed banking institutions of South Africa and Nigeria to the barely organized banking sector of South Sudan, the world’s newest country.

In general, state-owned banks or a few foreign banks comprise the banking sector in most African countries. The situation is changing, however, as mobile banking and the growth of pan-African banking groups provides new competition and more-efficient services. The expanding consumer markets on the African continent, with their growing middle classes, offer attractive opportunities for bankers and businesses alike. Global and regional investors are increasingly eager to participate in Africa’s growth. Despite the continent’s exposure to declining commodity prices, the expansion in many sub-Saharan economies has remained strong. Improved macroeconomic policies and more mature institutions can take some of the credit.

Many banks prefer to invest in government debt rather than lend to the private sector. More adventurous private equity firms have invested in telecoms and mining companies. The financing of small and medium enterprises is critical and is getting more attention from commercial banks and development institutions. Microfinance is popular in many unbanked and underbanked rural regions.


Standard Bank

South Africa’s Standard Bank has a clearly defined strategy of simplifying its business and narrowing its focus to the African continent. The bank’s earnings rose 15% last year, while the group’s return on equity (ROE) increased to 14.1%. Sim Tshabalala, joint CEO, says: “Underlying momentum in our business units was maintained during the year, with particularly pleasing growth evident in our subsidiaries in the rest of Africa, where 44% growth in aggregate headline earnings was achieved. We continue to use our South African scale, as well as our access to pools of capital around the world, to provide products and services that deliver value to our clients across the continent.”

Standard Bank sold a controlling stake in its London-based global markets business to Industrial and Commercial Bank of China early this year. The business includes commodities, fixed income, currencies, credit, and equities products. ICBC was granted a five-year option to purchase a further 20%. In March, Standard Bank agreed to sell its Brazilian banking subsidiary, Banco Standard de Investimentos.

Sim Tshabalala, Ben Kruger, joint CEOs

Arab Banking Corp Algeria

Arab Banking Corporation Algeria is a universal bank serving retail and commercial sectors through 23 branches. It is a subsidiary of Bahrain-based Arab Banking Corporation (ABC), which has offices in 22 countries. Algeria’s economy remains dependent on hydrocarbons. Production of oil and gas declined last year amid concern about attacks on petroleum facilities.

Noreddin Nahawi, CEO

Standard Bank Angola

Standard Bank’s Angolan unit is challenging the Portuguese banks that control a majority of the banking business in Africa’s third-largest economy. Standard Bank has ramped up its branch network quickly to take advantage of fast growth in the country, which relies on oil for 70% of government revenue. The bank’s assets increased 150% last year to $1.7 billion, and revenue rose 80%. Standard Bank Angola had one branch three years ago; it now has 27.

Pedro Coelho, CEO

Barclays Bank of Botswana

Barclays Bank of Botswana is the country’s leading commercial bank. The combination of South Africa’s Absa and Barclays to form Barclays Africa Group has created a One Africa strategy that will help customers who are expanding in Africa. It also will enable the bank to deliver more complex deals. BBB’s corporate and business banking expanded by 45% last year.

Reinette van der Merwe, managing director

United Bank for Africa (Burkina Faso)

United Bank for Africa, based in Lagos, operates in 19 African countries. Its Burkina Faso subsidiary is UBA’s largest banking operation outside of Nigeria. UBA Burkina has 26 branches, as well as leasing and brokerage affiliates. The bank’s Africard is the first prepaid Visa card in Burkina Faso.

Alphonse Kadjo, managing director and CEO

United Bank for Africa (Cameroon)

UBA Cameroon, established in 2007, has 15 branches. The bank focuses on lending to the oil and gas, telecom and agricultural sectors of the economy. Oil, lumber and cocoa are Cameroon’s main exports. The bank’s parent, UBA Group, had a return on equity of more than 22% last year.

Georges Wega, managing director

Standard Chartered Bank Côte d’Ivoire

Standard Chartered Bank Côte d’Ivoire is the only franchise of the UK bank in Francophone Africa. Standard Chartered has been operating in Côte d’Ivoire since 2001. In 2012 it began offering securities services in the country—its fourth new market for such services since acquiring the Barclays Africa securities business in 2010. Standard Chartered now offers securities services in 10 African markets.

Serge Philippe Bailly, country CEO

Trust Merchant Bank

Trust Merchant Bank offers retail and corporate banking, as well as microfinance. It is the only bank in the DRC with branches in each of the country’s 11 provinces. TMB also has a representative office in Brussels. Some 80% of the nation’s money supply is held outside of the formal banking system. The economy is based on mining (cobalt, copper and diamonds) and agriculture.

Oliver Meisenberg, CEO

International Commercial Bank (Djibouti)

International Commercial Bank (Djibouti) increased its ROE last year to 19.4% from 12.6% a year earlier. The bank’s earnings rose by 67%, as it controlled expenses and increased fee-based income. Loans and advances rose 25%. ICB (Djibouti) is one of 14 banks owned by Switzerland-based ICB Financial Group. The bank is a major lender to government agencies for infrastructure development.

Podila V.S. Phanindra, CEO

Commercial Bank of Ethiopia

Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, the country’s largest commercial bank, has 762 branches and more than seven million customers. The government-owned bank has more than 63% of all deposits in the country and accounts for 38% of all lending. It also controls 60% of the foreign exchange market. The bank recently introduced special accounts for women, which offer slightly higher than normal interest rates.

Bekalu Zeleke, president

Standard Chartered Bank Gambia

Standard Chartered Bank has been operating in Gambia since 1894. The bulk of its earnings come from foreign exchange. Remittances from Gambians living abroad have surpassed peanuts and tourism as the country’s main source of foreign exchange. The central bank expects GDP growth of 7.5% this year, following 5.6% growth in 2013.

Humphrey Mukwereza, CEO

Ghana Commercial Bank

GCB has more than 150 branches in Ghana, a country rich in natural resources and boasting one of the highest GDP per capita ratios in Africa. GCB’s earnings increased 51% during the first nine months of 2013. Ghana’s currency, the cedi, fell sharply early this year, forcing the central bank to raise interest rates and impose capital controls.

Simon Dornoo, managing director

Ecobank Guinea Conakry

Ecobank Guinea Conakry has 18 branches in this mineral-rich country. Ecobank and MasterCard have signed a licensing agreement providing access to MasterCard’s electronic payments in a further 23 African countries, including Guinea Conakry. Ecobank subsidiaries in 28 African countries are now licensed to accept electronic payments through MasterCard prepaid, debit and credit cards.

Moukaramou Chanou, managing director

Barclays Bank of Kenya

Barclays Bank is a leading bank in Kenya, with 119 branches. It has operated in the country for 97 years and is listed on the Nairobi Stock Exchange. Barclays Kenya’s earnings fell 12.7% last year, owing to a one-off payment for voluntary early retirements. Its loan book grew by 14%, reflecting increased lending to both consumer and corporate clients.

Jeremy Awori, managing director

Bank of Africa–Madagascar

Bank of Africa–Madagascar has 65 branches and accounts for about one-third of the country’s banking assets. Only about 6% of the population uses the formal banking system. Bank of Africa, in partnership with Airtel Money, began offering mobile banking services to 500 small cashew farmers in the northern part of Madagascar in 2012. Some 40% of the farmers involved in a trial program have opened savings accounts with Bank of Africa. The group operates in 14 African countries.

René Formey de Saint Louvent, managing director

Ecobank Mali

Ecobank has the largest footprint of any bank operating in Africa, with a presence in 35 countries on the continent. Mali, one of the world’s poorest countries, is beginning to recover from its recent political and security problems. The International Monetary Fund forecasts GDP growth of 6.6% in 2014, although the economy in the northern part of the country remains fragile. Ecobank Mali’s earnings rose 26% last year, while its assets were up 16%.

Coumba Touré Sidibé, director and CEO

Bramer Bank

Bramer Bank, one of the fastest-growing banks in Mauritius, saw its assets grow by 30% last year. The bank is part of the British American Investment Group, a conglomerate in Mauritius with interests in financial services, trade, healthcare, construction and tourism. Bramer Bank disclosed in February that it was holding discussions with a major African bank on a potential merger or amalgamation.

Ashraf Esmael, CEO

Attijariwafa Bank

Attijariwafa Bank has 3,197 branches, of which 2,541 are in Morocco. The bank has nearly seven million customers and operates in 23 countries. It controls nearly 40% of the lending market in Morocco. Attijariwafa has a strategic partnership with Bank of China to promote trade and investment between Africa and China. Last year Attijariwafa signed a memorandum of understanding with Qatar National Bank to jointly promote and develop business and investments in the countries where they have a presence.

Mohamed El Kettani, chairman and CEO

Millennium bim

Millennium bim is Mozambique’s largest bank, with a market share of around 35%. Portugal’s Millennium bcp is the majority owner. Millennium bim is managing a credit line of $25 million for small and medium enterprises in Mozambique. Development banks DEG of Germany and FMO of the Netherlands are providing the funds.

Manuel Marecos Duarte, CEO

FNB Namibia

FNB Namibia, a unit of South Africa’s FirstRand, is Namibia’s biggest lender by market value. It posted a 20% rise in earnings in its fiscal first half, on a similar rise in loans. Namibia is a major producer of diamonds and uranium. Its economy, which is closely linked to South Africa, is expected to grow about 5% this year.

Ian Leyenaar, CEO

First Bank of Nigeria

First Bank of Nigeria, the country’s largest bank, is expanding its footprint in Africa. In November 2013, FirstBank completed the acquisition of four banks in West Africa from International Commercial Bank. The acquisition includes 28 branches, of which 17 are in Ghana, five in Guinea, four in Gambia and two in Sierra Leone. FirstBank says the acquisitions will lead to better income diversification. The bank’s earnings rose 11.4% in the first nine months of 2013 from the same period a year earlier.

Bisi Onasanya, group managing director and CEO

I&M Bank (Rwanda)

I&M Bank (Rwanda), formerly Banque Commerciale du Rwanda, serves large corporations, small and medium-size enterprises, and individuals. I&M, a regional bank based in Kenya, led a consortium that acquired a majority of BCR in 2012. The Rwanda government maintains a 19.8% stake. In announcing the name change last December, BCR said it would have no impact on the management structure and operations of the bank other than enabling it to add new regional services.

Sanjeev Anand, managing director

United Bank for Africa (Senegal)

United Bank for Africa Senegal is part of the UBA Group, which offers universal banking in 19 countries in Africa. The group’s earnings rose 27% in the first nine months of 2013 from the same period a year earlier.

Amie Sow, CEO

Standard Chartered Bank Sierra Leone

Standard Chartered Bank has four branches in Sierra Leone, where it has operated for 120 years. In addition to its retail banking operations, Standard Chartered offers wholesale banking in Sierra Leone to multinational corporations, financial institutions and development organizations. The country’s economic growth is expected to exceed 12% this year.

Albert Saltson, CEO

Standard Bank

Standard Bank’s personal and business banking unit increased earnings by 15% last year, even as the country’s consumer confidence remained low and disposable incomes stagnated as a result of rising inflation and lower wages. The bank’s corporate and investment banking operations recorded a 49% increase in earnings in 2013. Credit impairments were substantially lower than in 2012. Corporate lending increased by 11%. Standard Bank’s Tier 1 capital adequacy ratio stood at 13.2% at the end of last year, up from 11.2% a year earlier.

Sim Tshabalala, CEO
Ben Kruger, CEO

Ivory Bank

The banking system in South Sudan is in its infancy, serving only about 1% of the population. The entire country is being built from scratch following years of civil war.

Ivory Bank is one of the first indigenous banks in the country. The Juba-based bank was the first to be granted a license by the central bank to open a branch in Khartoum, Sudan. Ivory Bank partnered with Centenary Bank in Uganda to promote trade between the two countries.

Ernest Woderif Marbaga, managing director

Faisal Islamic Bank

As the first Islamic bank in Sudan, FIB has had a profound impact on the development of Islamic finance in Sudan. In recent years the bank has seen double-digit percentage growth in assets, deposits and income and a 40% return on equity. FIB has 30 branches in Sudan.

Ali Omer Ibrahim Farah, general manager

Ecobank Togo

Ecobank Togo controls approximately 25% of the assets of the banking system. Earnings of Ecobank Transnational, the parent company of the pan-African banking group, which is based in Togo, rose 74% in the first nine months of 2013, compared with the same period of 2012. Total assets of the group reached $21.5 billion on September 30, 2013, up 16% from a year earlier.

Didier Alexandre Correa, managing director


Banque Internationale Arabe de Tunisie

BIAT is the largest private-sector bank in Tunisia. In addition to retail and commercial banking, BIAT offers capital markets services, insurance, brokerage and mutual funds. The group is also active in tourism and real estate. A recent IMF mission said the country’s growth would not exceed 2.8% this year.

Mohamed Agrebi, director general

Stanbic Bank Uganda

The country’s largest bank is part of South Africa’s Standard Bank group. In the first half of last year, the bank’s interest income declined as a result of the country’s high interest rates. Rates and inflation have since both declined. The bank, which went live with a new operating platform last October, is the largest by assets, branches, loans and deposits in Uganda.

Philip Odera, managing director

Standard Chartered Bank Zambia

Standard Chartered is the only international bank in Zambia that is listed on the Lusaka Stock Exchange. It invested $57 million in March in Zambian Energy, the controlling shareholder of Copperbelt Energy, which distributes power to the country’s copper mines. This was SC’s first investment under its $2 billion commitment to Power Africa, a program that aims to double sub-Saharan Africa’s access to electricity in the next five years.

Andrew Okai, CEO

Standard Chartered Bank Zimbabwe

The country’s largest bank by assets, SC has 25 branches. After more than 120 years of service, it says it remains committed to the country, although Zimbabwe is considering plans to force foreign banks to sell majority stakes in their local units to black Zimbabweans, which has put a damper on foreign investment at a time when the economy is struggling.

Ralph Watungwa, CEO


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