African banks expertly wield tech tools to satisfy corporate clients and draw in millions of new consumers from cities and rural areas.

Author: Gordon Platt
Cape Town, South Africa

African banks are among the most innovative and profitable in the world. In many cases, African financial institutions have leapfrogged over the delivery of services through brick-and-mortar branches, instead using mobile banking to expand rapidly.

Global Finance chose Standard Bank of South Africa as the Best Bank in Africa because of its focus on Africa and its clients as it extends best-in-class banking technology throughout the continent. Africa’s population is expected to double by 2050, when 1.5 billion Africans will be of working age. Africa also has the world’s largest cobalt and diamond reserves and 95% of the world’s platinum reserves, which are in South Africa.

Sim Tshabalala, Standard Bank Group CEO, says, “The group delivered sustainable earnings growth and improved returns [in 2018], underpinned by the strength and breadth of our client franchise.” Earnings grew 6% last year and return on equity improved to 18% , up from 17.1% in the prior year.

Standard Bank is Africa’s largest lender by assets and has a presence in 20 countries on the continent. In addition to the regional award for Africa, Standard Bank—which also operates as Stanbic Bank in some countries—won country awards in South Africa and Uganda.

Standard Bank has a strong positon in South Africa as a market leader in card products, mortgages, retail and corporate deposits. It has 48,322 employees, including 32,876 in South Africa and 14,831 in other African countries, as well as 615 international employees. Its Liberty Holdings subsidiary offers insurance and investment solutions to corporate and individual clients, as well as retirement funds across sub-Saharan Africa.

Over the past year, Standard Bank has seen successful pilot projects automate several processes formerly done by people. This includes the reporting of foreign exchange transactions to the central bank, and large parts of the process of extending credit to existing business clients. “Looking ahead, we’re optimistic about the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to vastly improve efficiency and productivity for particular processes,” Tshabalala says. “But we’re also keen to look at how to maximize the benefits of AI-human interaction. That’s where we’ll see game-changing impacts.”

Stanbic Bank Uganda posted 12% earnings growth in 2018, for a fifth-straight year of record results and a return on equity of 23.5%. Stanbic Bank Uganda has adopted a new holding company structure, which will give it more flexibility in generating nonbanking revenue, forming partnerships with emerging fintechs and optimizing its real estate holdings. The bank operates a business incubator for small and midsize enterprises (SMEs), from which 500 entrepreneurs have graduated.

The African expansion strategy of French bank Societe Generale, another multiple country award winner, differentiates it from most large international banking peers, which are gradually exiting the continent or reducing the scope of their activities, says Olivier Panis, vice president and senior credit officer at Moody’s Investors Service. “The expansion is positive for Societe Generale’s profitability prospects, which have been damaged by ultralow interest rates in Europe and challenging markets for its trading activities,” Panis says. However, the strategy will also increase the bank’s exposure to riskier and more volatile operating environments and increase the likelihood of a higher level of problem loans, he adds.

Societe Generale operates in 19 African countries, serving 3.8 million customers. “The drivers of the bank’s growth in Africa will be digitalization, local management hubs and partnerships to develop corporate banking, according to Panis. Société Générale and Absa Group plan to develop a pan-African wholesale banking offering.

Societe Generale won five Best Bank country awards in Africa from Global Finance this year. Societe Generale Benin has developed a network of 17 branches in Benin and is that country’s largest international bank. It offers retail banking as well as corporate and investment banking and global transaction banking. Pascal Bied-Charreton, CEO of Societe Generale Benin, says: “In a challenging local market, winning this award for two consecutive years is a strong sign of the recognition of the trust of our customers. The bank is committed to improve the quality of its products and services to its customers to become their preferred bank in Benin.”

Societe Generale has a large presence in Cameroon, where it has a leading corporate market share of about 20%. Last year, it introduced the bank’s electronic wallet, YUP, to increase banking inclusion. In Côte d’Ivoire, Societe Generale is the largest bank in the country and Global Finance’s choice for Best Bank. It opened five new branches last year, bringing the total to 73, and solidified its position as the country’s largest lender. Aymeric Vilebrun, CEO of Societe Generale Côte d’Ivoire, says: “This award is a recognition of the bank’s great teamwork and a source of motivation to pursue our quest for excellence and high quality of service.”

Societe Generale’s lead roles in investment banking, trade finance and foreign exchange earned it the Best Bank award for Senegal, where it has 40 branches and a 19% share of loans as well as deposits. Jean-Marc Mancel, CEO of Societe Generale Senegal, says, “It is a great honor to receive the Best Bank award from Global Finance for the second year in a row. This prize recognizes the quality of service rendered to our clients, which is a primary objective of the bank. We want to continue in this dynamic and position ourselves sustainably as a leader in the Senegalese banking sector.”

Societe Generale Guinee won in Guinea, where it has market share of 20%, for its support of major corporations that operate in key sectors of the economy, such as mining and industry, telecommunications and oil distribution. Jose Rebollar, CEO of Societe Generale Guinee, says: “Being awarded Best Bank in Guinea for a third year in a row means a lot to us. It rewards our commitment to deliver better services and products to support this now-emerging country. We keep on improving, keep on investing and keep on being innovative—simply because Societe Generale believes in Africa. The group’s new model fits so well to Guinea: The Future Is You!”

Another pan-African banking leader, Ecobank, took the Best Bank awards in Gambia and Togo. Ecobank’s pan-African platform, which extends to 36 countries, is the biggest of any bank. Ecobank offers mobile banking in many African countries through an arrangement with the French telecom Orange.

Ecobank Gambia pioneered agency banking in Gambia in March 2018. Acting in partnership with a number of retail agencies across the country, Ecobank has been able to extend services to remote areas of Gambia. The agency banking system enables Ecobank’s customers to deposit or withdraw funds from its accredited agents in their communities.

Togo is home to Ecobank Transnational, the holding company of the Ecobank Group, as well as Ecobank Togo, based in Lomé, which has 24 branches and a market share of 25%. In Togo and elsewhere, Ecobank Omni is an online platform offering a suite of online cash management solutions for corporate clients.

United Bank for Africa operates in 20 African countries and is Global Finance’s choice for Best Bank in Burkina Faso, an arid, landlocked country of 19 million people in West Africa. UBA Burkino Faso provides mobile banking services in Burkina Faso in cooperation with local telecom Onatel. It also operates 27 branches in the largely agricultural country.

Bank of Africa Mali was the first bank established by the Bank of Africa Group, which is majority owned by BMCE Bank in Morocco, and is the Global Finance Best Bank winner in Mali. It now has 62 branches and moved into its new headquarters building in the capital city of Bamako in February 2018. The Bank of Africa Group has operations in 18 African countries, plus a network in France.

Elsewhere in West Africa, Nigeria-based Zenith Bank won Best Bank honors in Ghana for its innovation and customer service. The bank opened a new head office in Accra and has 37 branches and offices in the country. It is a market leader in cross-border payments, international trade and card payments.

In Sierra Leone, Union Trust Bank was chosen Best Bank and is the only indigenous bank in the country, in which only 14% of the population has an active bank account. Union Trust Bank has opened branches in the country’s rural regions and has been in the forefront of supporting SMEs. It has managed to compete successfully with its many foreign-owned bank rivals.

Guaranty Trust Bank, also known as GTBank, is Global Finance’s choice for Best Bank in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation with 200 million people. Guaranty Trust Bank has relied on a “digital first” strategy to improve the customer experience and provide more value in its products and services. Last year, GTBank introduced Habari, Nigeria’s largest platform for music, shopping and lifestyle content.

Kinshasa-based Rawbank is Global Finance’s selection as the Best Bank in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) because of its sound financials and diverse business solutions. Rawbank is the biggest bank by assets in the DR Congo and is backed by Groupe Rawji. Rawbank has 96 branches and mini-branches. Last year, Rawbank received its second $15 million loan from the African Development Bank for lending to SMEs.

“The consistency of Global Finance’s ranking of Rawbank in first place in the DR Congo is a recognition and confirmation of our approach based on innovation and the constant evolution of our offer, as close as possible, to the needs in the field,” says Thierry Taeymans, CEO of Rawbank. “Our teams can be proud to have once again been able to bring our values to life in a challenging environment.”

In the Horn of Africa, CAC International Bank is winner of the Best Bank award in Djibouti, a country which is strategically located where the Red Sea meets the Gulf of Aden. The bank is the leading digital bank in Djibouti, serving a diverse range of customers. It opened a new customer care center this year designed specifically to serve corporate clients.

“We are the frontrunners in delivering digital banking in Djibouti. We were the first to introduce numerous services, including Internet banking and mobile banking,” says CAC International Bank CEO Ahmed Hamid Al-Dheeb. “In the trade finance space, our strong correspondent banking network helps us facilitate international trade, while economizing on the time and cost of transactions.”

Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE) is Global Finance’s choice for Best Bank in Ethiopia because of its extensive reach. CBE, the country’s largest bank, has more than 1,160 branches and holds two-thirds of the country’s bank deposits. The bank introduced a digital money-transfer service last year for remittances from Ethiopians working abroad.

Elsewhere in East Africa, KCB Bank is our choice for Best Bank in Kenya. In the past five years, the bank has attracted more than 10 million new customers through its mobile banking platforms. KCB Bank also has made corporate lending a strategic objective, and the corporate sector now accounts for more than 45% of the bank’s loan book. KCB Bank had a 22.8% return on equity last year.

CRDB Bank is Global Finance’s choice for Best Bank in Tanzania, the second-largest economy in East Africa. The bank has 231 branches in Tanzania, as well as a microfinance subsidiary and a Burundi banking subsidiary. CRDB Bank accounts for 20% of the country’s banking system assets. The bank streamlined its credit processes in 2018.

Millennium bim is the winner of the Best Bank in Mozambique award from Global Finance because of its continued strong earnings and a return on equity of 21.8% in a challenging economic environment. The bank’s network of 193 branches is the largest in Mozambique. Last year, the bank expanded its mobile banking solution through a partnership with Vodafone M-Pesa. Millennium bim is majority owned by Portugal’s Millennium bcp.

In neighboring Malawi, Global Finance’s choice for Best Bank is National Bank of Malawi, the nation’s largest commercial bank, which recently integrated its mobile banking platform with Airtel’s mobile wallet Airtel Money, to improve services and foster financial inclusion. Last November, the bank received a license from the central bank to open a development bank for SMEs.

In Madagascar, BNI Madagascar is celebrating its 100th year in 2019. The bank is a major participant in the corporate banking sector in Madagascar, an island nation off the east coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. The bank has been expanding rapidly in recent years and now has 81 branches.

Mauritius Commercial Bank, or MCB, was established in Port Louis in 1838 and is the oldest and largest bank in the country, with a network of 40 branches. MCB won the Best Bank award because of its solid financial performance and sound capital position, as well as its improving asset profile. MCB Group has operations in Madagascar, the Maldives, Mozambique and the Seychelles. It is active in project and trade finance throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

In the Maghreb region of Northwest Africa, Casablanca-based Attijariwafa Bank is Global Finance’s choice for Best Bank in Morocco, where it has 3,437 branches. Altogether, the bank operates in 26 countries, employs more than 20,000 people and has the largest branch network in Africa. The bank’s main focus is in North Africa and West Africa, but it also has become a major participant in the Central African region.

Al Baraka Bank of Algeria, Global Finance’s selection in Algeria, was incorporated as the first Islamic bank in Algeria in 1991 and has grown into one of the country’s leading banks. It is a subsidiary of Bahrain-based Al Baraka Banking Group, which has offices in 17 countries. In Algeria, Al Baraka has 30 branches. It had a return on equity of 19.37% in 2018 and its assets grew by 9%.

In Tunisia, Banque Internationale Arabe de Tunisie (BIAT) is Global Finance’s choice as Best Bank. BIAT, the country’s largest private-sector bank, reported an increase of 19% in 2018 earnings. BIAT was established in Tunis in 1976 and now has a network of 203 branches across the country. It was the first bank to be listed on the Tunisian Stock Exchange.

“Our market share of the country’s banking income, which stands at nearly 20%, supports the soundness of our strategic orientation,” says Mohamed Agrebi, director general of BIAT. “Our committed employees are the key to the bank’s success; they are experts and always ready to serve our clients and support the development of Tunisia’s economy.”

I&M Bank Rwanda is Global Finance’s selection as the Best Bank in the country  because of its customer service and solid financial results. I&M Group also has operations in Kenya, Mauritius and Tanzania. The Rwanda bank recently introduced a new core banking system and last year it received a $10 million loan from the International Financial Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group, to support lending.

Barclays Bank of Zambia, part of Absa Group in South Africa, won the Best Bank award for Zambia, where it has been operating for a century. Founded in Lusaka in 1918, the bank now has 70 offices and has digitalized its operations. Zambia is a major exporter of copper and cobalt.

“We are proud to be the recipient of this prestigious accolade for the second consecutive year, which is testament to our commitment to bring possibilities to life through the provision of world-class banking solutions,” says Mizinga Melu, managing director of Barclays Bank of Zambia. “Our agility and investment in technology has enabled our customers to enjoy products and services that are relevant to their needs. As we transition to Absa, our pledge to continue delivering exceptional banking products and services is unwavering.”

In Zimbabwe, CBZ Bank, the country’s largest, processes about one-third of Zimbabwe’s banking transactions. Founded in Harare in 1980, the bank now has 66 branches. CBZ Bank is Global Finance’s choice for Best Bank in Zimbabwe because of its strong market presence and sizable balance sheet.

FirstRand Namibia, parent of First National Bank of Namibia, Global Finance’s winner in Namibia, produced a return on average equity of 22.1% last year, despite a weak economy. FNB Namibia offers a complete range of digital services, including online banking, cell phone banking, an FNB app and mobile sites to ensure client access 24/7. The bank invests in its home market through the FNB Namibia Foundation. Namibia accounts for nearly one-third of the world’s output of diamonds. Windhoek-based First National Bank of Namibia is listed on the Namibian Stock Exchange, one of the largest stock markets in Africa.

In neighboring Angola, Banco de Fomento Angola (BFA) is Global Finance’s choice for Best Bank because of its digital innovation and name recognition. The bank processes 99% of its transactions electronically. BFA, established in Luanda in 1990, maintains a network of about 200 branches.

Standard Chartered Bank Botswana began operating in 1897 and was locally incorporated in 1975, with 25% of its shares listed on the Botswana Stock Exchange. The bank has 19 branches and two-thirds of its employees are women. It was recognized by Global Finance as the best consumer digital bank in Botswana last year. The bank has also been the lead arranger for some of the largest deals in the market.

BEST BANKS IN AFRICA 2019

Algeria Al Baraka Bank of Algeria
Angola Banco de Fomento Angola (BFA)
Benin Societe Generale Benin
Botswana Standard Chartered Bank Botswana
Burkina Faso United Bank for Africa
Cameroon Société Générale Cameroun
Côte d’Ivoire Societe Generale Côte d’Ivoire
DR Congo Rawbank
Djibouti BCIMR
Ethiopia Commercial Bank of Ethiopia
Gambia Ecobank Gambia
Ghana Zenith Bank
Guinea Société Générale de Banques en Guinée
Kenya KCB Bank Kenya
Madagascar BNI Madagascar
Malawi National Bank of Malawi
Mali Bank of Africa
Maurities Mauritius Commercial Bank
Morocco Attijariwafa Bank
Mozambique Millennium bim
Namibia First National Bank of Namibia
Nigeria Guaranty Trust Bank
Rwanda I&M Bank Rwanda
Senegal Société Générale de banques au Sénégal
Sierra Leone Union Trust
South Africa Standard Bank
Tanzania CRDB Bank
Togo Ecobank Togo
Tunisia Banque Internationale Arabe de Tunisie
Uganada Stanbic Bank Uganda
Zambia Barclays Bank Zambia
Zimbabwe CBZ Bank