Africa’s banks bounce back after a rough year.
In March, many banks in Africa reported their 2021 annual results. Across the board, the recurring theme was a return to profitability with a bang. After the banks had witnessed their operations and books ripped apart by Covid-19, 2021 not only marked a return to near normalcy but also a bumper crop of mindboggling results.
From a global perspective, 2021 can be summarized as a recovery year, according to Sim Tshabalala, CEO of the Standard Bank Group. For the banking industry, the easing of pandemic restrictions and increased access to vaccines fueled the economic resurgence.
In South Africa, a PwC performance analysis of Absa, FirstRand, Nedbank and Standard Bank shows an average of 99% increase in headline earnings compared to 2020, attributed by the analysts to a 59.6% decline in the combined credit impairment charges. As a result, the combined return on equity (ROE) rose to 15.9% compared to 8.3% in 2020.
“Having consistently maintained robust balance sheet metrics across capital, liquidity and credit provisions, the results reflect a rebound on the back of a more supportive operating environment and the focused execution of their digitally led strategies,” says Francois Prinsloo, Africa Banking and Capital Markets leader at PwC.
Kenya witnessed a similar situation where Central Bank of Kenya data shows that the banking industry’s pretax profits for 2021 rose 72.7% to a record $1.6 billion, resulting in mouthwatering dividends for shareholders. “When we don’t need capital, we give it back to shareholders,” says Kariuki Ngari, CEO of Standard Chartered Bank of Kenya. The increased dividends came after the bank posted a 66% jump in net profits to $77.5 million.
Across Africa, banks are optimistic that the tough season is behind them. Measures taken in 2020 to build up capital buffers to ensure sound footing and preserve credit strength are now paying off. Besides, the problems of provisions for nonperforming loans (NPLs) and forced holdback in lending are no longer necessary.
Notably, banks expressed cautious optimism even with the threat of a pandemic relapse. However, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine casts a dark shadow on economic recovery. The prices of commodities, particularly oil, wheat and fertilizer, already have risen sharply due to supply disruptions and inflation.
In late March, South Africa’s central bank increased its benchmark rate by 25 basis points to 4.25%, the third such move since November, to counter inflationary pressures stemming from the war. The country imports 10% of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine.
Although Africa’s banks are alert to threats, they see a growth opportunity from the 2021 rebound. Specifically, improving and strengthening digital platforms that were central in the swift recovery will undoubtedly define the bank of the future.
Among the big-four banks in South Africa, the number of digitally active clients increased by 8% in 2021 to stand at 14.4 million against 11.8 million in 2019. “The total number of digitally active clients has been on a steady growth path since the onset of the pandemic in 2020 accelerated by changing customer expectations,” notes the PwC analysis.
As African banks reveal a return to strong profitability and look forward to an immediate future of sustained growth, Global Finance unveiled the 2022 winner of the Best Banks in Africa awards. For the winners, it was a year of proving their mettle. They were able to shake off the challenges brought about by Covid-19 with a swift bounce back.
A good example is the pan-African bank Societe Generale. With a presence in 19 countries, a network of 1,000 branches and 4 million clients, the bank is aggressively pushing to grow its market share across various markets. “Today, we remain the only European bank with a strong African ambition,” says Laurent Goutard, head of International Retail Banking for Africa, Mediterranean Basin and Overseas at Societe Generale.
Yet again, Standard Bank overcame competition from its pan-African and domestic peers to emerge as the Best Bank in Africa overall and its home market of South Africa. Emerging as the top bank on the continent comes against the backdrop of an impressive rebound for the banking powerhouse with operations in 20 countries, seven international markets and 15 million active clients.
In 2021, Standard Bank’s headline earnings bounced back by 57% from 2020 to $1.7 billion. The bank’s credit impairment charges fell by 52%, while ROE improved to 13.5%, plummeting to 8.9% from 16.8% in 2019.
The bank also witnessed impressive performance in still-volatile South Africa. “While the financial impact of the unrest on our business was limited, it disrupted our operations and knocked broader confidence,” says Standard Bank Group’s Tshabalala, adding that the bank expects to face persistent, idiosyncratic risks, particularly electricity disruptions and high levels of unemployment.
Despite the risks, Standard Bank saw its headline earnings in its home market rise by a staggering 172% to $878.5 million compared to 2020, while ROE recovered to 12.5% from 9%. The bank’s Africa regional operations remained resilient, posting $612.9 million in headline earnings. Notably, though, Southern and Central Africa remain the biggest markets in the region while West Africa emerged as a prospective growth market. The region posted $217.9 million in headline earnings and 18.3% ROE.
The need to sustain growth across the board is important for Standard Bank. In August 2021, the bank unveiled its blueprint, dubbed “2025 Ambition,” which reorganized the business into three client segments to create a more integrated and seamless delivery of services, reduce time and costs and innovate more quickly and efficiently.
This is already evident in Malawi, where Standard Bank emerged as the Best Bank. In 2021, the bank operated in a challenging environment that was characterized by a currency crisis due to a shortage of foreign currency. During the year, the kwacha depreciated by nearly 6%. Despite the problem, deploying a digitally led strategy coupled with innovations saw the bank’s total revenues increase by 31% while net profit rose by 4%.
Having strong ambitions for Africa made Societe Generale become a formidable banking group on the continent, where it is a leading bank in many countries, with large market shares. “When Africa is inventing its ways of using banking products and services, Societe Generale reaffirms its commitment to playing a key role in this transformation,” reckons the bank’s Goutard.
The bank seeks to help clients take advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Area and focused on connecting Africa with China and the rest of the world as well as further developing intra-Africa trade.
Apart from trade, Societe Generale also looks to develop infrastructure financing, support SME development and innovating finance for the agricultural and energy sectors while expanding financial inclusion. Due to its clear ambitions for Africa, the bank emerged the winner in Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Madagascar and Senegal.
For the second year in a row, Societe Generale is Best Bank in Cameroon, a market where it commands a network of 38 branches with 245,000 retail and corporate clients. Societe Generale is unrivaled in deal-making in the corporate segment, where it controls a 16% market share in loans and deposits. Last year, it carried out deals amounting to $232.6 million, including $83.1 million of consolidation/restructuring and $24.9 million of leasing.
In Equatorial Guinea, Societe Generale emerged as the top bank due to its commitment to finance critical sectors of the economy, including a clear strategy to help SMEs on their recovery journey following the devastating effects of Covid-19.
On the island nation of Madagascar, Societe Generale boasts of a firm footing. The bank controls a 20% deposit market share for retail and corporate segments and 33% and 19% loan market share for retail and corporates respectively.
In Senegal, Societe Generale won the Best Bank award. With 40 branches, the bank cultivated a niche in infrastructure funding and financing key sectors like oil and gas, mining, and manufacturing. Going forward, the bank wants to support micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).
When it comes to multicountry winners, the Bank of Africa is another pan-African institution aggressively pushing for growth. With operations in 32 countries across Africa, Europe, Asia and North America and a network of 1,800 branches, the bank adopted a universal banking model that enables it to leverage its expertise and know-how to pursue innovation, progress and excellence.
In Benin, the Bank of Africa emerged as the Best Bank. With a balance sheet of $1.8 billion and a 15.2% ROE in 2020, the bank holds a 26% market share in deposits and 24% in loans. The commanding position emanates from strategies on trade finance and SME banking supported by robust digital platforms.
In Burkina Faso, the bank built 52 branches and is a market leader in trade and SME financing. The bank aggressively seeks to grow the corporate business segment by leveraging technology and innovation.
West Africa has always been a region prone to political instability. After years of tranquility, coups and attempted coups in Guinea-Bissau, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Niger and Mali have exposed the region’s soft underbelly. Although coups often spell doom for democracy, they also risk reversing economic gains. For banks, instability creates yet another layer of challenges.
Two countries hit by successful coups are part of the 2022 awards. In Guinea, where Col. Mamady Doumbouya masterminded the coup, VISTAGUI is the country’s Best Bank. Formerly BICIGUI, the bank changed hands after Vista Bank Group acquired BNP Paribas’ majority interest in the bank. A market leader in assets that boasts a network of 22 branches and 75,400 customers, the bank is implementing a growth strategy in MSMEs, trade finance and female-focused banking.
Banque Atlantique is determined to cement its grip in Mali, where Assimi Goïta managed to stage two successful coups in nine months. The bank, which is prominent in the retail and SME market segments, is keen to increase financing of woman-owned enterprises and tapping cross-border payments.
Banco Comercial do Atlantico (BCA), which the Caixa Geral de Depósitos Group owns, controls a 30.4% market share in loans and 33.9% in deposits in Cape Verde, where it is the winner. The bank is rolling out a digital transformation strategy to help drive financial inclusion.
In Congo-Brazzaville, a new addition to the awards, BGFIBank, is the winner. Although grappling with a reputational crisis, the bank focuses on retail and SME market segments and has a deep understanding of the local market.
Bridge Bank continues to cement its leadership in Côte d’Ivoire, where it is the Best Bank for the second year in a row. The bank is implementing a five-year strategy targeting $1.6 billion in assets and $40 million in net income.
The winner in Gambia, Access Bank, seeks to tap remittances and the diaspora market, facilitating cross-border payments as part of its growth strategy. For Access Bank, also the winner in Ghana, all financial matrices point to a bank on a roller-coaster ride. In the nine months ending September 2021, the bank’s assets stood at $1 billion, revenues at $75.6 million, profits at $50.1 million and ROE at 35%. Big in retail banking, the bank in Ghana, too, seeks to tap remittances and grow the diaspora market.
For the third year running, Zenith Bank emerged to take the top prize for Nigeria. The bank has launched an artificial intelligence-powered chatbot on WhatsApp named ZiVA and is upgrading its mobile app.
Sierra Leone Commercial Bank brings in the home-country win. Majority-owned by the state, the bank is a leader in retail and SME banking and has embarked on rolling out new technologies as part of its digital transformation efforts, including mobile banking, to reach the unbanked.
Orabank maintained its leadership in Togo as the Best Bank. The bank, which boasts $1 billion in assets, is determined to increase financing of infrastructure projects after securing a $25 million loan from GuarantCo.
Yet again, Banco Angolano de Investimentos (BAI) is the Best Bank in Angola. With assets of more than $5.4 billion and 1.2 million customers, the bank controls a 15% to 20% market share in loans and deposits.
Absa goes to the head of the class in Botswana. With a network of 33 branches, the bank is strong in corporate and investment banking, riding on robust digital channels.
Malachy McAllister was appointed CEO of AfrAsia in December last year to steer the bank’s next growth phase. The Best Bank in Mauritius, which boasts a $4.2 billion balance sheet and $20 million in profits, believes that being customer-centric will drive growth in corporate, investment and wealth management segments.
In Mozambique, Millennium Bim stands out for its network of 199 branches and one million customers. It controls a 24.2% market share in deposits and 16.8% in loans. Customer service anchored on digital channels is at the heart of the bank’s growth.
FNB Namibia (The First National Bank of Namibia) emerged as the Best Bank in Namibia. The bank, which believes in diversity and inclusion, has a strong foothold in the retail and SME market segments. It controls 30% market share in loans and 29% in deposits.
The Best Bank in Zambia, Zanaco, is implementing a 2025 growth strategy to double its customer base to 5 million from 2.5 million currently.
In Zimbabwe, the winner, CBZ Bank, appointed Lawrence Nyazema as the new CEO in December, as it sought to consolidate its tight grip on the market. In 2021, the bank posted $15.4 million in profits and 53% ROE.
Banque Nationale d’ Algerie is the winner in Algeria. The bank, whose customer base stands at 3 million, revamped its e-banking services and plans to open 12 branches dedicated to Islamic finance.
Always a strong contender, Global Finance’s winner in Morocco, Attijariwafa, boasts $63.6 billion in assets, $771.4 million in operating income and $497 million in profits. The bank launched a new strategic plan dubbed @mbitions 2025.
Meanwhile, Omdurman National Bank took home the award for Best Bank in Sudan. The bank offers Shariah-compliant Islamic banking and is pushing for growth through digital channels like mobile banking.
Amen Bank, the winner as the Best Bank in Tunisia, secured a $14 million (about $14.8 million) loan from the SANAD Fund to lend to MSMEs. Part of its growth strategy is launching an Islamic finance branch.
CAC International Bank, whose balance sheet stands at $472.8 million, posted $4 million in profits and 18% ROE and is the winner in Djibouti. The bank’s Cacpay Banki offers contactless services.
Awash Bank, this year’s Best Bank in Ethiopia, is a leader in profitability, and posted $75 million in profits last year. The bank’s strength stems from its network of 566 branches, 5 million customers, and more than $2.7 billion in assets.
NCBA, the winner for Kenya, has witnessed unprecedented growth in just a few years. With $4.9 billion in assets, the bank posted 159% growth in profits for the first nine-month period of 2021 to $96.8 million. As the market leader in asset finance, it opened nine branches to grow its retail market.
Bank of Kigali, the Best Bank in Rwanda, posted $35.6 million in profits in the first three quarters of 2021. Serving 350,000 retail clients and 26,000 businesses, the bank launched a product designed for women to further financial inclusion.
The Best Bank in Tanzania, CRDB, enjoys a strong market presence with 228 branches, 3 million customers and $3.7 billion in assets. The bank cut down NPLs to 3% in 2022 from 8.6% in 2018.
In Uganda, Centenary Bank won the country’s Best Bank designation. With 2 million clients and 77 branches, it has been at the forefront of driving financial inclusion, mainly through mobile banking.
Trust Merchant Bank, which controls nearly a third of the market, takes top honors in the Democratic Republic of Congo. With a $1.4 billion balance sheet, the bank leads the retail and SMEs market segments.