Category Archives: ABSA

Absa and the Spirit of Highway Africa

My first trip to South Africa was back in 2006 to attend the combination of Highway Africa, and the inaugural Digital Citizen Indaba which was Africa’s first-ever major blogging conference.  Highway Africa, billed as the largest gathering of African journalists, was run by the Rhodes University’s School of Journalism and Media Studies. It was supported by the South African Broadcasting Corporation, South Africa’s Department of Communication, Absa bank, Multichoice, MTN, South African Airways, Sunday Times, among others.

So it was a pleasant surprise this month to encounter the spirit of Highway Africa and reconnect with those  pioneer conferences. This was at a data journalism masterclass, at Enashipai Resort, in Naivasha, Kenya. Absa has been sponsoring the data class that aims to assist financial journalists to report on complex financial matters since it was a part of the two-decades-long Highway Africa that is now on hiatus.

In 2019, the classes have been held in Uganda, Kenya, Zambia and  Tanzania. Four more countries will be covered in November. The program is done in conjunction with Rhodes University and is led by Peter Verweij.

The masterclass had themes of finding and scraping data, and also analyzing, mapping, and visualizing data for presentations that enrich stories. This was done using free tools and diverse data sets to infer correlations on subjects such as sub-Saharan African debt, sovereign ratings and financial inclusion.

There were also sessions about the ongoing plans at Barclays Africa which is rebranding to Absa in twelve African countries. Barclays has been operating in Kenya for 103 years, and the bank which is listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange, remains one of the top-performing banks this year in terms of capital efficiency and returns to investors.

Top 200 Banks in Africa in 2018

For 2018, Africa Report ranked the top 200 banks in Africa by assets and revenue in a special issue of the magazine.

The list was topped by the Standard Bank Group South Africa (Stanbic) with $163 billion of assets. They were followed by First Rand and then the Barclays Africa Group with $94 billion of assets, that is rebranding to Absa. Others in the top ten were the National Bank of Egypt, Nedbank Group, Attijariwafa Bank of Morocco, Banque Misr of Egypt, Banque Centrale Populaire Morocco and the Rand Merchant Bank of South Africa.

Other notable banks in the list and their ranks are Ecobank Transnational (at number 17), the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (number 19 with $17 billion of assets), the African Export-Import Bank (27), United Bank for Africa Group (30) and Guaranty Trust Bank (37). Also, Mauritius Commercial Bank (38), BGFI Bank Group (55) and PTA Bank, a Southern African development finance institution that is nominally based Burundi (at 57). Others were Diamond Bank (63), the Arab Bank for Economic. Development in Africa – BADEA (67), the Commercial Bank of Eritrea (86 with $3.3 billion of assets), CRDB Bank of Tanzania (105), and Stanbic Bank of Uganda (157).

Kenya banks that made the list were led by KCB Group at number 46, with $6.2 billion of assets. Others that feature were Equity Bank Group (59), Co-operative Bank (76), Diamond Trust (78) , Standard Chartered Kenya (100), and Stanbic Kenya (formerly known as CFC Stanbic) (115). Commercial Bank of Africa and NIC Bank who are merging were ranked at 123 and 131 respectively, while and I&M Bank is at number 132.

The report also has some general and country-specific reports that look at opportunities and challenges that banks in different countries face. These include Nigerian banks that were hit by oil price collapses and the rise in non-performing loans. Banks there like Diamond and UBA then restructured operations and invested in digital platforms like artificial intelligence assistants to enable customers to transact.

Ethiopia is profiled as an emerging economic opportunity after its political transformation under Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed Ali with its banking sector is described as one giant cat – the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia – with many kittens (seventeen private banks including Awash and Dashen)

Also while African governments want banks to offer cheap finance to citizens, many of them are themselves competing with private sectors in their countries  for funding from banks (e.g. risk-free loans to the Ghana government earn 17% for banks) while other interventions like interest rate caps in Kenya has driven millions of borrowers to turn to micro-lending apps using their phones.

You can order the 2019 ranking report here.

Societe Generale and Absa partner to grow across Africa

Societe Generale (SocGen) of France and Absa have entered two deals; one for a Pan-African wholesale banking partnership and another for the sale of selected SocGen’s businesses in South Africa to Absa. 

SocGen bills itself as the number one bank in French-speaking Sub-Saharan Africa with a presence in 19 countries, mainly in Western and Northern Africa, while Absa is in 12 countries mainly in Southern and Eastern Africa, as a rebrand of Barclays across Africa.

The partnership will be a non-exclusive one that will allow the banks to sell each other’s products and services. It will also extend to providing dedicated services to Chinese multinational businesses, leveraging on SocGen’s presence in China.

The second agreement relates to the sale by SocGen of its custody, trustee and derivatives clearing services in South Africa to Absa and will result in the transfer of clients, employees, and IT services. The deal enables Absa to re-enter the custody and trustee business. It does not include SocGen’s securities lending services which will end in March 2019 leaving SocGen in South Africa to operate corporate and investment banking.

Barclays is the fourth largest bank in Kenya while Societe General has a Kenya Representative Office in Nairobi. SocGen’s digital banking journey includes ventures in mortgages, insurance technology, and auto leasing. Another is  YUP, a mobile money wallet launched in 2017 after acquiring a stake in TagPay, that is now in four African countries and has 300,000 clients.

Barclays Kenya unveils AFMI 2018 – the Absa Africa Financial Markets Index

Barclays Kenya launched the second edition of AFMI 2018 – the Absa Africa Financial Markets Index, revealing performance improvements at a time of economic turmoil on the continent and also the addition of new countries to the index that now tracks twenty African economies.

In the time since Barclays launched the initial Africa Financial Markets Index in 2017, they have seen good engagement from policymakers striving to improve their appeal to investors through the AFMI 2018 index which measures countries across six pillars of market depth, access to foreign exchange, market transparency/regulations, capacity of local investors, macroeconomic opportunity, and enforceability of legal agreements. This year, three new countries – Angola, Cameroon and Senegal joined the index bringing the countries tracked to 20 and the country measures were also tweaked to include elements of financial inclusions and levels of investor education

The AFMI 2018 was again topped by South Africa, the most advanced financial market in Africa, followed by Botswana, Kenya, Mauritius and Nigeria. Kenya, Morocco and Seychelles all improved in the rankings while Mauritius and Namibia slipped slightly. Nigeria was credited for improving in its administrative efficiency and tax reforms. 

Jeremy Awori, Managing Director of Barclays Kenya said that emerging markets were under great pressure with currencies dropping, interest rates rising, political instability, falling commodities etc. and these highlighted how strong domestic financial markets could be used to cushion African economies from headwinds. He said that while  Kenya topped the access to foreign exchange pillar of the index, and had improved in the enforcement of  legal agreements, showing it was on a path to be a regional financial hub, there was still need to need to improve capacity of local investors, and grow the diversity of investor products. He added that Barclays Kenya was the first institution to list an ETF – an exchange-traded fund at the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) and was also providing thought leadership on international swops and global master repurchase agreements.

Guests at the launch included Geoffrey Odundo, CEO of the NSE, and Paul Muthaura, CEO of Kenya’s Capital Markets Authority (CMA). Odundo said that while the 2006-08 IPO era unlocked retail investor capital, there was much more opportunity for investors to get good returns in the secondary markets including through REIT’s and that the NSE was currently piloting on offering derivatives. Muthaura spoke of initiatives to connect investors across African investors including a pilot exchange partnership between Kenya and Nigeria, and the African Securities Exchanges Association which was looking to enable trading links between the six largest exchanges on the continent.

Anthony Kirui, Head of Markets at Barclays Kenya said the country had an array of fixed income securities, but attention needed to shift to re-opening bonds as opposed to issuing new paper. He added that there was a need to create a primary dealership and a true OTC market and to also address the reluctance from local owners to list on stock markets. Muthaura said that one factor in the lack of new listings at the NSE was due to companies, who may have been candidates for listing to get new capital, now opting for the abundant and cheap funding from banks that were flush with cash in the era of interest rate caps

In East Africa, Uganda was stable (at No. 10) on the index while Rwanda and Tanzania dropped slightly, the former due to discrepancies in the implementation of rules and the latter due to lack of capacity of local investors. Ethiopia was at the tail end of the Index due to not having a security exchange and corporate bond markets, but that is likely to change as the country pursues reforms such as freeing the foreign currency exchange rate and planning for privatization of Ethiopian enterprises.

The AFMI 2018 report was done with the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum (OMFIF) and can be downloaded from the Absa site.

Barclays Africa to rebrand as Absa Group

The journey has been a dozen years in the making but Thursday brought confirmation that Barclays in Africa would be re-branded as Absa following shareholder and regulatory approval.

The official statement from Barclays Africa on the change notes that:

  • A priority for Barclays Africa is to restore leading positions in core business areas, while expanding into new markets, enabling the group to deliver double-digit growth.
  • The Group will expand its corporate and investment banking unit to certain international jurisdictions, with offices set to open in London and later in New York, trading as Absa Securities, and offering opportunities for our clients to financial markets offshore, and providing access to corporates and institutions seeking to invest in Africa. 

Barclays is in twelve countries in Africa, including Ghana, Uganda, Zambia and Kenya and the re-brand is expected to be phased gradually.