South African banks are unsurprisingly more dominant within Southern Africa than on the African continent as a whole. They fill the top six regional slots with Tier 1 capital ranging from $1.2bn up to $12bn, well ahead of their nearest competitor, Banco de Fomento Angola, with $654m.
Yet perhaps the biggest feature of our table of the Top 25 Southern African banks has been the disappearance of Zimbabwean institutions and the emergence of Angola.
Riding on the back of the 2002 peace accord and oil and gas boom, Angola has been one of the world’s fastest-growing economies over the past 10 years. Although Luanda continues to be criticised for opacity in its financial dealings and financial irregularities, some money is making its way into the non-oil economy and Angolan banks are prospering as a result.
Angolan financial institutions fill the remaining four positions in the Southern African Top 10 not occupied by South African companies, while another two feature in our Top 25. The first bank outside South Africa and Angola to feature in our table is First National Bank of Namibia, with core capital of $222m and so many times smaller than the South African giants.
While 20 Southern African banks made it into our Top 100 last year, that figure has now risen to 22 and there is certainly more strength in depth.
Barclays Bank of Botswana secures 20th position in our regional table this year, with a capital base of $141m, far above the Tier 1 capital of $76m recorded for the same ranking by Bidvest Bank of South Africa last year. Mozambican banks are making more of an impression on our table than they did even five years ago, while most countries in the region have at least one financial institution in our regional table, with the notable exception of Zimbabwe and the understandable absence of Lesotho and Swaziland.
In the middle of September, the Bank of Zambia (BoZ) announced that Finance Bank Zambia would be taken over by First National Bank (FNB) Zambia. As in Nigeria, Zambia’s central bank had been forced to step in last year to save the ailing bank, which is the fifth biggest in Zambia. The BoZ announced that FNB had been selected from a total of six applicants with a bid of K27bn ($5.4m). The two banks will initially be operated separately but will be merged at a later date.
BoZ governor Caleb Fundanga said: “The restructuring of Finance Bank, implemented as a purchase and assumption transaction, involves FNB Zambia purchasing certain assets and assuming certain liabilities. Accordingly, FNB Zambia will operate all the 34 branches, 16 agencies and 61 ATMs currently serviced by Finance Bank. As part of the transaction, FNB Zambia has undertaken to maintain Finance Bank’s existing geographic footprint across the country and offer employment to all Finance Bank staff as well as inject FDI into Zambia.”
Bad debts proportion cut
Several South African banks have strengthened their positions over the past year by reducing their bad debt books. First Rand, the third-biggest bank in Africa by core capital, recorded a 22% increase in annual profits and a 33% reduction in bad debt to R3.78bn. Chief executive Sizwe Nxasana says that the bank is still considering a move into the Nigerian market, after it pulled out of a deal for Sterling Bank in June because of valuation differences. He said: “We are looking across the board, we haven’t quite decided yet. We are looking at all opportunities in that market. Valuations are getting a bit more realistic, so there are opportunities that exist in the market.”
First Rand is looking outside Africa for investment opportunities. The company will open its first branch in India this year, in Mumbai. Chief executive Michael Jordaan said: “There we think we will bring a lot of innovation given the large percentage of the unbanked. We think that some of the things that have worked here could work there. The unbanked are said to be in the hundreds of millions. Clearly there are issues in India. One has to apply for every branch you open … so that could be a hurdle.” He added that mobile banking, which is now making inroads in South Africa, could be central to its strategy. In September, Absa reported a 65% increase in annual mobile telephone transactions. Absa Retail Bank chief executive Gavin Opperman said: “Cellphone banking adoption continues to beat expectations. In 2011, we will see transaction values of about R10bn transferred via the mobile channels.”
Under the bank’s recent deal with Vodacom, customers do not have to use up airtime by accessing banking services via the Cellphone Banking Lite brand. Just as South Asian financial institutions brought micro-credit to Africa, now African banks can cross the Indian Ocean to promulgate mobile banking.