In conversation: IFC’s Head of Banking, Hakan John Wilson

In conversation: IFC’s Head of Banking, Hakan John Wilson

Hakan John Wilson, a Swedish national, is a Chief Banking Specialist and Head of Banking globally for IFC, the World Bank Group’s private equity arm. IFC is the single most important private equity investor in African banking, with investments in around 200 African banks. H. John Wilson gives his forthright views on the banking industry in Africa to Anver Versi.

How do you define your job?
I have a grand title, Head of Banking; it’s a little bit exaggerated because there’s a bunch of other people, both more senior and more important in my global team of about 10 people who are all industry experts.

These are old, grey bankers who have all spent 15, 20 even 25 years in senior positions in banks in the different regions globally. My team appraises all our bigger investments.

Whenever we invest in an Equity Bank or a Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) or a Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB), the industry expert on the team comes in. We also have a lot of dealmakers who tend to be local.

I send in my global team into the bigger, more complex, more difficult, more dangerous, more risky and more promising, investments. My team might look at 150 such transactions a year out of about 1,100 that we do globally every year.

Some are easy, because there’s a lot of repeat business in banking. For example, if you make a loan to KCB, they pay it back, you make another loan, they pay it back. We also do trade finance that’s relatively low risk – but there are a lot of equity investments as well.

You look after the global business?
I look after the global business and then I help out in Africa as well, since I’m sitting in Nairobi.

Why Nairobi?
It’s one of our three hubs in Africa. We’re particularly prominent in Dakar and Nairobi and Johannesburg, so out of about 500 IFC people in Africa, 130 are in Johannesburg, 120 in Nairobi and some 80, I think, in Dakar. The rest are spread over another 20 locations. My team is global but I need people in every region.

Yes, why is your team set in Nairobi?
Because I like Nairobi. Communications are good.

You could have gone to any region?
I could sit in any of the regions and I could sit anywhere in Africa. It’s partly historical. I started out looking at Africa only, and when I took on global coverage I could have gone back to Washington but I preferred to stay in Africa.

You could have sat in Singapore, Manila, Hong Kong – closer to your bigger markets?
Yes, but I can’t for the life of me get the family to move out of Nairobi, they are very happy. But, secondly, also it’s quite central in Africa. Kenya Airways has a good hub. It’s a good place to live and I prefer Nairobi over Johannesburg.

IFC is part of the World Bank Group. What is your specific remit?
The World Bank, the banking portion of the World Bank group, deals with the public sector side and the IFC is the private equity side of it.

We have different cultures and to some extent we want to keep different cultures, but often there is overlap. For example, public issues often affect my private banks but they are really the domain of the World Bank. This is one area where we haven’t been interacting well enough.

Take infrastructure. Every infrastructure project has a big public side to it (unless it’s power generation, which you may be able to do entirely by yourself) but for everything other than that, you need to be part of a public sector discussion as well.

That’s less true for manufacturing and agriculture but it’s very much true for services within the World Bank – health and education. Private health and education interact with public health and education, so here the World Bank is now trying to become more integrated.


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Written by Anver Versi

Anver Versi, is the award - winning editor of the London - based pan-African business monthlies, African Business and African Banker, was born in Kenya but has been based in London for the last two decades.

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