Africa’s Biggest Lender Commits $2B To China This Year

Africa’s Biggest Lender Commits $2B To China This Year

Africa’s largest lender, Johannesburg-based Standard Bank this year made $2 billion in loan commitments to Chinese-owned development projects in Africa, and it plans to help Chinese entrepreneurs seek African investment opportunities in areas such as retail, China Daily reported.

Access to credit remains a challenge for many Africans, according to the “Economic Insight: Africa” report by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales.

The accountancy and finance group looked at the role financing can play in economic development across Africa and likely developments in the cost of financing in coming years. In 2016 rankings, Rwanda performed best in sub-Sahara for getting credit, followed by Zambia, Kenya, Ghana, Mauritius and Uganda. Rwanda made six reforms to facilitate getting credit during the 2010-to 2016 period, strengthening borrowers’ and lenders’ collateral laws.

Industrial and Commercial Bank of China is a major shareholder of Standard Bank, which means the bank can “operate on both sides of any trade” between the two countries, said Francois Gamet, CEO of Standard Bank China.

In addition to Chinese government-owned enterprises, China’s private enterprises are also becoming more positive about Africa, and Standard Bank will help Chinese entrepreneurs seek investment opportunities in areas such as retail, Gamet said.

A third of Chinese engineering, procurement and construction companies’ equipment orders with U.S-based General Electric this year are destined for projects in Africa, said Jay Ireland, CEO of General Electric Africa, according to a China News Service report.

U.S.-based G.E.’s total orders from Chinese engineering, procurement and construction companies are set to top $2 billion this year as a direct result of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, GE said.

This year’s orders are almost three times more than 2015, and around 40 percent of the equipment will be made in China, according to G.E.

In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping launched China’s Belt and Road Initiative to link vast areas for trade. The initiative brought unprecedented opportunities to companies worldwide to expand their business and access new markets, China Daily reported.

“The Belt and Road Initiative is a main reason for GE’s growth in orders,” GE China CEO Duan Xiaoying told China Daily.

In 2015, just 23 percent of African households had access to formal or semi-formal financial services, according to Making Finance Work for Africa (MFW4A):

Even where such services are available, low-income individuals and small and medium businesses may have difficulty in meeting eligibility criteria such as strict documentation requirements or the ability to provide collateral.

Those able to meet such demands may find they are still excluded from formal financial services by cost barriers, in the form of high transaction fees or substantial minimum requirements for savings balances or loan amounts.

Private-sector credit extension-to-GDP ratios reflect the extent to which banks provide capital to business, and most sub-Saharan countries have relatively low ratios. This is partly due to underdeveloped banking sectors and limited availability of private credit in these countries, according to the ICAEW report.

South Africa and Mauritius have the highest such ratios on the continent, impressive even in a global context. South Africa’s ratio is higher than the U.K.’s while Mauritius’s figure is slightly above the global middle-income. “The high ratios result from the fact that these countries’ finance sectors are more sophisticated than those of other sub-Saharan Africa countries,” according to the report.

Standard Bank’s opportunities lie in working “on the yuan’s internationalization and helping Chinese companies transform from … contractors to investors,” Gamet said.

Standard Bank’s yuan settlement business grew 180 percent year-on-year in the first eight months of 2015. Standard Bank is encouraging African importers to pay in renminbi and Chinese exporters to receive renminbi, Gamet told China Daily.

Standard Bank is highly rated by its peers, receiving 27 awards from Global Finance, Euromoney and EMEA Finance Treasury Services at the annual Sibos conference in Geneva. Sibos is an annual banking and financial conference organized by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT).

Standard Bank received awards in several categories including Best Emerging Markets Bank in Africa, Best Overall Bank for Cash Management in Africa and Best Securities Lender in Africa, The Exchange reported.