S. African Lender Focusing On Ghana, Rethinking Kenya

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Written by Dana Sanchez

Africa’s second-largest bank by market value, FirstRand has narrowed its focus to Africa and scaled back its presence elsewhere around the world, Reuters reports.

South African lender FirstRand prefers to set up operations from scratch instead of making large acquisitions because of overstated valuations in Africa, according to the report.

FirstRand did $400 million of business in Ghana in 2013, has applied for a Ghanian banking license and is rethinking the viability of a Kenyan business, its CEO said. It also does business in Nigeria, Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania.

“We are doing a bit of market analysis … to decide whether we want to get into Kenya,
especially given that M-Pesa ( the popular mobile money service) has captured the bulk of the retail market there,” CEO Sizwe Nxasana said. “So we are trying to just figure out how do you make money in Kenya.”

The Ghana funds were used for agriculture, mining and real estate, Reuters reports. The money was a combination of corporate and investment lending, property-related investment through third party funds and the bank’s money.

FirstRand has an office in Kenya set up in 2012 to book infrastructure and project financing deals and to scout for an acquisition.

FirstRand has an Indian retail business operating in poor Mumbai neighborhoods and hoped Kenya’s position on the continent’s east coast would allow it to make a
play for the fast-growing Africa-India trade corridor, Reuters reports.

In 2011, FirstRand abandoned a bid to buy Nigeria’s Sterling Bank after the parties failed to agree on valuation. It also walked away from talks to buy a majority stake in Merchant Bank Ghana for more than $90 million in 2013.

FirstRand’s agreement to buy Finance Bank was derailed in Zambia in 2011 by a change in government.