Did Ecobank Grow Too Fast?

Did Ecobank Grow Too Fast?

Ecobank, whose rapid expansion to 35 African countries was considered by some to be the Pan-African Dream, needs to devote as much attention to governance as to growth, its largest shareholder said in a Reuters report in IndependentOnline.

Ecobank CEO Thierry Tanoh was ousted by the banks’ board of directors Tuesday, after months of internal division and an investigation into alleged breaches of
corporate governance by Nigeria’s Securities and Exchange Commission.

There could be signs of a slowdown in the rapid expansion that has taken the financial institution to 35 countries, Reuters reports.

Ecobank, whose official name is Ecobank Transnational Inc. (ETI), is the leading independent regional banking group in West Africa and Central Africa. Established in 1985, it also has subsidiaries in Eastern Africa, Southern Africa, and representative offices in Angola, China, Dubai, France, South Africa and the U.K.

Elias Masilela is CEO of Public Investment Corporation (PIC), a fund manager and financial services provider that owns a 18.35-percent stake in Ecobank.

PIC is wholly owned by the South African government, with the minister of finance as its shareholder representative.

“(Ecobank) grew too fast in a short space of time,” Masilela said. They needed to (take) stock at some point and (think) about internal issues instead of focusing on the expansion program only. It would seem like the expansion program preoccupied everything.”

The PIC was a vocal critic of Tanoh and called for his dismissal to prevent “the death of a pan-African dream” in a March 1 letter, Reuters reports.

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Ecobank needs to stabilize as it grows and faces a difficult challenge of integrating its investments, Masilela said. “Until it has stabilized it’s very difficult to tell where
the risk areas are.”

PIC still considers Ecobank “a very good bank with huge prospects,” despite the recent turmoil, Masilela said. “All that we need to do is to nurture it so that it delivers as expected.”

PIC’s investment in Ecobank has given it exposure to fast-growing countries such as Ivory
Coast, Uganda and Zambia as the fund manager tries to diversify beyond South Africa, Reuters reports. Ecobank is headquartered in Togo and listed in Nigeria and Ghana.

Africa largest money manager, PIC has 1.4 trillion rand ($130 billion) in assets under management and invests on behalf of public sector employees. Its top client is the South Africa-based Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF), the continent’s largest.

PIC is mandated to invest up to 5 percent of GEPF assets in other African countries, which
Masilela said would generate new business for local companies and reduce unemployment, while helping the rest of the continent to grow.

However, he said some South Africans are still skeptical of PIC. Some want it to focus on the investment needed at home in South Africa.

So far, the PIC had deployed half of the mandated 5 percent allocation in the rest of the continent, focusing on private equity, infrastructure and property investments, given the relatively small and illiquid markets outside South Africa, Masilela told Reuters.

“If you look at the capitalization of stock markets across the continent put together, they
will account for less than 20 percent of the JSE (Johannesburg Stock Exchange),” he said. “That says to us you can’t rely on listed investments.”