12 October 2012

Africa: Standard Chartered in $100m Africa Push

The emerging markets bank says it will invest over $100m in Africa over the next three years.

Standard Chartered is looking to consolidate its emerging markets dominance by pouring $100m into Africa by 2015. The London-headquartered bank says it can double its income from the continent - currently at $1.3bn, or 8 percent of total group profits - over the next five years.

The lender derives the lion's share of its revenues from emerging economies, and while peers like Deutsche Bank and Barclays fret about their balance sheets, its lack of exposure to beleaguered Western markets has left it with the cash to expand in the world's most underserved countries.

Africa isn't a new spot on the radar - Standard Chartered is already present in 15 of its countries - but it will pour more than $100m into the region over the next three years, opening 110 new branches in eight countries, among them Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria. It will also be entering fast-growing Mozambique.

At its inaugural Africa Investor Day, Africa CEO Diana Layfield said that the group is squaring up to better facilitate China-Africa trade, which hit a record high of $166bn in 2011. But it's not just about Beijing. "We see a real opportunity to capture a larger share of the increasing south-south trade links between Africa and Asian countries including India, China and South Korea," Ms Layfield said.

Investment will also be accelerated in mobile payments technology - a method of reaching the unbanked that has seen particular success in Kenya, new mortgage products, and the fast-growing Islamic finance sector. Islamic banking will be launched in Kenya, she said.

That growth also means substantial hires across the wholesale and consumer banking businesses - over 900 sales staff in the latter, the group says. The lender has already been taking on senior Chinese staff in Africa to support the booming Sino-African trade corridor, and has boosted its oil and gas, and metals and mining teams.

This isn't virgin landscape anymore. "Traditional competitors are stepping up their operations, and we are seeing an emergence new competitors too: regional banks, even some Chinese banks, and South African banks which have decided to focus on Africa as a key growth area. Those will affect the shape of the market and the returns it offers," Ms Layfield admitted.

"But even allowing for increasing competition, we should be able to at least maintain the double digit growth delivered since 2006, and more than double returns over next five years."

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