Nigeria: Union Bank's Principal Owner 'Considering Sale of 50% Stake'

23 January 2021

Atlas Mara has received offers from local banks wishing to buy over Union Bank.

The holder of the biggest stake in Union Bank of Nigeria is contemplating its future with the Lagos-based lender, as its 49.97 per cent ownership has received acquisition offers from domestic bidders, Bloomberg has reported, citing insiders familiar with the subject.

Early interests in the shareholding of Atlas Mara, a financial services holding company, quoted on the London Stock Exchange, are coming from local banks intent on widening their reach in the Nigerian market, according to sources pleading anonymity because negotiations are still under wraps.

Atlas Mara is currently engaging financial advisor Rothschild & Co. but the deal could be consummated as an outright sale or take another direction as the landscape of a definite takeover is not yet clear.

Nigeria's biggest lender, Access Bank, is forging a deal with the firm to buy its assets in Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia, with that deal close to being delivered.

The bank said at an analyst call this week it was looking to gain traction in the financial markets of eight other African countries in a bid to leverage the potential of the continent's new free trade agreement.

Atlas Mara, based in British Virgin Islands, is paring down its size, following a growth plan that went bad in that it wrongly estimated competition in Africa when it overpaid for acquisitions.

The company's share of Union Bank, which has a market value of N161.620 billion, is its largest asset and is viewed as a strategic positioning in Africa's biggest economy.

Bob Diamond, who jointly founded the financial services group, vacated his post as chair of Atlas Mara about two years ago for Michael Wilkerson, chairman of Fairfax Africa, which wields 49% stake in the company.

Union Bank closed trade on the floor of the Nigerian Stock Exchange on Friday at N5.55 per share, up by 1.83%.

A spokesperson for Union Bank, Ogochukwu Ekezie-Ekaidem, told PREMIUM TIMES inquiries should be directed to Atlas Mara.

Atlas Mara did not respond to a PREMIUM TIMES request, via email, for comment.

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