Kenyan banks eye 1.3 billion–person Africa market

KBA says local institutions ready to support African Continental Free Trade Area.

In Summary

•KCB and Equity are some of the lenders that have made major regional expansions in recent times. 

•The Co-operative Bank also has operations South Sudan.

KBA chief executive Habil Olaka /FILE
KBA chief executive Habil Olaka /FILE

Kenyan banks are seeking a pie of the continental market by riding on the African Continental Free Trade Area(AfCFTA), sector lobby group has said.

There is an already ongoing expansion of Kenyan financial institutions into the East African region and linkages with leading financial institutions in the South, West and Northern Africa.

According to the Kenya Bankers Association (KBA), Kenyan lenders are ready to finance trade activities as the continental trade deal takes shape, as more countries continue to ratify and adopt it.

Kenya is among 40 countries that have so far ratified the deal.

The pact is expected to connect 1.3 billion people across 55 African Union member countries with a combined GDP valued at $3.4 trillion (Sh379.1 trillion).

Kenyan lenders have been on an aggressive expansion into the region through mergers and acquisitions.

Equity Group last year acquired a majority stake in the Banque Commercial du Congo, pushing its total assets to above the Sh1 trillion.

As of the end of June, its total assets stood at Sh1.119 trillion including Sh478.7 billion in net loans and advances to customers.

Equity has 337 branches across the region with operations in Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, the DRC and South Sudan and has a representative office in Ethiopia.

Kenya Commercial Bank Group has operations in Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and South Sudan represented by 354 branches.

In May, its shareholders approved the proposal to acquire up to 100 per cent of the issued ordinary shares in Banque Populaire Du Rwanda (BPR) and a 100 per cent stake in African Banking Corporation Tanzania Limited (BancABC).

“These acquisitions will give us a stronger edge to play a bigger role in driving the financial inclusion agenda in the East African region while building a robust and financially sustainable and profitable organisation for the shareholders,” said KCB Group Chairman, Andrew W. Kairu, at a recent AGM.

The Co-operative Bank also has operations in South Sudan.

 “There is no doubt that Kenyan banks are spreading across Africa. As the East African market expands, banks are also expanding. The banking sector is ready to support intra-Africa trade,” KBA chief executive Habil Olaka told the Star in a telephone interview.

He said banks originating from other regions, with operations in Kenya, will equally play a critical role in supporting continental trade by financing local and  continental businesses.

They include West African headquartered pan-African banking conglomerate-Ecobank, Nigeria's Access Bank and United Bank for Africa (UBA). From the South there is Absa and Stanbic bank.

Founded in 2018 with trade commencing as of January 1, 2021,  AfCFTA is expected to boost intra-Africa trade currently at a low of 15 per cent, compared to common markets such as the EU which is at 67 per cent.

AfCFTA is set to create the largest free trade area in the world, measured by the number of countries participating.

According to the World Bank, it has the potential to lift 30 million people out of extreme poverty by 2035, but achieving its full potential will depend on putting in place significant policy reforms and trade facilitation measures.

“The scope of the agreement is considerable. It will reduce tariffs among member countries and cover policy areas, such as trade facilitation and services, as well as regulatory measures, such as sanitary standards and technical barriers to trade,” World Bank notes.

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