Nigeria: Banks rush to close universal banking models
A key part of Nigeria’s strategy to prevent a repeat of the banking crisis is the abolition of universal banking licences.
By May, banks will have had to divest subsidiaries unrelated to commercial banking, or else move to a holding company structure. The aim is to ensure a clearer separation of depositors’ funds from riskier specialist businesses, including investment banking. "There will be a new banking landscape in Nigeria of well-focused and well-capitalized institutions that are better able to manage the risks and contribute to the real economy rather than speculation," says deputy central bank governor Kingsley Moghalu.
Securities and Exchange Commission head Arunma Oteh says these regulatory reforms will help prevent market abuses. Banks, for example, have to divest their shareholder registrar businesses.
Most banks have opted for pure commercial banking licences. Only a minority has gone down the holding-company route, usually because non-commercial banking subsidies are more important for their revenues and profit.
For example, Diamond Bank sold its brokerage, registrar and investment banking subsidiaries to Africa-focused private equity firm Kaizen this summer. Guaranty Trust Bank has applied to divest its insurance business.
The central bank is ending standard N25 billion ($170 million) minimum capital requirements. Banks will now have different capital requirements, according to whether they operate regionally (N10 billion), nationally (N25 billion) or internationally (N50 billion).
This has helped, for example, the recapitalization of Wema Bank, one of the 10 banks the central bank bailed out in 2009. Wema has chosen a regional banking licence, meaning its operations are restricted to between six and 12 contiguous Nigerian states.
New licences, with lower capital requirements, are available, too, for merchant banks and for niche banks – for example, in mortgages. The merchant banking licences mean Nigeria’s boutique investment firms could raise deposits from institutional investors, if they acquire a licence.
Moghalu says he has received licence applications for standalone investment banks, but some in Lagos’ financial community question whether most of the potential applicants would have revenue and deposit-raising capacity sufficient to justify raising the minimum capital (N15 billion) for a merchant-banking licence.