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Africa: Is cross-border regulation the next big problem?

As pan-African banks expand across the continent at lightening speed, experts have started to highlight the inadequacy of cross-border banking regulation. Regulatory progress is slow, while pan-African banks admit that the issue is not yet top of their priority list.

Africa map-R-600

In February, the IMF published a report identifying shortcomings in cross-border supervision and oversight of Africa’s largest banks, which continue to expand rapidly across the region. The report failed to get much notice at the time and, perhaps surprisingly, none of the leading banks in Africa made public statements on its findings.

The report is an important turning point in the current discussion of cross-border regulation in Africa. It and warns that the rise of pan-African banks could lead to increased transfer of macro-financial risks across countries and that transparency within the banking sector is on a downward trend. 

This makes for an interesting juxtaposition: as African banks are building branches and representative offices outside headquarter countries and are becoming systemically more important within African regions, they are also becoming less accountable. Gaps in consolidated supervision mean little is known about their financial state. 

The IMF has articulated its concerns just as there is an intense expansion race among Africa’s biggest banks. In July, Barclays Africa announced that it was speeding up talks to buy the operations of its parent company in Zimbabwe and Egypt.

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