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Banks face up the growth ceiling

South Africa’s big banks have first-world management, technology and systems but operate in an emerging market where growth prospects are poor and the future is uncertain. They’re seeking ways to grow without risking the bank.

It was a striking coincidence. On the same day in early July, two events were taking place on two continents that encapsulate the dilemma faced by South Africa's top banks. In Durban, South African president Thabo Mbeki, was hosting the inauguration of the African Union (AU) - outlining a vision that proposes South Africa as the powerhouse for an economic renaissance of the African continent.

Despite the unsettling presence of Muammar Gaddafi and Robert Mugabe, African leaders were pledging themselves to a new era of governance, accountability and cooperation - using the AU and the New Partnership for African Development (Nepad) to launch a drive to bring prosperity and growth to a continent racked by poverty and misery.

Five thousand miles away, in London, Stephen Kosseff - the chief executive and founder of Investec, South Africa's fifth-largest banking group - was outlining a rather different vision for his own institution.

Starting a roadshow ahead of the bank's listing in London, Kosseff was talking about the transformation of Investec into one of the world's leading specialist banking groups - with more of its assets, earnings and capital located outside South Africa than at home.

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