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Awards for excellence: Setting standards for Africa

As the award of the best bank in sub-Saharan Africa category to Standard Bank indicates, South Africa remains the major driving force in introducing efficient, hi-tech banking systems across the continent.

EARLY IN MARCH, Burkina Faso made an unlikely symbolic contribution to the history of Standard & Poor's when it became the hundredth sovereign to be rated by the US agency. The rating was a by-product of an initiative launched in 2003 by the UN Development Programme to help sub-Saharan African countries secure internationally recognized ratings. And as S&P commented when it assigned the first rating under this programme, for Ghana in September 2003: "Although many of the governments rated under the new initiative will not use their ratings for immediate access to international bond markets, these ratings will help to integrate African countries into international capital markets over the coming years."

It is not just rating agencies that are looking with new-found interest at increasing integration of sub-Saharan Africa with the global financial services sector. So too are a growing number of banks. At the end of March, for example, HSBC opened its first sub-Saharan African branch servicing corporate and commercial banking customers. Richard Adcock, HSBC's Johannesburg-based CEO and group country manager, says he sees parallels between the opportunities that now lie ahead for HSBC in Africa and those that were starting to appear in Asia 60 or more years ago.

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