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South Africa

BEST RETAIL BANK
Absa

BEST INVESTMENT BANK
JPMorgan

SPECIAL AWARD FOR BLACK ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT
Deutsche Bank

Absa had a super year in 2004/05. If negotiating the most important merger in the history of African banking has been a distraction to management, performance over the period doesn't show it. In the year to the end of March, Absa reported a 23.3% increase in headline profits from R4.45 billion to R5.48 billion ($828.4 million). Although diluted headline earnings rose by 18.8%, return on average assets improved from 1.55% to 1.68% and return on shareholders' equity was up from 24.6% to 25.5%

Retail banking led the charge for Absa's continued growth in 2004/05, with its customer base rising from 5.7 million to 6.9 million. "The group benefited from buoyant retail market conditions which enabled personal and commercial banking to record high earnings growth," said Steven Booysen, Absa group chief executive, when the bank's annual results were released at the end of May.

Given its Afrikaner pedigree, an especially noteworthy feature of Absa's performance in 2004/05 was the success with which it continued to roll out its retail banking services to South Africa's large unbanked black population, which was estimated in October 2004 to total about 13 million.

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