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Banking: Ten years on, ICBC Standard deal starts to show its worth

In the 10 years since ICBC’s $5.5 billion acquisition of a 20% stake in South Africa’s Standard Bank Group, there has still been no bigger single China-Africa investment. Looking back now, the deal was remarkable for the speed and relative ease with which it came together. But has it worked?




Jacko Maree was puzzled. The chief executive of Standard Bank, Africa’s biggest, was attending the annual meeting of the African Development Bank in Shanghai in May 2007. Two things perplexed him, the first of them being what exactly the annual meeting of the African Development Bank was doing in Shanghai. The second was the sheer number of Chinese businessmen coming to ask him how to do business in Africa.

“I was just inundated,” Maree, who retired as Standard Bank CEO in 2013 after a 14-year stint but still serves on the board, tells Euromoney in Johannesburg. “It dawned on me that clearly some kind of instruction had gone out from the government that if you were a significant company, you needed an Africa strategy.”

This would prove to be the first step in what is still the biggest direct investment by a Chinese bank or company in Africa: ICBC’s 20% stake in Standard Bank. At the time it was the biggest single out-bound investment by any Chinese enterprise (a title now held by the ChemChina-Syngenta acquisition) and the largest single foreign direct investment into South Africa from anywhere.