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Africa needs international banks – and they need Africa

Absa’s efforts to establish wholesale-banking partnerships outside Africa, possibly with Barclays or Société Générale, underlines the importance of international links to African finance.


With the launch of its London office in September, Absa came up with a new slogan: “Proudly African. Truly Global. That’s Absa.” The insistence on the truth of its global nature here almost suggests it is aspirational, at least by comparison to a firm like Barclays, or indeed SocGen.

There is no replacing the on-the-ground knowledge that local operations bring to banks like Absa and SocGen. But in return, the global networks of banks outside Africa can offer access to investors and to hard-currency liquidity, which many African banks cannot achieve on their own. They might also have a more developed product offering and bigger sector teams. This is especially the case when the regional bank has a grounding in retail and is either young or newly independent, as Absa is.

Up to now, the international banks in Africa have tended to focus on corporate banking for their home-country clients, leaving local firms such as Kenya’s Equity Bank or South Africa’s First National Bank (once part of Barclays) to innovate and grow on the retail side.

Better balance

Today, SocGen’s strategy in Africa, though still heavily weighted towards corporate banking, is to target local clients by building up markets and structured finance teams.