Attijariwafa Bank in a Three-Horse Race to Control African Banking
The North Africa Journal : Three African banks have been racing to expand their presence in the continent. Among them is Morocco's Attijariwafa Bank, which has been facing the Togo-based Pan-African bank Ecobank and Nigeria's United Bank of Africa (UBA).
While these are the three top banks of 2008 and this year, two other banks, Morocco's BMCE Bank and Kenya's Commercial Bank are also looking for ways to compete continent-wide, though the expansion strategies does not appear to be fully formed or matured.Attijariwafa Bank entered the Senegalese banking with force, where it is currently working on merging Attijari Senegal and the CBAO, and in neighboring Mali where it took over BIM as the government of Mali undertook to privatize it. As we reported in previous issues, Attijariwafa Bank took control over five units of France's Credit Agricole in Sub Sahara Africa, reinforcing its position in Senegal with Credit du Senegal, and in Congo, with Credit du Congo, while opening up the doors of the Ivory Coast market with a 51% stake acquisition in the Societe Ivoirienne des Banques. In Gabon, Attijariwafa Bank has a substantial stake in the country's third largest bank, Union Gabonaise des Banques, and in Cameroon with the Societe Camerounaise des Banques).
With a Euro 300 million investment in its Africa venture, a bargain price according to analysts, Attijariwafa Bank is well positioned to compete with its southern rivals UBA and Ecobank. In North Africa, it has taken a lead vis-a-vis Moroccan rival BMCE Bank, which also upped its participation to 42% in Bank of Africa, but remains limited in terms of reach and resources to establish a solid strategy for a continental expansion.
Also in competition is Ecobank Transnational Incorporated, which already has operations in 25 countries. In 2008, Ecobank set up operations in Uganda and Tanzania, and inked an alliance with South Africaâ€™s Nedbank. But in relations to the competitive landscape affecting Attijariwafa, Nigeria's UBA has a much solid path to expansion, one that challenges the Moroccans directly on their own territory. The bank, which emerged following the disappearance of the French British Bank, opened a unit in London, precisely to raise money to fund its expansion. UBA Capital opened its doors in London in early February 2008 after it purchased Afrinvest, an independent investment bank.
The move of UBA has given North African rivals reasons to worry, with competition coming on their own turf. Indeed in seeking to raise capital, UBA is not just in London but it also maintains alliances in the United States, Russia and China. And it is from its London offices that it is working to finance North African companies based and operating in the Maghreb region proper. Despite UBA's efforts to enter the Maghreb markets, all the competing banks on the Africa-wide field are focusing their attention and efforts on Sub Sahara Africa instead. Just in 2008, UBA acquired a license in Cote d'Ivoire, and took over the control of the Banque Internationale du Burkina (BIB), Burkina Faso's largest bank, after Ecobank Transnational failed to acquire it. This year, UBA is likely to start operating in Senegal, although rival Nigerian bank, First Bank of Nigeria has already taken a lead there. Outside of West Africa, UBA opened five branches in Cameroon in 2008 and submitted an application to operate a bank in Gabon. As the year 2008 closed, UBAâ€™s assets in Africa amounted to more than $21 billion, with a profit of $370 million. With such resources, the bank is looking to establish a presence in 21 African markets by the end of 2009, already having licenses in 13 countries.