February 6, 2019 / 7:35 AM / 6 months ago

UPDATE 2-Atlas Mara begins strategic review as Diamond takes a back seat

(Adds detail, share price reaction)

* Pan-African investment company appoints new chairman and CFO

* Co-founder Diamond becomes non-executive director

* Company plans to sharpen focus on digital banking businesses

* Will approach potential buyers for non-core assets

By Iain Withers

LONDON, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Pan-African financial group Atlas Mara has announced a strategic review and management shake-up to turn around its flagging performance.

Since listing in 2013, the company has lost more than 80 percent of its value, hit by a sharp economic downturn and weakening currency in key markets such as Nigeria.

It also failed in a high-profile 2016 bid for Barclays’ African banking operations in a deal that would have reunited veteran banker and Atlas co-founder Bob Diamond with a business he helped to build.

Diamond will now step down as chairman in a management reshuffle, Atlas Mara said on Wednesday as it announced the strategic review.

The investment company said the review would focus on building up businesses in digital banking and agricultural finance while tapping up potential buyers for non-core operations.

Atlas Mara shares rose more than 4 percent in early trading after the announcement.

Former Barclays CEO Diamond will become a non-executive director at Atlas Mara, having already scaled back his involvement last April after hiring South African banker John Staley from Kenyan bank Equity Group as chief executive.

Atlas Mara said Diamond would still “contribute actively” to strategy but the move would free him up to focus on his other executive roles.

Michael Wilkerson, chief executive of Atlas Mara’s largest shareholder, Fairfax Africa, replaces Diamond as executive chairman, having previously served as a non-executive director.

Atlas Mara has also appointed Muhammad ‘Omar’ Khan as chief financial officer from April 2019, when he will join the company from Commercial International Bank.

As part of its review of strategic options, Atlas Mara said it is considering the acquisition of a 35 percent stake in South African financial services provider GroCapital from Fairfax Africa to accelerate the move into digital banking.

It has retained Citigroup to assist with the strategic review. (Additional reporting by Lawrence White Editing by Simon Jessop and David Goodman)

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