ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Standard Bank (SBKJ.J) will partner with its biggest shareholder Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) (601398.SS) to capitalize on a Chinese investment drive into Ivory Coast and establish a regional hub in French-speaking West Africa.
“In Ivory Coast Chinese companies and the Chinese authorities have committed over $7.5 billion over the next few years to invest in infrastructure,” Johannesburg-based Standard Bank’s chief executive Sim Tshabalala told Reuters.
Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) has a 20.1 percent stake in Standard Bank, which is making its first foray into French-speaking West Africa through Ivory Coast, the world’s largest cocoa producer.
“We’re in partnership with them (ICBC) in terms of which we are in effect their Africa strategy,” Tshabalala said late on Monday in Ivory Coast’s commercial capital Abidjan, where Africa’s largest bank by assets launched a new subsidiary aimed at corporate and investment banking clients.
A post civil war economic boom in Ivory Coast, which makes up around 40 percent of the economy of the eight-nation West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU), has been driven by major infrastructure investments and is increasingly drawing the attention of China.
While Chinese entities bring their own financing to projects in Africa, the deals offer opportunities for Standard Bank to mobilize financing for African partners.
“The Chinese always want you to contribute. So they’re not only going to give gifts. In deals, we will either get involved in club loans or syndications,” Tshabalala said.
Before its Ivory Coast launch, Standard Bank already operated in 19 African markets, including Nigeria and Ghana in West Africa. The new bank will serve as its hub in WAEMU, whose members use the euro-pegged CFA franc.
The expansion is part of Tshabalala’s plan since 2013 to sharpen the company’s Africa focus following a costly blunder by his predecessor, who unsuccessfully sought to transform the group into a global emerging markets lender.
Standard Bank’s businesses outside its home market in South Africa have tripled revenues from around 10 billion rand ($828 million) in 2010 to over 27 billion rand last year, and now make up roughly a third of the group’s headline earnings.
Tshabalala expects the trend to be reinforced with the move into Ivory Coast, where the group invested around 100 million euros ($123 million) in 2017 to set up Stanbic in Cote d’Ivoire.
“Banks grow off the back of GDP growth. (In Ivory Coast) you’ve got the GDP ... You’ve got the stock exchange here, equity and capital markets,” he said.
Ivory Coast’s economy has boomed in the wake of a decade-long political crisis and a 2011 civil war, expanding by an average of 9 percent between 2012 to 2016 and 7.8 percent last year.
It’s also been among Africa’s most prolific Eurobond issuers and sold 1.7 billion euros in sovereign debt - including Africa’s first 30-year bond - last month.
Tshabalala said Standard Bank planned to move into many of the areas that have proven successful across the border in neighboring Ghana, which is also a major world cocoa exporter.
“The drivers of growth will remain infrastructure, oil and gas, energy,” he said. “And agriculture remains the mainstay of the economy. Agribusiness off the back of the cocoa industry, there are massive opportunities for beneficiation.”
($1 = 12.0810 rand)
($1 = 0.8116 euros)
Additional reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly; Editing by Alexander Smith