Bob Diamond’s African banking venture is pumping a whooping three hundred million dollars into Nigeria’s Union Bank as it raises its stake in a bank that is now poised to climb to the very top of the financial services sector in Africa’s largest economy.
By raising its position in Union Bank of Nigeria Bob Diamond is clearly betting on the potential held by the continent’s leading economy.
Atlas Mara, launched at the end of last year by the former Barclays chief executive and his business partner Ashish Thakkar, said on Friday it had exercised an option to lift its stake in the bank from about 9 per cent to just below 30 per cent for $270m.
Mr Diamond, who was ousted from Barclays at the height of the Libor rate-rigging scandal, said that the west African deal was a “very significant” acquisition for Atlas Mara and gave the venture “established strategic market positions in three of Africa’s leading economic communities”.
The cash shell announced its first deal in March, buying southern Africa-focused BancABC – a medium-sized lender with operations in Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe – for $265m in cash and shares. It also plans to buy 77 per cent of the Development Bank of Rwanda through its forthcoming privatisation.
Mr Thakkar, Africa’s youngest billionaire, said Atlas Mara was “well on the way to becoming a leading African financial institution that will benefit from, and contribute to, the continued growth of rapidly expanding sub-Saharan Africa”.
High hopes are being attached to the potential of African banking, particularly in the sub-Saharan region, where only a quarter of the 1bn or so population have bank accounts. Less than 5 per cent of Africans have a credit card, according to industry estimates.
Atlas Mara, which floated in December, has attracted considerable financial support for its plans, launching with an initial $325m. It suffered a setback in June, however, when it failed to hit its $400m investment target for a second fundraising in six months.
Lagos-listed UBN serves retail and commercial customers in sub-Saharan Africa’s largest economy and has 340 branches across Nigeria. It held $6.3bn of assets at the end of June.
John Vitalo, Mr Diamond’s former lieutenant at Barclays who was appointed chief executive of Atlas Mara in April, said: “I am delighted that we are increasing our stake in such a storied institution.
Expanding into Nigeria has been a focal point of our strategy and achieving a significant ownership position in an institution of the size, heritage and potential of UBN represents a unique opportunity.”
Atlas Mara acquired the stake in UBN from the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria.