Bob Diamond, former Barclays boss and co-founder of London-Dubai’s Atlas Mara, has said big global banks are moving “off the stage” in the competition to buy financial assets on the African continent, creating an opportunity for entrepreneurial new businesses like his.
At the Financial Times Banking Summit, he pointed out that Eurozone banks had identified $1.75tn of ‘non-core businesses’ that they aim to sell as they retreat from many countries.
“For 20 or 30 years, the buyers of financial assets were always big financial companies. Basel III and ‘too big to fail’ regulation have changed that and global banks not in Africa are now off the stage and not looking at all. It is the heart of the reason we are doing this,” he said.
Atlas Mara has raised more than $600m on the London Stock Exchange to invest in African banks since Diamond quit Barclays in 2012, and the banker said he was on a mission to build the top financial company in sub-Saharan Africa “over the next five to seven years”.
This year, the firm has already invested in a 20.9% stake in Nigeria’s Union Bank, 98.7% of Botswana and Zimbabwe’s BancABC and 77% of Rwanda’s newly formed Commercial Bank.
“Do I think the universal banking model is over?” he asked. “Absolutely not: the type of universal banking model of pre-2007 will not come back, but we’re not going to do away with them.”
However, he suggested that the political mood is increasingly pessimistic towards banks that are too big to fail, or too complex to manage, and that “the separation of risk from deposits will continue.”
Atlas Mara has meanwhile been moving swiftly to correct irregularities in the lending process of its recent acquisition BancABC, citing non-performing loans (NPLs) in Zimbabwe, where 42% of the loan impairment charges were incurred in 2013, as a clear focus.
Diamond set up Atlas Merchant Capital in New York in 2013 with former JC Flowers director David Schamis, while Atlas Mara co-founder and entrepreneur, Ashish Thakkar, founded the Mara Group in Rwanda in 1996, before it was later relocated to Dubai.