FirstRand on track to open bank in Ghana


FirstRand , South Africa’s largest bank by earnings and market capitalisation, hopes to set up a fully fledged bank in Ghana early next year and has R10.2bn in surplus capital to invest in its growing operations in countries such as Mozambique, Nigeria, Zambia and India.

In an interview on Tuesday after the banking group’s full-year results, CEO Sizwe Nxasana said FirstRand had received a provisional banking licence in the West African country and the regulator expected it to put in $60m as part of the capital requirements.

“We have Nigeria that now continues to grow. We have Ghana where we have a provisional banking licence. We are hoping we are going to be up and running there early next year. Mozambique is doing very well for us. It needs a bit of support.”

Asked what the plan was in Ghana, Mr Nxasana said: “We want to do everything and have a mini-FirstRand.” The group understood the Ghanaian economy and had deployed capital in the West African country’s real estate, oil and gas, ports and power industries.

The company was not actively looking for acquisitions, though.

Asked whether FirstRand was still after Nigeria’s Mainstreet Bank or Keystone Bank, Mr Nxasana was noncommittal, saying only: “The big focus is on growing our platform. We would rather focus on our own business.”

Mr Nxasana said an acquisition would be looked at only if it presented itself and met the group’s criteria. In Nigeria FirstRand runs a merchant bank and is chasing after business from small and medium-sized enterprises through FNB Commercial.

Commenting on the surplus capital held by FirstRand, Jihad Jhaveri, investment analyst at Kagiso Asset Management, said: “If management are confident that they can deploy the capital in high return on equity businesses, then we would back them. Otherwise, obviously the cash should be returned to shareholders.

“FirstRand have taken a cautious approach to investing in the rest of Africa. Over the past two years they have seen considerable success from their established African countries, and newer businesses (such as Mozambique and Zambia), and I think this will give them confidence to deploy more capital into the region.”

In its full-year results to end-June, FirstRand posted a 21% rise in normalised earnings to R18.6bn, so far making it SA’s largest bank by earnings.

In its last full year Standard Bank delivered headline earnings of R17bn in its financial year to end-December 2013.

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