Ecobank: Continuing along the path to growth

AR: The global economy is uncertain at best and Africa’s prospects remain open to questions giving the continuing commodity price downturn and evidence of increasing protectionism in world markets. How likely is it in your view that we will see a return to appreciable growth in the continent’s economies? 

AA: You are right in terms of the global economy, it is uncertain. But our participation is at a very low level. So when you are at a very low level it is easy to actually grow. What we need are positive policy choices. If we make the right policy choices, if we open up our economies, if we free people up to do things, if we improve the productivity of civil service to allow greater economic activity. We have seen a lot of positive moves in some of our big markets like Nigeria, trying to open up the ease of doing business. For example, we’ve seen Togo and Ghana now opening their borders for 24 hours which has stimulated greater trade flows.

Now, we have also seen places where they are using technology to allow the collection of produce and reduce the time that things wait at the ports. So there are a lot of small things that our countries need to do that can actually enable growth to happen … we are very far from our reaching our full potential.

AR: The vision of pan-African banking has been largely achieved. But although you have first-mover advantage it is noticeable that many other African banks are following the same path. Can you retain your lead? 

AA: I think what is important is yes, we have blazed a trail, but it is not just about competition but it also about collaboration. Despite what we have done, so many Africans still remain unbanked. So many opportunities have not been translated into something that is bankable. 

Our role is to convert people’s ambition into reality using financial products, so we need to work with a lot of people, a lot of our colleagues, to make that happen. For me it is not about maintaining the lead, it’s but about bringing everybody now to bear on the situation, so that we can all as a continent move forward. 

AR: Ecobank’s problems over the last four years have included: former Ecobank chairman Kolapo Lawson clashing with the Nigerian Central Bank over unpaid debts; allegation of fraud by senior managers; and a lawsuit over the firing of ex-chief executive Thierry Tanoh. Would you say that these problems are now consigned to history? 

AA: Yes, they are consigned to history. 

AR: Ecobank’s alliance with South African bank, Nedbank, formed in 2008 received a jolt when Nedbank profits were down because of losses at Ecobank in Q4 2016. Will this have long-term implications? 

AA: I think we are all disappointed with the situation that led to the losses but also the devaluation of the Naira in the currency in which the stock is quoted, created part of the challenges we met. Having said that, the long-term – and you can hear this in all of Nedbank’s presentations, they have been very supportive throughout this period – and the logic of the relationship will continue to be strong. They have been very supportive in also trying to find business opportunities, working with customers on both sides to be able to create economic advantages as well as a relationship. 

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