Atlas Mara banks on planned digital bank to accelerate growth

Former Barclays chief Bob Diamond is stepping down as chairman of Atlas Mara, the African banking investment group he co-founded, as the company undertakes a strategic review aimed at increasing focus on core assets. The review will, among other things, see the bank focus on developing a digital bank to accelerate its core business growth and profitability across the Group.

“The process includes a review of each banking operation to ensure that top five market leadership is practicably achievable in the near term, or to explore transactions that will reduce risk exposure where such leadership is unlikely on a stand-alone basis,” a statement by Atlas Mara said.

The company noted that Diamond had assumed the role of Chairman on an interim basis with the expectation that a new Chairman would be appointed in due course. Michael Wilkerson, a non-executive director of Atlas Mara and chief executive officer of Fairfax Africa, the largest shareholder of Atlas Mara, will replace Diamond as chairman. Diamond’s co-founder Ashish Thakkar had left the board in 2017 following a deal with Fairfax Africa.

In order to realize substantial core operational growth and maximize value in 2019, the Atlas Mara Board plans to explore potential strategic partnerships, selectively expanding into new scalable markets and/or increasing the depth and scope of financial services offered.

The company also intends to accelerate agricultural finance platform given the importance of the sector in Africa, through a potential new investment in a 35 percent stake in GroCapital, a financial services platform in the South African market partly owned by AFGRI Holdings Limited (AHL), a company in which Fairfax Africa has a 43 percent indirect beneficial interest. The Public Investment Corporation of South Africa, which is currently under scrutiny in the country owns 35 percent stake in GroCapital.

Atlas Mara will also execute on its Nigerian strategy, achieving consolidation of Union Bank of Nigeria (UBN), in which it currently holds a 49 percent stake. The company plans to support opportunities for UBN’s prudent growth, along with a capital and liquidity plan oriented towards a sustainable dividend policy.

Atlas Mara, which holds stakes in several African banks across the East West and Southern regions will invest in high-impact technology and digital banking strategy, which will see it establish a sub-Saharan pan-African digital bank, creating transactional platforms to drive substantially lower cost of funds, enhancing core banking systems, and developing technology-enabled products to retain and grow Atlas Mara’s customer base.

The pan-African banking group also plans to reposition its markets and treasury business and expand client base and offerings, moving closer to relevant business opportunities, and accelerating revenue growth by offering a full suite of products and services to a larger and more diverse group of clients.

Atlas Mara said the review of its strategic options will be led by Citigroup Global Markets Ltd.