Standard Bank Weighs Ivory Coast Banking License

Standard Bank Group Ltd. (SBK), Africa’s largest lender, will consider setting up a bank in Ivory Coast in two years as a base to expand to French-speaking West Africa.

The Johannesburg-based lender would consider an acquisition of another bank or branch or starting its own branch, Herve Boyer, the bank’s head for French-speaking nations in Africa, Sierra Leone and Liberia, said in an interview in the commercial capital, Abidjan, on Nov. 15. Standard Bank will open a representative office in February in Abidjan after it shut its office in 2003 following a failed coup that divided the country into a rebel north and government-run south.

“We will use Ivory Coast as a hub, a center from where we will cover the other Francophone countries of the region,” he said. “We can’t be the biggest African bank without reaching Francophone countries.”

Standard Bank has been selling assets in emerging markets outside Africa since 2011 to raise cash necessary to expand on the continent, the second-fastest growing region after developing Asia. Citigroup Inc., Standard Chartered Plc and Barclays Africa Group Ltd. are increasing their presence in Africa as discoveries of oil, natural gas and other commodities in sub-Saharan Africa propel economic growth. Standard Bank has operations in Ghana and Nigeria. Paris-based Societe Generale SA (GLE)’s local unit is the largest bank in Ivory Coast.

Standard will target infrastructure projects including roads and airports, energy and mining, Boyer said. Ivory Coast, which is bouncing back after a decade-long crisis, is a priority for the bank, Boyer said. President Laurent Gbagbo refused to hand over power after losing 2010 presidential elections, leading to a collapse of the economy and violence that left more than 3,000 dead.

The biggest economy of the eight-member West African Economic and Monetary Union and the world’s largest cocoa producer will grow 9 percent this year, slower than the 9.8 percent expansion last year, according to the government.

“We remain positive on the future of the region because of these huge investments in infrastructure projects,” he said. “This is the key for the development of the region.”

Standard Bank is the second-worst performing stock on the six-member FTSE/JSE Africa Banks Index this year after Barclays Africa Group Ltd. The shares rose 0.4 percent to 123.25 rand on yesterday in Johannesburg.

To contact the reporter on this story: Olivier Monnier in Abidjan at omonnier@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at asguazzin@bloomberg.net

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