Equity Bank Expects to Break Even in Rwanda Within Three Years

Feb. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Equity Bank Ltd., Kenya’s biggest bank by customers, expects its Rwandan unit to break even in three years after investing $12 million setting up operations in the country, Managing Director James Mwangi said.

“Equity Bank Rwanda will be financially supported by Equity Bank Kenya’s balance sheet in the next two years to facilitate their operations before it starts making profits,” Mwangi told reporters today Kigali, the capital. The lender expects to be among Rwanda’s three biggest banks within five years, he said.

Rwanda’s economy, still recovering from the 1994 genocide that left at least 800,000 people dead, is forecast by the central bank to grow 7.6 percent in 2011. Foreign direct investment in the country grew 57 percent last year to $626 million, according to the Rwanda Development Board.

Equity began operations in Rwanda in October with three branches. The bank has more than 5.2 billion Rwandan francs ($8.58 million) in deposits, 1 billion francs of loans and 30,000 customers, Mwangi said. The lender plans to open another three outlets before the end of this year, according to an e-mailed statement from the bank.

Rwanda’s biggest bank by market share, Bank of Kigali Ltd., has 100,000 customers, according to a statement issued by the bank on Feb. 14.

The bank also plans to introduce agency banking services in Rwanda, with an initial target of 200 agents, Mwangi said. Under the system, agents at locations including supermarkets and gas stations are enabled to dispense cash and take deposits.

To contact the reporter on this story: Saul Butera in Kigali via Nairobi at pmrichardson@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Richardson at pmrichardson@bloomberg.net.