Standard Bank Eyes West Africa as Franc Aids Confidence

Standard Bank Group Ltd., Africa’s largest lender, said it’s planning to expand in the west of the continent to take advantage of growth in the mining and energy industries and the stability of a regional single currency.

The Johannesburg-based lender is seeking a banking license for Ivory Coast by the end of next year and will use the country as a hub for the region, Herve Boyer, the bank’s regional managing director for French-speaking West Africa, said in an interview Aug. 27.

Ivory Coast is rebounding after a decade of violence that curtailed economic growth in the world’s largest cocoa producer. The government expects growth of 10 percent this year as it invests in infrastructure including highways and bridges and expands its ports. Those projects, as well as mining and energy,

will drive the bank’s growth in the region, he said. Ivory Coast is the biggest French-speaking economy in West Africa.

“Our objective is not only to develop our operations in Ivory Coast but to make it a regional hub,” Boyer said. “Our feeling is extremely positive on the West African francophone market. Opportunities are incredible”

The CFA franc, a regional single currency which is shared by eight nations in West Africa and is pegged to the euro is boosting the bank’s confidence in its expansion plans, Boyer said. The franc is shared by countries including Benin, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Togo, Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Niger.

“There’s no currency problem, and the likelihood of a devaluation is quite low,” Boyer said. “To us, this is a factor when assessing the risk.”

Standard Bank’s other priorities in the region are Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mali and Togo, Boyer said.

Standard Bank has been selling assets in emerging markets outside Africa since 2011 to raise cash for expansion on the continent. Citigroup Inc., Standard Chartered Plc and Barclays Africa Group Ltd. are also increasing their presence in Africa as discoveries of oil, natural gas and other commodities in propel economic growth.

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