Atlas Mara Ltd., the company co-founded by Bob Diamond to invest in African financial businesses, is in talks to buy Finance Bank Zambia Plc, according to three people with knowledge of the matter.
Negotiations began as early as March, two of the people said, asking not to be identified because they’re not authorized to comment on the talks. A deal may be announced within a month, one of the people said. Atlas Mara is still doing due diligence at the Zambian lender known as FBZ, according to another of the people, and there is no certainty of a transaction.
An acquisition would boost the presence of Atlas Mara, set up by the former Barclays Plc chief executive officer and Ugandan entrepreneur Ashish Thakkar, in Zambia, where it already operates following its 2014 purchase of BancABC. The economy of Africa’s second-largest copper producer is set to grow by 5.8 percent this year, down from a previous forecast of more than 7 percent, Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda said June 16.
A spokesman for Atlas Mara in London said the company won’t comment on market speculation. FBZ Acting Chairman William Nyirenda declined to comment when contacted by mobile phone on June 20. The bank on Monday requested written questions and hasn’t yet responded to these.
Credit Suisse has a 15 percent stake in FBZ, according to the Lusaka-based lender’s annual report. A spokesman for Credit Suisse in London declined to comment on a possible transaction. FBZ made 169.7 million kwacha ($22.8 million) in profit in 2014 and had 3.4 billion kwacha in total assets as at Dec. 31.
Rajan Mahtani, who directly owns 25 percent of the bank, stepped down as chairman this month following his June 2 arrest for alleged forgery. These events probably won’t have an impact on a potential deal, one of the people said.
Former President Michael Sata in 2011 reversed the sale of FBZ to South Africa’s FirstRand Ltd. for $5.5 million. A year earlier, the Bank of Zambia had seized the lender for breaching financial laws and agreed to sell it to Johannesburg-based FirstRand.
FBZ has been planning to raise money through listing on the Lusaka Stock Exchange since at least 2013, when it said it would sell $250 million worth of shares. The lender operates 39 branches around Zambia, according to its website.
Standard Chartered Plc, Standard Bank Group Ltd. and Barclays Plc are among lenders with operations in Zambia. Profit in the banking industry grew by 36 percent in 2014, according to the Finance Ministry’s annual economic report.