Mauritius’s AfrAsia Bank Sees Kenya as Next Expansion Step

AfrAsia Bank Ltd., a closely held Mauritian corporate lender, said it’s considering expanding in Kenya after acquiring a stake in a Zimbabwean financial company last year.

“We are actively looking at Kenya as a first priority,” AfrAsia’s Chief Executive Officer James Benoit, 47, said in an e-mail yesterday. Many “imports and exports from surrounding countries transit through Kenya,” giving the country a key role in the region, he said.

Kenya, East Africa’s biggest economy, had its growth forecast raised to 5.7 percent for 2013 by the World Bank yesterday from an earlier estimate of 5 percent. That compares with an estimate for growth of 2.4 percent this year for South Africa, the continent’s biggest economy, according to the Reserve Bank of South Africa.

Operating in Kenya will allow the lender to get into the eastern African market faster with more opportunities for structured finance, according to Benoit.

“We are already hiring corporate and private bankers to cover that market and raising specialized investment funds to provide a full range of banking,” Benoit said.

Kenya has 42 banks. Profit in the industry grew 21 percent last year to 107.9 billion shillings ($1.26 billion), helped by a surge in interest income after the central bank raised its benchmark rate to a record. Total assets grew 15 percent to 2.33 trillion shillings, according to central bank data.

Zimbabwean Lender

AfrAsia owns about 40 percent of AfrAsia Kingdom Zimbabwe Ltd., a Harare-based financial group, and has operations in South Africa.

“We are in our very early days of expansion in Africa,” Benoit said in a separate interview in Johannesburg on June 14. “It will take one more year before we see the big results” at Kingdom Bank as new technology is added and employees are trained, he said.

Mauritius’s GML, the country’s biggest company by revenue and assets according to the Top 100 Companies compiled by Business Publications Ltd., is AfrAsia’s biggest shareholder, with about 39 percent at close of fiscal 2012, data from the lender show. Intrasia Capital Pte Ltd. and France’s Proparco hold a combined 23 percent.

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