Bob Diamond Seeks Financial-Services Purchases Across Africa

Bob Diamond, former chief executive officer of Barclays Plc, said his investment firm is seeking to acquire African financial-services companies that can help businesses manage currency and commodity risks on the continent.

Atlas Mara Co-Nvest Ltd. aims to make the first of a number of acquisitions within a year, Diamond told reporters today in Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria. While declining to comment on potential takeovers, he said his firm plans to tap its “operational expertise” after making purchases.

“This is very, very different from a private equity fund because it gives us an opportunity to be much more concentrated and to be really running a bank,” Diamond, 62, said. “We’re operators more than investors.”

Diamond, who quit Barclays in July 2012 after the British bank admitted rigging global interest rates, and Ugandan entrepreneur Ashish Thakkar raised $325 million in an initial public offering for Atlas Mara in December. They committed $20 million of their own money to the venture.

“My interest in Africa is long standing,” said Diamond, adding that the continent’s financial services industry needed to become more sophisticated. “It seems so clear to me that private sector growth is the single most important thing today that can help Africa continue to develop economically, create jobs and create economic growth.”

Growth Potential

During his tenure as CEO, Diamond sought to boost Barclays’s profitability by combining its African operations with those of Absa Group Ltd., the South African lender in which it acquired a majority stake in July 2005.

Atlas Mara will focus on getting loans to consumers and businesses, said Diamond, adding agricultural lending is an area of interest for his firm.

Economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa is forecast to accelerate to 6.1 percent this year from an expected 5.6 percent in 2013, according to data from the International Monetary Fund. Investment is expected to rise to 23.2 percent of gross domestic product from 22.8 percent last year, according to the data.

Diamond said at a conference in Lagos today that he’s not worried about volatility in emerging and frontier markets as the Federal Reserve starts pulling back on its stimulus measures.

“We’re anxious and it’s a good time to be investors, but we’re certainly not anxious in the sense that near-term volatility will have any impact at all on what we’re going to do,” he said. “This is a very long-term investment.”

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