Atlas Mara eyes Barclays' Africa units

HARARE - BancABC Zimbabwe’s parent company, Atlas Mara Plc (Atlas Mara), is likely to emerge as the front runner to acquire Barclays Plc African assets.

This comes as the British bank this week indicated its intention to sell down its 62,3 percent interest in Barclays Africa Group and its shareholding in Egypt and Zimbabwean units over the next two to three years as part of its strategy to divest from the continent. 

The London-listed financial institution, which has been operating in Africa for the past 100 years, wants to concentrate on two, main core divisions — Barclays United Kingdom and Barclays Corporate and International.

Although Barclays Bank Zimbabwe chief executive George Guvamatanga on Tuesday told journalists that the local unit “was still part of Barclays Plc” until such as time the bank decides to sell, speculation is already rife that Atlas Mara might be interested in acquiring Barclays assets in Africa.

Co-founded by former Barclays chief executive, Bob Diamond, and Ugandan millionaire Ashish Thakkar, the company is an Africa-focused financial services investment group that has since acquired eight banks in seven sub-Saharan African countries.

Diamond, who left Barclays under the cloud of the Libor rate-rigging scandal having lost the confidence of the governor of the Bank of England, recently appointed another ex-Barclays man, John Vitalo, as Atlas Mara chief executive.

Before joining Barclays, Vitalo ran Absa Capital, the investment-banking arm of the South African lender Barclays bought control of in 2005.

Investment bankers believe that Diamond, who pushed Africa as one of Barclays’ biggest growth opportunities, has what it takes “to snap up smaller operations outside of South Africa”.

“Looking at its balance sheet, Atlas Mara may not be able at present to buy all of Barclays Africa’s business, but it would be interested in acquiring some of it. Diamond has all it takes to navigate the rough terrains of African banking,” said a local investment banker.

On his part, Diamond recently told business executives in South Africa that his risk appetite to invest in African banks is even greater than before despite slowing growth in markets such as South Africa.

“We still believe in the African story, and the entry points in terms of prices are lower. The competition for acquisitions is lower. The currencies are cheaper compared to international currencies. So frankly we see this as an improving environment,” he said

Atlas Mara co-founder Thakkar chose to be more diplomatic when contacted by CNBC Africa for comment on the opportunities presented by Barclays exiting Africa.

“The company has made clear that it is aiming to build the pre-eminent financial institution in sub-Saharan Africa and intends to achieve this though both organic growth and acquisition.  As a result, Atlas Mara is often approached by vendors of assets and it is our policy not to comment on specific situations,” he said.

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