Atlas Mara CEO resigns

HARARE - Dubai-based financial executive John Vitalo has inexplicably resigned from Atlas Mara, the seven-tier banking group and BancABC Zimbabwe parent, as the sub-Sahara Africa-focussed firm’s share price and continental fortunes continue to tumble.

This also comes as the London-listed financial behemoth’s other co-founder Ashish Thakkar is embroiled in a messy divorce, which has exposed his alleged misrepresentations about his financial status and Bob Diamond’s group has continued to experience turmoil, and a high staff turnover locally.

“Effective February 15, Vitalo stepped down as CEO and from the Board,” Atlas Mara announced yesterday, adding the group will appoint a new head in due course.

“The group’s three core businesses will be run by existing . . . leadership: Sanjeev Anand will become group managing director for retail … banking, Mike Christelis … for markets and treasury, and Chidi Okpala, group MD for Fintech,” said.

While Vitalo — the second largest insider-investor and group CEO since 2014 — is said to have bade farewell to his colleagues on Wednesday, it is understood that he might have been influenced by events around the company but he would “continue monitoring performance from the side-lines”.

Apart from the share price, which has tanked to $2 from a high of $12 at listing and net profits that have slumped to 71 percent as of the first half of 2016, BancABC’s Johannesburg offices are being auctioned.

“Prior to Vitalo’s exit, you will recall that Diamond and company had also fired acting group CEO Blessing Mudavanhu and chief operating officer Ronald Pfende for failing to bring to fruition their trumpeted reshaping of African banking,” observers told businessdaily on yesterday.

“But in short, Atlas Mara has failed to adapt or navigate the local landscape, as it needs people who understand the terrain and, so, one questions the rationale of its hasty breakup with executives such as Doug Munatsi, Francis Dzanya and Bheki Moyo, who created BancABC from a capital base of $2,5 million to about $20 billion in assets 19 years later,” they said.

While Munatsi and company sold the business — with a capital of about $165 million — for a whopping $300 million, the trio pocketed quite a cool or handsome figure and many feel “such a pool of talent should have been kept for three years-plus to ensure a smooth transfer of skills and expertise”.

Instead, Atlas Mara hurriedly brought in a group of inexperienced executives and managers, who were rejected by the centrals banks of Zimbabwe and Botswana — now seemingly vindicated by the recent fall or decline in Atlas Mara’s fortunes.

And as the share price has fallen, a lot of foreign and local investors have lost significant value such that Vitalo had to step or come in as BancABC’s acting CE, in order to arrest the rot.

However, the group said in its market update that it had taken measures to accelerate its strategic execution of three core areas namely: commercial and retail banking, Fintech, markets and treasury.

“This will enable faster expansion and responsiveness to changes in the market environment.  As part of the execution strategy, the company plans to significantly reduce operating expense and staff cost … by more than $20 million per year on an annualised basis,” Atlas Mara said, adding its 2016 full year earnings were in line with market expectations.

Vitalo’s departure also comes shortly after chairman Arnold Ekpe’s resignation in October last year.

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