Algeria, June 12, 2017

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The International Banker 2017 Middle East & Africa Awards Winners

Pre-2008, Nigerian banks lent funds to managers to invest in stock markets—a move that resulted in various banks failing, with many requiring bailouts. Nigeria responded with a series of oversight changes that produced chronic instability. The sinking financial conditions within Nigeria resulted in funds from international investors being trapped within the country. Understandably, this reduced investor confidence as the uncertainty of withdrawal created an unforeseen risk. Nonetheless, Nigerian banks have been recovering since mid-2014, following a slate of banking oversight reforms. Unfortunately, this period was also characterized by collapsing oil prices, but recently the country’s stocks hit a six-month high on the heels of improved banking outlooks from Moody’s.

South Africa’s banking sector is dominated by four large private banks: FirstRand, Standard Bank, Nedbank and Barclays Africa. South Africa is pushing to legitimatize many of its country’s policies while increasing service availability. In that vein, the South African government is creating a state-owned bank, run out of its postal-service locations. Beyond competing with the private-banking sector—which controls 20 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP)—the public banks will lend to South Africa’s poorer citizens, while distributing welfare grants. Currently, approximately 11 percent of South Africa’s adult population is “financially excluded”, meaning 4.3 million people have no access to banking services. Beyond limiting savings and reducing transparency, this also limits people’s access to credit capital, further reducing their capacity for entrepreneurial ventures.

Africa’s ninth-largest economy, Kenya, is working against an impending economic crisis as investor confidence responds to its regulatory banking policy. With the economy slowing, faults in the existing system are starting to show. This economic slowdown has come in the wake of extensive government spending in the runup to an election. Despite robust exports, plentiful remittances and above-average performances, investors are bracing for the impact in Kenya’s banking sector. Any pre-emptive efforts may stymie the effects of the downturn but will highlight the necessity for regulatory reform. There are concerns that the government may move in the opposite direction. Suggestions on loan-rate caps ignore historical evidence that suggests they do not work. Such a decision would hurt the small- and medium-sized firms that fuel Kenya’s economy.

Saudi Arabia’s banking sector could have its first bank merger in 20 years. HSBC Holdings Plc, through Saudi British Bank, and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) Group Plc are in merger talks regarding Alawwal Bank. RBS has attempted to sell its stake in Alawwal but has been unable to due to a Saudi law dictating that local banks cannot be foreign-controlled. This regulatory policy works against the Kingdom’s newly stated goals of diversifying the Saudi economy away from oil revenue. Were RBS to sell their holdings to HSBC, the entity would be the third-largest bank in Saudi Arabia, trailing National Commercial Bank and Al-Rajhi Bank. As Saudi Arabia moves to liberalize and diversify its economy, it is garnering attention from regional neighbors. Nearby Qatar’s National Bank has announced plans to apply for a Saudi investment-banking licence.

In its review of Middle Eastern banking systems, ratings-agency Fitch gave Jordan the thumbs up. Jordan’s banking system has been relatively stable, despite being encircled by destabilizing factors in neighboring countries. Even so, Fitch deemed its financial metrics positively and suggested that the Kingdom will continue to perform well. The Jordanian banking system has undergone deep transformations to make it both more profitable and more resilient. The fundamental shifts that were introduced prior to 2011 were effective in turning Jordan’s economy into the stable bulwark that it is today. It is expected that Jordan will continue along this path and maintain stable banking practices.

Egypt’s banking sector has also recently received positive reviews from external monitors and rating agencies. While a variety of private banks operate within Egypt, the majority operate in the commercial sector, with a few specialize in niche markets. The National Bank of Egypt, Banque Misr and Banque du Caire, notably, control 40 percent of the banking sector. The positive ratings and stable outlook are a far cry from the panic that gripped the country following the regime-changing Arab Spring protests. Continued stability and growth suggest that the country’s banking sector should be one of the rising stars of the Arab League.

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