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8 African Business November 2019

Cover story: Kenya’s mega banks

East Africa remains underrepresented in the league of Africa’s biggest banks, but a recent flurry of mergers and acquisitions could lay the foundations for big institutions that could compete with their larger peers across the continent. Tom Collins reports

The rise of Kenya’s mega banks

On an October evening in downtown Nairobi, the giant skyscrapers of the central business district flashed iridescent blues and reds as fireworks outlined their shapes against the night sky. Rather than a new calendar year or religious holiday, this was the 35th anniversary of Kenya’s and Africa’s largest bank by customer numbers: Equity Bank.

Already boasting 14m customers across six East and Central African countries, a recent spate of acquisitions indicates that the Nairobi-based lender is intent on becoming a pan-African financial giant.

In April, Equity Bank announced a KSh10.7bn ($106m) acquisition of financial institutions in Zambia, Mozambique, Tanzania and Rwanda that belonged to Atlas Mara, a pan-African banking group founded in 2013 by former Barclays CEO Bob Diamond and entrepreneur Ashish Thakkar. In return, Atlas Mara will receive a 6.27% stake in Equity Bank.

In September, it announced that it is planning to acquire a controlling stake in Democratic Republic of Congo’s second-largest lender, the Commercial Bank of Congo (BCDC), adding to its 2015 market entry and acquisition of the ProCredit Bank Congo.

Equity Bank is not the only M&A story to emerge

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