Atlas Mara in deal to buy Rwandan bank

Saturday April 11 2015

The Bank Populaire du Rwanda (BPR) stand at a trade fair. PHOTO | FILE

A firm linked to former Barclays executive Bob Diamond is expanding its footprint on the continent with the acquisition of a second Rwandan bank.

The EastAfrican has learnt that the London Stock Exchange-listed Atlas Mara is at an advanced stages of finalising the acquisition of the majority stake in Banque Populaire du Rwanda (BPR), which effectively increases its presence in the country’s banking industry following last year’s purchase of some assets of Rwanda Development Bank (BRD).

The firm also has interests in Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Nigeria.

Atlas Mara was formed by Mr Diamond and Ashish J. Thakkar, one of the richest men in Africa, with family ties in Uganda, and listed on the main market of the London Stock Exchange in December 2013. Its strategy is to acquire targeted banks in Africa where it hopes to become a leading financial services group.

“The actual takeover is expected on May 1, and we expect a major restructuring afterwards,” a source privy to the deal told The EastAfrican, but would not divulge details of the acquisition.

BPR posted a Rwf403.2 million ($0.58 million) half-year net profit last year, a recovery from a Rwf1.8 billion ($2.6 million) loss recorded during the same period in 2013, according to the bank’s financial statements.


The bank recorded a rise in total assets and liabilities from Rwf157.4 billion ($227.7 million) in 2013 to Rwf168.3 billion ($243.5 million) during the same period last year.

Industry players say Atlas Mara’s acquisition of a 90 per cent stake in Rwanda’s biggest commercial bank by customer base, could serve as a launch pad into other East African countries.

READ: Atlas Mara eyes Banque Populaire stake

Negotiators of the deal are reported to be putting the final touches to the model of payment of some BPR clients-turned-shareholders, which has been the major issue of contention.

BPR clients, most of whom founded the institution as a co-operative society, own 65 per cent of the bank, while the remaining 35 per cent is held by Rabobank, a Dutch co-operative conglomerate. Under the new ownership arrangement, Rabobank will retain 10 per cent of the shares.

John Rwangombwa, the Governor of the National Bank of Rwanda, declined to comment on the deal, saying it was still under discussion.

“Once it is through, I will be in a position to say something about it,” said Mr Rwangombwa.

Ephraim Turahirwa, the CEO of BPR, also avoided divulging any information, referring The EastAfrican to the bank’s shareholders and board of directors for details.

“As a CEO, I am just a manager, not a shareholder,” said Mr Turahirwa. “I am not in a position to tell you anything; my board chair is in Holland. I can’t tell you much.”

Atlas Mara acquired the commercial section of BRD less than seven months ago. But it is not immediately clear if the two banks will be merged under the new ownership.

Konde Bugingo, former chief operating officer of BPR, who is now the chief executive of Atlas Mara’s commercial section of BRD, said: “It is not yet time to go public with anything regarding this deal; we are still going through some processes.”

Analysts are upbeat that the Atlas Mara Group will revamp the operations of BPR, which has been struggling to be profitable after it became a commercial bank in 2008.

For Rwanda, the deal is the latest of a number of bids by foreign banking institutions eyeing its lenders.

Uganda-based Crane Bank and AB Bank Rwanda Ltd, a member of an international network of microfinance banks, have recently launched operations in the country. In 2012, I&M Bank Ltd, a Kenyan bank, bought a stake in Rwanda Commercial Bank (BCR), acquiring 80 per cent equity from private equity firm ACTIS, which had been the majority shareholder from 2004.

READ: Competition to intensify as Crane Bank expands Rwanda network

The acquisition makes Atlas Mara the first international investor in Rwanda’s banking industry. Financial analysts say that with more players in the market, the industry is likely to witness cutthroat competition that could see Rwandans benefit from lower interest rates and increased financial inclusion.

“There is more development needed in the financial sector. There are some underserved sectors, such as agriculture; we still welcome new players,” said Monique Nsanzabaganwa, deputy governor of the central bank, adding that the market is still virgin.

Rwanda’s financial sector is dominated by commercial banks, which account for 66.6 per cent of the total assets, followed by pension funds (17.7 per cent), insurance companies (9.8 per cent) and micro-finance institutions at 5.9 per cent, latest central bank data shows.

However, the share of the banks in total assets of the sector has been declining over the past five years — from 72.6 per cent in 2010 to 66.6 per cent in 2014 — showing structural changes in the composition of the sector.

As of last December, total assets of the banking sector were at Rwf1.8 trillion ($2.6 million), up from Rwf1.51 ($2.18) trillion at the same time in 2013, representing an increase of 19.3 per cent.