NAMIBIA – Access Bank, Nigeria’s biggest commercial bank has identified eight African countries for potential expansion into in the coming years, including Namibia with the proposed merger with Cavmont Bank Namibia.

Access Bank’s ambition to branch out is aimed at benefiting from a continental free trade pact that came into effect on 1 January this year.

The big South African banks – Nedbank, Standard Bank and the FirstRand Group – have a big continental footprint, but Access Bank has in recent years become a force to be reckoned with in the continent – Access bank is currently operating in 12 countries following a series of acquisitions ranging from Kenya to its home market, Nigeria.

Last year it acquired Namibia’s Capricorn Group’s Zambian loss-making operations.

At the time, Access Zambia’s chief executive officer Joana Bannerman had said by taking over, it would increase scale and capture a wider base of customers in Zambia, while positioning the bank for growth.

According to a joint statement released by Cavmont and Access Bank, the proposed merger would see Cavmont Bank’s strong retail, commercial and SME loan capability and branch network leverage Access Bank’s best in class digital platform and product suite to create a platform for further growth and the facilitation of financial inclusion for the unbanked in the copper country.

“The recent move to establish itself across Africa is to expand to high-potential markets to leverage the benefits of the African Continental Free Trade Area’’

According to Access Bank chief executive officer, Herbert Wigwe, the recent move to establish itself across Africa is to expand to high-potential markets to leverage the benefits of the African Continental Free Trade Area.

Markets of interest are Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Angola, Namibia and Ethiopia, The Namibian has reported.

The Namibian banking industry is worth over US$9.8 billion, with assets mainly concentrated among the four big banks in the country – Bank Windhoek, Nedbank Namibia, Standard Bank Namibia and FNB Namibia.

There are seven registered commercial banks in Namibia.

According to a Bloomberg report, Access Bank in its expansion drive will also use its London-based unit as an “anchor for growth” to expand representative offices in countries such as India, Lebanon and China.

The lender, which is looking to transition to a holding company this year, plans to open subsidiaries in insurance brokerage, consumer lending and agency banking, as well as payments to boost revenue.

The African trade agreement aims to bolster intra-regional commerce by lowering or eliminating cross-border tariffs, facilitating the movement of capital and people, promoting investment, and paving the way for the establishment of a continentwide customs union.

Access Bank plans to eventually expand into 22 African countries to cushion challenges in some markets, diversify earnings and take advantage of growth opportunities in the region.

This is expected to shake up the banking industry in Namibia, a good move for consumer preferences, and could also lead to new, affordable markets.

In most developing countries, Access Bank is known for funding those mainly excluded from the banking system with its minimal collateral requirements having boosted its growth.

The Bank of Namibia have not confirmed having received an application for a banking licence from Access Bank.

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