Access Bank plans international expansion through London

By Aurélie M'Bida, Kanika Saigal
Posted on Tuesday, 12 July 2022 12:53

An Access bank signage is displayed on the roof of the bank's building along Herbert Macualay way in Abuja, Nigeria, August 30, 2017. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Nigeria’s Access Bank Group, led by Herbert Wigwe, is accelerating its international growth programme with plans to establish a subsidiary in France before the end of the year, according to a report from Africa Business+.

The group is waiting on approval from regulatory institution Autorité de contrôle prudentiel et de résolution (ACPR), one of the last stages in the process.

Other targets include subsidiaries in Dubai and Hong Kong and representative offices in Kenya and Malta. Several other plans are underway but have not yet been disclosed.

Access Bank UK – led by Jamie Simmonds – will oversee the establishment of the Nigerian banking group from an operational perspective and become the umbrella company for the new subsidiaries and other representative offices, says Africa Business+. Access Bank Group posted a net profit of N160bn ($385m) in 2021.

Trade finance

According to Simonds, Access Bank’s French operations will employ around 20 people to begin with and will focus on trade finance operations, capitalising on flows initially between Africa and France, in particular Franco-phone Africa.

Their aim will be to serve existing customers – and to engage new corporates looking for cross-border opportunities in Africa.

“Our trade finance business is built on a relationship model,” says Simmonds in an interview with The Africa Report in Paris. “In a normal year, Access UK will complete around $4bn worth of trade flows – so we have the expertise to create something similar to this in France.”

Data compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit shows that France imported around $27bn worth of goods from Africa – mainly from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, Nigeria and Libya – and exported about $29bn to the continent in 2019.

However, international trade between Nigeria – Access Bank’s home – and France may be limited, given foreign exchange restrictions put in place by the government to shore up dollars in the country and boost domestic production. For example, meat, vegetable oil, cane sugar, rice, cement, fabric, and cosmetics are all ineligible for foreign exchange at the Central Bank of Nigeria.

There is no point in bringing a customer on and talking about offering a relationship-based service if you can’t add value

“There’s a lot of infrastructure development in Nigeria that requires specialist equipment that will need to be imported, so there are opportunities there,” says Simmonds.

“But more importantly, our business goes beyond Nigeria,” he says. “We are already present in another 11 African countries that will grow in the next 12 to 18 months, so there are many more opportunities for us to tap into.”

Competition

The rise of fintech over the last decade has transformed trade finance and transaction banking more broadly across the globe. For smaller, more nimble corporates, a “best of breed” approach – where companies will look to different providers for separate trade finance products – has become much more appealing and affordable than the “one stop shop” offer from traditional banks.

According to data compiled by McKinsey, 40% of global trade is supported by bank-intermediated trade finance, but coverage is not uniform across countries or segments – particularly in developing countries and with MSMEs. Many African countries that France will hope to trade with will fall into the latter bracket.

“Traditional banks have reputation, brand recognition and the confidence of corporates. Technology will create competition, but it is also about how you add value as a bank,” says Simmonds.

In any case, as Access Bank expands across the globe, it will not be indiscriminately looking for new business partners. “There is no point in bringing a customer on and talking about offering a relationship-based service, if you can’t add value,” says Simmonds.

“[…] while it is a challenging environment, we know that we can offer a competitive product because of our expertise, but it has to be for [the] right partner. We are also becoming more selective,” he says.

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