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The networks and allies of Cameroon’s Alain Nkontchou, Ecobank’s new chairman

By Jeune Afrique
Posted on Friday, 14 August 2020 18:57

People walk at the entrance of an Ecobank bank in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

Since he was appointed chairman of the board of directors of Ecobank at the end of June, the way Alain Francis Nkontchou, 57, speaks has not changed in substance. The former investment banker, co-founder of asset manager Enko Capital, expects the financial sector to support African economies better.

“Banks need to become more agile,” he says: to lend over the longer term (beyond five years), to assess risks better, to not just take assets as collateral and to integrate cashflow into their analyses, etc. “We need to be more flexible,” he says.

It is with Ecobank’s Nigerian CEO, Ade Ayeyemi, that he intends to complete the transformation of the pan-African group, which began five years ago. On the agenda: developing digital technology, improving services, turning the Nigerian subsidiary around once and for all, focusing on education and health, and, in the medium term, distributing dividends to shareholders, who have been deprived of them for four years in a row.

In addition to his skills and international experience, the Cameroonian, who has long worked in the quiet and very lucrative world of investment banking, will bring to Ecobank’s staff the benefit of a network of specialists in global finance.

International financiers

He holds a PhD from Supelec and a master’s degree in finance from the École Supérieure de Commerce de Paris. He worked in the trading rooms of JP Morgan and then Credit Suisse, speculating on currency, commodity prices and macroeconomic conditions.

During this period, he was in close contact with the Argentinean Daniel Pinto, now co-president and chief operating officer of JP Morgan, and became friends with Gaël de Boissard, founder of the investment company 2b Capital, who, before Tidjane Thiam’s arrival at Crédit Suisse, had hoped to become head of the Swiss bank.

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Nkontchou has also forged strong friendships with ex-traders Jean-Philippe Blochet, co-founder of the Braven Howard hedge fund, and Alexandre Mouradian, formerly of the brokerage firm Tradition Securities & Futures, who has since set up the Spinoza Foundation and devotes himself to his passion for the painting school in Pont-Aven (Brittany, France).

In the 1990s, Nkontchou also became close to the French De Nonancourt family, which owns the Laurent-Perrier champagne house, which has a strong presence in Africa. From 1999 to 2009, he sat on the board of directors of the latter at the invitation of its CEO, Bernard de Nonancourt.

Other friends include Philippe Rosio, CEO of the listed real estate company Inea, and the mining engineer and former boss of the industrial company Souriau-Sunbank, François Calvarin. The latter was a member of the general council of the Banque de France until February.

Several of these friends helped Nkontchou launch Enko’s first $10m investment fund in 2008. It was also with Jean-Philippe Blochet, Alexandre Mouradian and his uncle Charles Fondjo, a retired Socapalm employee, that Nkontchou created Domayo Farming in Cameroon.

African partners

Until the creation of Enko, Nkontchou had largely stayed away from the continent. The Yaoundé native studied in Paris, then launched his career in London. By his own admission, his African network is therefore limited and circumscribed to the economic sphere. When he was recruited by Ecobank to join its board of directors in 2015, his candidacy was supported by Gervais Koffi Djondo from Togo, co-founder of the pan-African bank in 1988.

While he does not claim any particular closeness to the bank’s other directors, he maintains good relations with Ade Ayeyemi, the current managing director. Donald Kaberuka, co-founder of the SouthBridge investment bank with Lionel Zinsou, is also one of the personalities in the financial sector to whom he is close. Nkontchou consulted Kaberuka on the launch of Enko when he was AfDB president.

Nkontchou recently got close to Albert Zeufack, the World Bank’s chief economist for Africa. Among African entrepreneurs, he particularly likes the Nigerian Karim Kola, trained in London and founder of the Shoreline group (present in the energy, trading and infrastructure sectors), and the Senegalese Amadou Ngom, co-founder of the France-based S&H consulting group, specialising in HR and finance functions, which in 2019 opened offices in Abidjan and Dakar.

Finally, in the British capital, he also rubs shoulders with Nigerians Babatunde Soyoye and Tope Lawani, founders of the investment company Helios, which they are in the process of merging with Canada’s Fairfax Africa Holdings.

Influential Nkontchou siblings

The Nkontchou family has particularly distinguished itself in the financial sector. When Nkontchou chose to pursue a career with the City, his younger brother and partner at Enko, Cyrille Nkontchou, moved to Johannesburg. A graduate of Sciences Po Paris and Harvard, the former head of research for sub-Saharan Africa at Merrill Lynch Bank founded the acquisition and fundraising consultancy Liquid Africa in 2000 and then, in 2007, the input distributor RMG Concept.

Cyrille also created, in 2013, in parallel with Enko, Enko Education, to develop a pan-African network of private secondary schools. A project in which their sister Mireille Nkontchou is collaborating.

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William Nkontchou, the youngest of the siblings, a graduate of the École des Mines, Polytechnique and Harvard, is managing director in Paris of the investment company Emerging Capital Partners. These responsibilities have earned him a seat on the board of directors of the Oragroup banking group.

Less well known, Caline Nkontchou Kamya, a lawyer at the Paris and Cameroon Bars, is a partner at Lizop & Associés and advises her brother Alain.

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