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Société Générale launches private bank in Africa

Posted on Tuesday, 20 November 2012 14:33

Times are changing in Africa: wealth management, practised so discreetly for the continent’s richest by Swiss and Monaco-based banks, has become a business in its own right.

Société Générale Private Banking, a subsidiary of the French group, believes it has a new approach. On 19 November it announced the appointment of a client director for Africa, Jean-Paul Ramé.

He will pilot all the bank’s wealth management services for its African clients, liaising with a team of around 25 people, in Geneva, Monaco and in the United Kingdom.

In a market historically dominated by the two Swiss giants UBS and Crédit Suisse, the French group wants to conquer an entrepreneurial clientele.

“There is no entry threshold to become a client with us,” explains Ramé, who talked to Jeune Afrique at the Africa CEO Forum in Geneva (20 to 21 November). “What we are looking for is the potential in an entrepreneur who will become rich tomorrow.”

Holdings in Europe

South Africa, Nigeria and Algeria are among the countries targeted, even if the thousand or so wealthy clients that SG Private Banking has today come from many different African countries.

“We are aiming at entrepreneurs who are looking to take the next step, to raise funds, and who therefore need to structure their businesses and create a holding in Europe,” says Ramé.

“We are under no illusions: to expand your business in Africa it is often a lot simple to have a holding in Europe, even if you are African.”

Several African countries still remain cautious of investors from Africa and prefer those from the northern countries. In some other countries, like Algeria, exchange control regulations inhibit investment by local entrepreneurs from outside the country.

Entrepreneurs and the middle-class

Jean-Paul Ramé is not new to private banking in Africa. He worked in this field for Belgolaise at the end of the 90s, before it was dissolved into Fortis and then BNP Paribas. He rejoined SG Private Banking Suisse in 2010 to establish the local African team.

Private money management has been practised in Africa for two decades by the large international banks but it has long consisted of organising a real fiscal exodus for the continent’s ill-gotten gains.

The emergence of large entrepreneurs but also the rise of a middle class that saves is of interest not only to foreign private banks but also African banks, which are increasingly structuring wealth management departments.

Private banking consists essentially of guiding clients in the structuring of their wealth and the placing of their assets.

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