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DRC: Equity Bank CEO James Mwangi on a Kinshasa charm offensive

By Jeune Afrique
Posted on Tuesday, 23 February 2021 20:30

James Mwangi in Nairobi, November 11, 2020 © Jackson Njehia / REUTERS

Over ten days, James Mwangi - the Kenyan boss of Equity Group Holding - met several times with the authorities, including President Félix Tshisekedi, to recalibrate the operations of his subsidiary.

Meetings with banking sector leaders and Congolese officials punctuated James Mwangi’s ten-day visit to the DRC in early 2021.

Mwangi’s schedule is packed, the number of appointments proof of Equity Group Holding’s ambitions in the country.

According to our sources, Mwangi met with President Félix Tshisekedi who assured him of his full support in his new business venture in the DRC.

Becoming the leading bank

Customers, investors and the authorities needed to be reassured after the mid-2020 takeover – approved by the regulator at the end of December – by the Banque commerciale du Congo (BCDC), which was formerly a part of the Belgian tycoon George Forrest’s business empire. They also wanted to know more about the subsequent merger between Equity’s local subsidiary and BCDC.

Mwangi’s visit may also have been triggered by a letter in which the governor of the Central Bank of Congo (BCC) called to order the majority shareholder of Equity BCDC, and his boss, Mwangi. “A complication that the latter knows how to deal with”, according to one of Mwangi’s close associates.

READ MORE Equity Group’s purchase of BCDC shows DRC’s banking potential

Equity Bank did not choose to set up in the DRC by chance, having spotted the opportunity for expansion beyond the Kenya base. While Equity once thought of taking over the assets of Atlas Mara in three countries – before choosing to buy the second largest bank in the DRC – the objective for the DRC expansion has always to become the leading bank in the country by the end of the year.

The second-largest subsidiary of the group

Mwangi officially launched Equity BCDC’s activities on 11 February in front of a prestigious group of guests. These included the ambassadors to the DRC from Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Belgium, Clément Kwete Nyimi, the Congolese portfolio minister, Senator Bahati Lukwebo, as well as representatives from the International Finance Corporation (IFC, World Bank Group), USAID, the NGO Care and the UN.

“I am Kenyan, but I think I am even more African,” said Mwangi, demonstrating his commitment to all the countries in which his group operates.

READ MORE DRC’s problems with Kenya’s Equity Bank and James Mwangi

He then presented an initial assessment of the merger between Equity Bank Congo (EBC) and BCDC, the century-old Congolese financial institution. “Equity BCDC is the second largest subsidiary of Equity Group Holdings,” he said. Equity Group Holdings, which has $10bn in assets, is ranked first in East and Central Africa “in terms of clients and profitability.”

In the DRC, Equity BCDC now serves more than 800,000 clients through a network of 74 branches in the country and more than 3,000 agents that are available online. It has worked to ensure that it has “the largest financial services network in the DRC.”

Equity BCDC aims to acquire more than 5 million clients within the next five years, and 20 million over the decade, explains Mwangi’s entourage. They also hope to acquire the ambitious figure of $12bn dollars within ten years.

On the same track, its parent company hopes to increase its balance sheet total from $10bn to $12bn.

As a reminder, the Kenyan holding company – present in seven countries and listed on the Nairobi Stock Exchange – recorded 76bn KSh (€570m) in revenues in 2019, with a net profit of more than 22bn KSh. Its net margin is 30%.

Targeting the mining sector

However, what the Bank of Nairobi ultimately hopes to do is facilitate trade between Central Africa and East Africa, “at a time when the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is gaining momentum,” says Mwangi’s entourage.

As for the profiles that Equity BCDC wants to attract, the Kenyan boss wants to be “the bank for everyone, individuals, large and small businesses, multinationals.” However, the bank does admit that it would like to attract, in particular, extractive industries and mining companies.

READ MORE After DRC merger, will Kenya’s Equity Group lead the stock market in 2021?

On this note, and under the auspices of its president Nestor Ankiba, the new board of directors comprises 17 members with a marked preference for profiles from the mining sector. According to our information, twelve of the directors are Congolese, including Louis Watum (president of the Chamber of Mines) and Victor Kasongo Shomary (former President Joseph Kabila’s minister of mines).

Célestin Mukeba, new CEO

Following the installation of the new board of directors of Equity BCDC, Célestin Mukeba Muntuabu – the former CEO of EBC – was appointed CEO of the post-merger financial institution on 15 February. However, he hadn’t been the only person being considered for the position as the BCC had also considered Yves Cuypers, then head of BCDC, at the end of January.

READ MORE DRC businesses: ‘Our model has to change – it’s imperative’ says CEO Célestin Mukeba Muntuabu

While the latter becomes CEO of the new Equity office for Central and Southern Africa, as revealed by Jeune Afrique Business+, newly appointed CEO of Equity BCDC Muntuabu will be able to rely on support from Jean-Claude Tshipama, the former CEO of Canal + DRC.