Financial Afrik met with Citi’s CEO for the Middle East and Africa. In this role since 2015, Atiq Rehman outlines his vision for Citi on the continent. As a reminder, Citi is physically present in 16 African markets, many serving as hubs for surrounding markets, and acts as the main dollar-clearing foreign bank in the continent.
How do you define Citi?
Citi is a global bank that operates around the world with a presence in 16 markets in Africa (from North to South and from East to West) where we bank large multinationals, financial institutions, top tier local corporates and public sector clients. As an international bank with an unmatched network of 98 presence countries worldwide, we respond to the financial needs of this selective clientele comprising public and private sector players.
Within this construct, we provide financial services and solutions relating to cash management, trade finance, lending and foreign exchange – thereby covering 85% of Africa’s GDP. We also intermediate foreign currency liquidity to domestic banks, especially US dollars for African institutions, and we remain a major player on the international debt markets, helping underwrite finance for African sovereigns, Public Sector entities and Financial Institutions.
Guided by a well-defined business model that focuses mainly on institutional clientele, we believe retail banking is better served by local actors, so we are not active in this field, rather we complement the local banking system.
Certain international banking groups have chosen to leave or downscale their presence in Africa. What are your plans for the continent?
It is true that at the global level there has been a kind reshuffling of priorities following new capital requirements. Under pressure from regulators and capital requirements, US banks and, subsequently, European banks have rebalanced. For its part, Citi has adapted to the new standards and ratios without reducing its network in terms of country presence. Our bank has strengthened its position in the foreign exchange markets, the network and its relations with banks and institutions. To that end, we remain committed to the network model in Africa, where we have teams on-the-ground in 16 countries, many of them acting as hubs for surrounding markets, so effectively we do business in several non-presence countries as well. As we work on deepening our activities in Emerging Markets and strengthening our network, Africa continues to be pivotal to Citi’s global strategy.
How does Citi currently view African debt markets?
Previously, Africa attracted investors because of high returns. However, for some time now, African debt markets have not escaped the global trend marked by the rise in US interest rates and adjustment measures at the European level. This has led to a reduced appetite for emerging market debt and capital market activity in general.
What comparisons do you make between your presence in the Middle East and Africa?
These markets are complementary. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are liquid markets, with low taxation rates and a will to invest oil revenues into sovereign wealth funds. Reforms addressing tax and ease-of-doing business have been undertaken. Reading this market is done by watching the oil price. Africa, meanwhile, has a young population and a growing middle class, and therefore a large consumer market in the making. That said, it has less cash than the Gulf countries. In addition, reforms are needed to improve the business environment. Foreign direct investment is contingent on the ability of public decision-makers to present the opportunities that their countries are overflowing with, and ensure political stability.
How do you see the banking landscape evolving across Africa?
In the medium to long term, there is a consolidation trend. The weight of regional and local banks is gaining ground at the expense of global banks. As far as Citi is concerned, we generally view African banks as local partners whereby we complement each other in terms of client offers. The other strong trend is the convergence of the financial and telecom sectors. The convergence between banks and mobile telephony, already driving change in South Africa and Kenya, will impact the African market in the medium and long term. Moreover, there is much growth expected to come from the corporate sector.
Having said that, it is important for Africa to find optimal and efficient ways of raising debt, as there are multiple sources of liquidity, and to take into consideration the local rate environment to attract foreign direct investment. Investors will also remain attuned to country-led reforms and emerging market currency dynamics.