Casablanca Lender CFG Set to Join Moroccan Push Into West Africa

(Bloomberg) -- CFG Bank, a Moroccan lender, is seeking to expand in French-speaking countries in West Africa by using Ivory Coast or Senegal as an entry point for its asset-management operations.

The Casablanca-based bank is looking to start "strategic alliances" in either country as early as 2019, said Laureen Kouassi-Olsson, the regional head for Western and Central Africa at Amethis Finance, a private-equity firm that recently acquired a 13-percent stake in CFG Bank. It may also consider acquisitions which would give it access to customers and a network that it could “reform,” she said.

"We’re looking at these two countries from an asset-management angle to start with and then retail and expansion," Kouassi-Olsson said in an interview in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s commercial capital.

CFG, which started providing consumer-banking services in 2015 and has 13 branches in Morocco plus a digital offering, is seeking to tap the two largest economies of the West African Economic and Monetary Union, an economic bloc that comprises seven Francophone countries and Guinea Bissau. The eight-nation economic group shares a single currency, the CFA Franc, and a stock exchange, Bourse Regionale des Valeurs Mobilieres, which is based in Abidjan.

Strong Presence

Entering the region would boost an already strong presence of Moroccan banks in West Africa. At least three others -- including Attijariwafa Bank, Groupe Banque Centrale Populaire and BMCE Bank Group -- have expanded in the region in the past decade after making acquisitions in countries including Senegal, Ivory Coast and Mali. Johannesburg-based Standard Bank Group Ltd., Africa’s largest lender, said last month it is eyeing Senegal after opening a branch in Ivory Coast.

Amethis, along with another private investment fund, AfricInvest, last month injected 300 million dirhams ($32 million) into CFG Bank. The two funds together own 24 percent of the lender. CFG Bank is looking to expand its asset-management business in Ecowas, the lender’s finance director and head of strategy, Salim Rais, said by phone, declining to elaborate.

Paris-based Amethis is in the process of raising a second African fund of about 350 million euros ($418 million), Kouassi-Olsson said. Its first fund totaled 280 million euros with investments mainly in the financial-services sector, consumer goods and agri-business industries.

In Ivory Coast, Amethis, which started operating in 2012, has invested 80 billion CFA francs ($142 million) in five businesses, including in gas and oil-distribution company Petro Ivoire SA, in banking and insurance group NSIA Banque, and in a network of hospitals. In neighboring Ghana, it has acquired 18 percent of Accra-based Fidelity Bank Ltd. with Edmond de Rothschild group.

"We follow the African consumer,” Kouassi-Olsson said. “We’re firmly convinced that the middle class, although it’s not a perfect concept, is a reality for the continent. Our role is really to reinforce that consumption and make sure that it drives the growth of African economies."

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.