StanChart CEO Winters Wants to `Take a Look' at Ethiopia Banking

(Bloomberg) -- One emerging market has so far eluded Standard Chartered Plc Chief Executive Officer Bill Winters: Ethiopia.

Winters, head of London-based Standard Chartered since mid-2015, would “love to think that there are opportunities” in Ethiopia, he said in an interview in Nairobi, Kenya. The problem is that it’s entirely closed to foreign banks.

StanChart CEO Winters Wants to `Take a Look' at Ethiopia Banking

“The underlying fundamentals are pretty interesting,” said Winters. “It’d be nice if we could get in and take a look and see if we could add some value.”

Banks across Africa are wagering that Ethiopia, one of the continent’s fastest-growing economies, will open up a financial industry that’s been closed to investors since a Marxist junta nationalized lenders four decades ago. Winters’ comments echo those of Joshua Oigara, CEO of KCB Group Ltd., Kenya’s largest bank. In June, Oigara said the country is “ready for a major take-off.”

Winters is part of a British business delegation accompanying Prime Minister Theresa May on a three-nation tour of Africa, designed to enhance trading opportunities with the continent. The bank, which finances trade across Asia, Africa and the Middle East employed about 86,000 people in 63 markets worldwide as of the end of last year.

Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous country, has 18 commercial banks serving 102.4 million people, according to the National Bank of Ethiopia’s annual report. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who took office almost five months ago, is warming up to foreign investors by pledging to open up the nation’s telecommunications, shipping, power generation and aviation industries, while also encouraging reforms to reduce the role of the military and make peace with neighboring Eritrea.

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