* Isabel dos Santos among shareholders pushing for growth
* Plans to extend biggest private branch network in Angola
* Awaits licences to start in Brazil, Namibia
By Shrikesh Laxmidas
LUANDA, April 8 Angola's Banco BIC, backed by
the billionaire daughter of the country's president and a
Portuguese cork tycoon, plans to ramp up its branch network at
home while also expanding overseas to operate in four
continents, its chief executive said.
Speaking as part of the Reuters Africa Summit, Fernando
Teles also said Angola's banks were ready to finance the
oil-rich country's economic diversification drive, but the
private sector needed to do a better job of identifying viable
BIC is Angola's biggest private bank by branches, its
strategy based on building a wide presence across the country to
benefit when investment in non-oil sectors like farming starts
to deliver growth in regions outside the capital, Luanda.
"We've already opened 10 branches this year and are building
another 25 to add to the 202 with which we ended 2013," Teles
said. "Our shareholders have backed us to grow and they have the
necessary funds to invest when needed."
BIC's main rivals are local banks BAI and BPC and the units
of Portuguese banks Banco BPI and BES.
Mid-sized local banks and new foreign players are also gaining
ground, with South Africa's Standard Bank and
London-listed Standard Chartered arriving in recent
Isabel dos Santos, daughter of Angolan President Jose
Eduardo dos Santos and who ranks as one of the continent's
richest businesswomen, owns a quarter of BIC Angola. Americo
Amorim, one of Portugal's richest men, also owns 25 percent.
BIC also operates in Portugal, where it bought bailed-out
bank BPN in 2012 for 40 million euros, giving it a branch
network and client base that helped BIC Portugal swing to a
profit of 2.5 million in 2013 from losses in the previous years.
BIC is expanding across borders in its own region, having
opened an office in Johannesburg in February and requested a
licence to operate in Namibia.
"We're looking at all the countries around us. Sooner or
later the Southern African Development Community will be even
more interconnected and we have to be ready for the business
that will occur in that economic zone," Teles said, referring to
a 15 state organisation forging political and economic links.
He added that BIC planned to open an office in China, which
is Angola's main oil buyer.
In Brazil, where BIC bought BPN's network, it expects to
obtain a licence from the central bank in the next months. BIC
plans to open branches in several cities and serve a niche of
clients which do business between Brazil, Portugal and Angola.
CASH FOR INVESTMENTS
The bank's profitability at home means it has capital
reserves of $889 million and does not have to rely entirely on
its shareholders' deep pockets to expand.
It posted a 20 percent rise in net profits to $201 million
last year, which Teles attributed to the reach of the retail
network and lending to state and new sectors.
Loans of $6 billion, up 15 percent from 2012, were evenly
split between the private sector and the state.
"We would like to lend more to the private sector, but there
have to be credible projects, ones that show the business will
work and can repay loans," Teles said.
Angola has rebuilt after a 27-year civil war ended in 2012,
but analysts say the economy is too reliant on the state and on
oil production, which is Africa's highest after Nigeria.
"In Angola there is still so much to be done, various
sectors like agriculture, mining and transport have to be
developed," Teles said. "The state has done a lot, built
infrastructure, now private business has do its bit."
Many of Angola's banks have been hit by a surge in bad loans
in the last two years as the economy cooled down from
double-digit growth posted up to 2009.
Teles said BIC had controlled the surge by negotiating with
clients which had assets to guarantee loan extensions. But he
expects smaller players among Angola's 23 banks may suffer.
"There are too many banks, but it's nothing that the market
cannot absorb," he said. "Sooner or later there will be small
banks in trouble and they will be bought by bigger ones."
He added that BIC had in the past tried to acquire a smaller
bank but the deal fell through. "It's no drama, there will be
other opportunities," he said.
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(Editing by Mark Potter)