* Banks say arrangement gives them unique footprint
* Absa also buys SocGen unit in South Africa
* Shares in both banks flat, investors sceptical (Recasts, adds Absa interview, context, shares, investor comment)
By Emma Rumney and Inti Landauro
JOHANNESBURG/PARIS, Jan 18 (Reuters) - French bank Societe Generale and South Africa’s Absa joined forces in Africa on Friday, partnering on corporate and investment banking to broaden their reach across the continent.
The agreement will lead to a closer relationship between the two after Absa, one of South Africa’s biggest lenders, split from its former parent, Britain’s Barclays, in 2017.
It will see them leverage one another’s complementary geographic footprints and product sets, with Absa strong across southern and eastern Africa and SocGen well established in western and North Africa.
“We mirror each other very well,” Nothando Ndebele, head of financial institutions group at Absa’s corporate and investment bank, told Reuters by phone, adding it would be hard to find another bank with that footprint.
Absa has set itself a series of targets as it tries to make a name for itself as a pan-African, standalone bank.
It said the arrangement would give it a bigger share of its clients’ wallets, and help meet its target of doubling its share of banking revenues in Africa from 6 to 12 percent.
SocGen Chief Executive Officer Frederic Oudea said in a statement it made sense to join forces as firms on the continent developed increasingly sophisticated banking needs.
The banks will also work together to serve Chinese firms on the continent - a lucrative market. Absa will also purchase SocGen’s South African business offering custody, trustee and clearing services, for an undisclosed price.
Oudea is trying to boost profitability at SocGen by exiting countries and businesses where it lacks critical size and capacity for synergies.
That has seen SocGen sell banks in Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria and Serbia. The bank seeks to offload banks holding as much as 5 percent of its weighted assets, or close to 17.5 billion euros ($19.96 billion).
Richard Southbey, head of wholesale cash management at Absa’s corporate and investment bank, told Reuters the price of the South African purchase was not material for Absa, but filled a hole in its offering.
Cooperating with SocGen also allayed concerns Absa would not be able to serve its multinational clients well, or would struggle to compete with larger players, after its separation from Barclays, said Patrice Rassou, head of equities at Sanlam Investments, a top ten investor in Absa.
But Jan Meintjes, portfolio manager at Denker capital and another Absa investor, said the benefits might not materialise, and Absa had “bigger problems” impacting its bottom line.
“The turnaround in the retail and business banking business, just from a relative size point of view, is obviously where the bulk of the value unlock could be,” he said.
Absa’s shares were down 0.14 percent at 1330 GMT, while SocGen’s shares were up 0.4 percent. ($1 = 13.8205 rand) ($1 = 0.8769 euros) (Reporting by Inti Landauro; Editing by Leigh Thomas and Elaine Hardcastle)