Standard Bank sees Africa opportunities beyond crisis

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Africa’s recovery from the coronavirus crisis could stretch into 2022 and beyond, its largest lender by assets Standard Bank, said on Thursday, but it also said this would not hold back its expansion on the continent over the coming years.

Customers at an ATM at a branch of South Africa's Standard Bank in Cape Town, file. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/File Photo/File Photo

The lender, which forecast a multi-year, non-linear recovery in its home market, South Africa, said possible problems with vaccine rollout and the threat of future waves of infection could also delay a continent-wide recovery.

But the bank, which reported a 43% decline in full-year profit on Thursday, said it had kept its annual dividend 76% lower than 2019 in part to retain capital to deploy towards emerging growth opportunities on the continent.

Standard Bank had already signalled an intention to ramp up in West Africa, and said on Thursday that Ethiopia was also attractive, with organic growth in Kenya and Nigeria also a focus.

CEO Sim Tshabalala said rising mobile and internet penetration in Africa, a growing population becoming healthier and better educated, and consumer spending on course to reach $5 trillion per year by the next decade were among the key trends informing the bank’s strategy.

“Twenty years ago, being an Africa-focused financial services group might have seemed unconventional. But with these trends in mind... it’s going to become increasingly enviable,” he said.

Standard Bank said it was also looking to expand in banking-adjacent activities like insurance and payments.

The bank declared a dividend payout of 300 cents per share, after holding off on an interim payment in line with guidance from the central bank, which has since been relaxed.

The level of the dividend was also to account for ongoing uncertainty around the pandemic and economic recoveries.

Its headline earnings per share - the main profit measure in South Africa - stood at 1,002.6 cents, compared with 1,766.7 cents a year earlier.

Its shares were down 0.69% at 1142 GMT.

Reporting by Emma Rumney; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Jane Merriman