New banking services introduced to boost Côte d’Ivoire's financial services development

The banking sector has played a key role in financing reconstruction in Côte d’Ivoire since the end of the decade-long political and military crisis in 2011. As a result, stellar economic growth – which has averaged 8.8% since 2012 – has driven a solid banking expansion in the country, with the number of banks and branches growing steadily over the past few years.

Background

Competition has been fierce in the industry, which is largely dominated by subsidiaries of foreign lenders, with French and Moroccan banks accounting for half of the 10 largest players in 2018. Despite strong credit growth in recent years, more competition has resulted in a cheaper cost of borrowing for clients. And yet, with less than one-fifth of the population in possession of a bank account, financial inclusion remains a challenge. The gains of recent years mostly emanate from the expansion of mobile banking, with the number of mobile-money accounts jumping by 57% from 2015 to 2018, and telecoms companies set to make an unprecedented foray into banking operations.

While new regulations and capital requirements are being implemented, concerns have arisen after the liquidation of a major cocoa exporter, leaving a dozen banks with debts of more than CFA150bn (€225m).

Structure & Oversight

As of late 2018 Côte d’ Ivoire had 27 active banks. As the largest economy of the eight-member UEMOA, it has the highest number of banks and a regional market share of over 31%. With six new lenders entering the market since 2014, including two in 2017 and one in 2018, the sector has been dynamic over the last few years. This has led to increased competition, even if the same players continue to dominate the sector; the five-largest banks accounted for 60% of total assets as of December 2017. These include units of France’s Société Générale, Morocco’s Groupe Banque Centrale Populaire and Attijariwafa Bank, and Togo-based pan-African lender Ecobank.

Newcomers

The most recent entry is Senegalese-owned Banque Régionale de Marchés (BRM), which rolled out its operations in Côte d’Ivoire in February 2018. The Dakar-based lender will focus on the corporate banking and market operations segments.

Prior to BRM’s arrival, Luxembourg-based BDK Financial Group, which has operated as Banque de Dakar in Senegal since 2015, launched Banque d’Abidjan after obtaining a banking licence in 2017. The bank is a joint venture between BDK and La Poste de Côte d’Ivoire. South Africa’s Standard Bank also started operations in Côte d’Ivoire in 2017, following an investment of €100m. The bank launched its first official branch in Abidjan in April 2018, and targets corporate and institutional banking. With Industrial and Commercial Bank of China as its largest stakeholder, the bank aims to capitalise on growing Chinese investment in West Africa.

Liquidation

In September 2018 the banking commission of UEMOA withdrew the licence of COFIPA Investment Bank Côte d’Ivoire following the liquidation of the Ivorian lender, which had been placed under provisional administration in 2016 because of a poor financial situation. With a market share of less than 1%, COFIPA was one of the three smallest banks in operation. This marks the second exit from the Ivorian market in recent years, after the liquidation of Banque pour le Financement de l’Agriculture (BFA) in 2014.

Restructuring

The BFA’s liquidation was part of a wider government plan to restructure several public banks and sell its stakes in some of them. The undercapitalisation of some state-owned banks had been noted by the IMF as a vulnerability of the banking sector, and in 2013 the government announced a privatisation plan for a dozen banks. “Clear governance and leader vision are key in both the public and private sectors in order to help the country achieve its economic goals in line with the National Development Plan 2016-20, and I think we are working on it,” Georgine Codo Adja, director-general of BNI Finances, told OBG.

After it privatised Société Ivoirienne de Banque (SIB) in 2009, selling 51% of its stake to Attijariwafa Bank, the state further retreated in 2016. It sold its shares in an initial public offering (IPO) on the Bourse Régionale des Valeurs Mobilières (BRVM) and now holds 5% of the bank. In July 2017 the government also sold its 10% stake in NSIA Banque, again through an IPO. The same year it sold 51% of its stake in Banque de l’Habitat de Côte d’Ivoire (BHCI) to Canada’s Westbridge Mortgage Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT).

More recently, in October 2018, it confirmed its intent to exit from Caisse Nationale des Caisses d’Epargne (CNCE) and Banque Nationale d’Investissement (BNI) through the issuance of new shares that would also help the banks meet capital requirements enforced by the central bank. For the CNCE, which has been under provisional administration since mid-2015, the sale is part of a larger restructuring plan. The bank has been posting heavy losses despite the government’s decision to inject CFA35bn (€52.5m) into the institution in 2016, and in May 2018 it was announced that 300 of the bank’s 720 employees would be laid off.

The government signalled in June 2018 that the capital of Versus Bank, which it has controlled since 2009, would be quadrupled to CFA14.8bn (€22.2m) through the issuance of 267m shares to the benefit of the State Employees’ General Retirement Fund (Institut de Prévoyance Sociale - Caisse Générale de Retraite des Agents de l’Etat, IPS-CGRAE), a public pension fund. After the operation is concluded, the state will own 52.9% and IPS-CGRAE will hold 41.1%.

Domestic Banks

A minority of banks are locally owned; most institutions are subsidiaries of foreign lenders headquartered in France, Morocco, Senegal, Burkina Faso or Nigeria. After BHCI was brought under the control of Westbridge Mortgage REIT and COFIPA went bankrupt, the proportion of local banks in the system decreased even further in 2018.

As of December 2017 NSIA Banque was the largest domestic bank in terms of assets, with a market share of 11%. The bank is owned by Ivorian group NSIA, which runs banking and insurance activities in 12 countries in West Africa. In November 2017 NSIA bought the unit of Nigeria’s Diamond Bank in francophone West Africa, also called Diamond Bank, allowing the Ivorian lender to operate in five countries of the region. Holding a market share of 6%, BNI is the second-largest local bank and the seventh biggest overall. Other state-controlled lenders Versus Bank and CNCE rank 20th and 26th, respectively.

International Banks

Accounting for seven of the 10-largest lenders, foreign institutions continue to dominate the sector. Société Générale de Banques en Côte d’Ivoire (SGBCI), the Ivorian unit of France’s Société Générale, tops the list with a market share of 19%, while BICICI, the local unit of French financial group BNP Paribas, comes sixth. The Abidjan unit of Lomé- based Ecobank ranks second, with an 11% share. Three Moroccan banks are in the top-10 list, reflecting the expansion of companies from the North African nation into West Africa over the past decade. These banks are Banque Atlantique, controlled by BCP (4th); SIB, majority-owned by Attijariwafa Bank since 2009 (5th); and the subsidiary of Bank of Africa, majority owned by Banque Marocaine du Commerce Extérieur (8th).

Credit & Loans

The Banking Commission of the UEMOA estimated that credit growth expanded by 14.3% in 2017 to reach CFA6.27trn (€9.4bn). This is higher than the 12.2% growth seen in 2016, but lower than the 34.3% expansion recorded in 2015. This trend is in line with the slight slowdown in the overall economy in recent years. Economic growth is still projected by the IMF to reach 7.4% in 2018, albeit down on 7.8% achieved in 2017. Deposits also increased by 13% to CFA7.53trn (€11.3bn) in 2017.

At the same time, the cost of borrowing continued to decrease, with credit lending rates to clients hitting 10% in 2017, down from 10.9% in 2016, 11.6% in 2015 and 12.2% in 2014. “There are more and more banks in Côte d’Ivoire, but the number of customers is not growing at the same pace. There is more competition between the banks, and as a result, the interest rates have been going down for the strongest counterparties, which is a risk in the market,” Dominique Banny, director of client coverage for West Africa at Standard Bank, told OBG. “That said, more banks still want to enter the Ivorian market, or are considering the opportunity to come, which means the market continues to be attractive.”

Performance

Total assets of Côte d’Ivoire’s banking system rose by 14.1% in 2017, amounting to CFA11.1trn (€16.7bn), according to the Banking Commission of the UEMOA. The growth is somewhat slower than in 2016, when assets grew by 14.7% to CFA9.7trn (€14.6bn). However, the 2017 total was up nearly 60% from CFA6.64trn (€10bn) in 2014. With assets rising faster than loans, the ratio of loans to assets dipped slightly from 56.2% in 2016 to 55.9% in 2017, according to the Central Bank of West African States (Banque Centrale des Etats de l’Afrique de l’Ouest, BCEAO).

Asset quality has improved steadily in recent years, with gross non-performing loans (NPLs) down from 10.3% of the total in June 2017 to 9.8% in December 2017 and 8.7% in June 2018, according to the IMF. These figures compare to NPLs of 12.3% in 2013. As a result, banks’ provisioning as a share of NPLs has declined, from 73.6% in 2013 to 68.6% in 2014 and 65.3% in 2017.

“When you look at the past few years, the overall situation of the banking sector is really appreciable, with significant growth in activity and an increase in the number of new banks operating in the country,” Ismael Fanny, deputy director-general of the Association of Banks and Financial Establishments in Côte d’Ivoire (Association Professionnelle des Banques et É tablissements Financiers de Côte d’Ivoire, APBEF-CI), told OBG.

Risks

However, a number of risks weighed on the banking sector and caused concern in late 2018. Namely, the country’s banks are heavily exposed to a small number of borrowers. In 2017, for example, loans granted to the top-five borrowers of each Ivorian lender amounted to 98.9% of the banks’ capital, according to calculations made by the BCEAO and the IMF. This means that a default from one of these borrowers could have huge consequences for banks.

“Forming more partnerships in the banking sector, for instance, if one way to mitigate against risk and fuel economic growth,” Mamadou Sanon, managing director of Coris Bank International, told OBG.

Against this backdrop, the July 2018 liquidation of SAF-Cacao, the largest domestic cocoa exporter, has raised concerns in the industry. The shipper went bankrupt after it defaulted on thousands of tonnes of cocoa contracts in the 2016/17 season, leaving CFA150bn (€225m) in outstanding debt to a dozen banks, including SGBCI, Ecobank, SIB, NSIA and BICICI, according to reports from international media and banking sources. The lenders were criticised for their poor risk management, with fears of heavy exposure for some of the smaller banks.

Markets

Six banks operating in Côte d’Ivoire are listed on the BVRM: BICICI, Bank of Africa - Côte d’ Ivoire (BOA-CI), Ecobank-CI, NSIA Banque, SGBCI and SIB. Recent years have seen a sharp increase in Ivorian banks coming to the market, with the latest IPOs being those of Ecobank-CI and NSIA Banque in 2017. Raising capital on the BRVM is a way for the lenders to fund their expansion and meet the new capital requirements.

In total, 14 banks operating regionally are listed on the bourse. The number will grow to 15 in February 2019, after pan-African bank Oragroup confirmed in November 2018 that it intends to raise CFA56.92bn (€85.4m) through the largest IPO in the history of the exchange. Oragroup enters the BVRM at a challenging time for the stock market, with the main index contracting by 29% year-on-year (y-o-y) in November 2018.

SGBCI saw its share price fall by 30%, while SIB, NSIA and Ecobank-CI were down 33%, 35% and 39%. BICICI and BOA-CI have been the most affected, with their share prices plunging by 49% and 47%, respectively. Analysts say the banks have suffered from broader bearish trends on the BRVM (see Capital Markets chapter), but concerns over the new capital requirements and uncertainty about the impact of the SAF-Cacao liquidation could also explain the drop.

Profitability

The cocoa crisis has already started to affect the results of some banks. SGBCI’s net profit for the first half of 2018 was down 16% y-o-y following a strong increase in its net cost of risk associated with cocoa, the lender said in a statement. This came despite a 20% increase in loans and an 18% jump in deposits. BICICI also saw its net profit fall by nearly 30% over the same period, and the bank said short-term loans to cocoa stakeholders had dropped.

By contrast, Ecobank-CI, BOA-CI and SIB saw growth for the period. Ecobank-CI notes that net income rose by 17% y-o-y due to more robust activity, but that first half 2018 results do not include provisions for the SAF-Cacao liquidation, as these were recorded in August 2018. The net profit of BOA-CI rose by almost 13% due to an improved net cost of risk, while SIB had a y-o-y net profit increase of 22% as the result of revenue growth, and good risk and cost management. However, the latter recognises that monitoring the situation resulting from SAF-Cacao’s debt defaults is vital.

The cocoa shock comes after profitability in the banking sector had risen in recent years. The return on equity from banks was 29.2% in 2016, more than double the level of 2013. Over the same period, return on assets went from 1% to 1.6%. However, the profitability coefficient fell in 2017 to 17.2%, down from 21.5% in 2016.

Capital

While 2018 saw weaker profitability among some lenders, the sector started the year in a stronger position in terms of capital adequacy. The capital adequacy ratio improved from 8% of risk-weighted assets in 2016 to 9.8% in 2017. According to the IMF, this demonstrates the “financial soundness” of Côte d’Ivoire’s banking sector after banks increased their equity ahead of the mid-2017 implementation of new BCEAO rules that specify a capital requirement of CFA10bn (€15m) for banks operating in the UEMOA. As of December 2018, four banks that represent 2.5% of sector assets had yet to comply with the regulation.

Basel III

Banks also sought to boost their equity in anticipation of the phasing in of Basel II and Basel III, international regulatory standards which will see stricter credit concentration limits imposed. This is to take place over the course of five years, beginning in January 2018. Until 2017 banks were permitted to lend up to 75% of their capital to a single entity, but at the start of 2018 this figure was lowered to 65%. This will be progressively reduced to reach 25% in 2022. While this should help to mitigate the kind of risk exposure highlighted by the SAF-Cacao default, according to some industry analysts, it will also limit banks’ capacity to lend if they do not raise their capital. “As a result of these new regulations, those overseeing debt recovery and litigation need to take steps to better anticipate and react to client default,” Jean-Louis Menann-Kouamé, general manager of BICICI, told OBG. He added that this might affect the performance of banks.

The new rules are expected to have a significant impact on the regional banking landscape and will put pressure on smaller banks, likely leading to concentration in the sector. “The implementation of Basel II and III in Côte d’Ivoire is aligned with the recent requirements of international lending institutions. The new regulations are expected to lead to a more consolidated banking industry,” Osmane Hamza, deputy general manager of Abidjan-based Bridge Bank Group, told OBG. Marc Giugni, deputy general manager of corporate clients at SGBCI, sees regional implications for as well. “This could also push banks to regionalise and expand in other countries of the bloc so as to optimise their capital,” he told OBG.

Central Bank Policy

In a bid to stimulate the interbank market and reduce banks’ reliance on the BCEAO, the central bank pushed up the marginal lending facility rate in 2016 from 3.5% to 4.5%. According to the IMF, in addition to fuelling growth in the interbank market, the move reduced banks’ appetite for government bonds and contributed to large issuances of eurobonds by Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal in 2018. However, the decision also led to higher financing costs as many banks still opt to borrow from the BCEAO.

Mortgages

In September 2018 the UEMOA’s Regional Fund for Mortgage Refinancing, together with the West African Development Bank and the World Bank, launched a $155m project to boost housing finance. Mortgage penetration in the region is low, with banks granting a combined 15,000 new mortgage loans every year, representing a small proportion of overall housing needs. It is estimated that the regional housing deficit stands at around 800,000 units per year – a number that will surely increase as UEMOA’s population doubles in the next 20 years.

Banking Penetration

The growing number of banks and the extension of their physical footprint across Côte d’Ivoire has had a positive impact on banking penetration in recent years. However, the proportion of people with a bank account remains low, measured at 19.6% in 2017, according to APBEF-CI. There were 712 bank branches in the country in 2017, up from 626 in 2016, and 1004 ATMs, according to data from the BCEAO. Since the end of the political crisis in 2011, banks have invested significantly to expand their networks, including in the north of the country. Nonetheless, about half of all bank branches are located in the commercial capital Abidjan.

Financial Inclusion

In a bid to improve financial inclusion, in 2014 the BCEAO demanded that banks offer 19 specific services to clients without charge, including the opening of bank accounts. By 2017 Ivorian banks had 3.3m accounts on their books, compared to 2.5m in 2014. Despite these efforts, it has been microfinance institutions and mobile banking that have most significantly contributed to increasing financial inclusion in recent years. According to the BCEAO, deposits in Ivorian microfinance institutions rose by 13.5% in the year to June 2018, reaching nearly CFA300bn (€450m). This was the largest increase in the UEMOA. Over the same period, total credit granted jumped by 18.5% to about CFA275bn (€412.5m). “A large part of the population works in the informal sector and is excluded from the classic financial system,” Samuel Komissa Yao, technical coordinator at UNACOOPEC-CI, a local cooperative banking umbrella, told OBG. “In this context, microfinance is a key factor to help reduce that gap.”

Financial Technology

As they are easier to open than bank accounts, the number of mobile money accounts – whereby users can save, make payments and transfer money through their phones – has surged in the past few years to reach 11.4m as of June 2018, compared with 7.3m in June 2015.

According to the World Bank’s Global Findex, using the broader definition of financial inclusion – people with a bank account or mobile money account – meant inclusion improved from 34% to 41% between 2014 and 2017. Orange alone boasts 6.2m users of its mobile money service Orange Money, and in mid-2018 it partnered with NSIA to start banking operations.

Facing rising competition from telecoms operators, traditional lenders are also investing significant sums to develop their digital footprint. For instance, Standard Chartered launched an online-only bank in Côte d’Ivoire in March 2018, while Ecobank and Société Générale have both made digital banking a priority to fuel future growth in the markets in Africa where they operate. Despite marked growth in mobile money in recent years, some in the industry express cautious optimism. “The regulatory framework is the main factor restraining the development of digital banking,” Ruben Dieudonné, director-general of financial group Microcred/Baobab, told OBG. “Côte d’Ivoire’s banking sector is under supervision both locally and regionally. Although regulators are crucial to build a stabilised banking environment, regulatory flexibility is required to make room for technology in the sector.”

Islamic Finance

In May 2018 the government authorised microfinance institutions to carry out Islamic finance operations – a decision meant to improve financial inclusion and increase the use of Islamic finance, which is still relatively underdeveloped in the country despite the presence of a large Muslim population. Afriland FirstBank Côte d’Ivoire is the only bank that currently offers Islamic products, following the launch of its Islamic window in 2016.

Funds

Côte d’Ivoire is also an attractive market for private equity, and the number of funds operating in the country grew from two in 2008 to 15 by mid-2017. The funds include Tunisia’s AfricInvest, France’s Amethis Finance, Mauritius’ Adenia Partners and US-based Emerging Capital Partners. In April 2018 France’s Investisseurs & Partenaires launched Comoé Capital, a fund focusing on start-ups. According to the African Private Equity and Venture Capital Association, Côte d’Ivoire received a combined 48% of private equity deals in francophone West Africa between 2014 and 2016, up from 40% between 2011 and 2013. The country accounted for 79% of the value of these deals during the 2014-17 period, up from 54% in 2011-13.

“Entrepreneurial spirit is growing in Côte d’Ivoire, although it remains lower than it English-speaking African countries,” Amadou Sanankoua, CEO of strategy consulting firm OnPoint Africa Group, told OBG. “Investment and funding remains the issue, and the country is in need of more business angels in order to entrench a genuine start-up culture,” he added.

Outlook

With headline economic growth expected to hover around a robust 7% per annum over the next five years, Côte d’Ivoire’s banking sector is likely to remain attractive, with more banks attempting to penetrate the market. However, the progressive implementation from January 2018 of international prudential standards means that banks will have to boost their capital if they want to maintain their level of lending. This in turn is expected to drive consolidation in the sector in the medium term. It is hoped this will have the added benefit of improving banks’ risk management, a weakness exposed in 2018 following the bankruptcy of the major local cocoa exporter SAF-Cacao.

Another key challenge for banks will be the stiff competition from telecoms companies that are building on the impressive growth of mobile banking and are now aiming to expand further into financial services, which has the potential to completely reshape the industry.

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The Report: Côte d'Ivoire 2019

Banking chapter from The Report: Côte d'Ivoire 2019

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