Bank of the Year Awards 2021

Africa’s top lenders from 2021.



Citibank Algeria

Algeria’s state-dominated banking sector has faced a series of challenges since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, with a slump in oil and gas revenues resulting in low liquidity, rising bad loans and under-capitalisation across the board.

In the midst of such challenges, Citibank Algeria has once again emerged as the country’s top lender, adapting quickly to remain close to its clients and minimise disruption to its business operations.

The bank was quick to organise several globally and locally targeted events for its clients to improve understanding and adoption of its digital solutions, and to provide them with regular updates on the regulatory framework, market outlook and investment opportunities in the country.

Other highlights for the year included putting in place a dedicated digital payments solution for a client (in collaboration with the bank’s regional channel team), enabling instant email notifications with full payment details and creating better visibility for the client’s treasury function.

Citi also provided its ‘Citi Payment Insights’ solution to several clients, enhancing their real-time gross settlement payments experience by giving them the ability to track transactions in a similar way to package tracking, generating proof of payments, and crucially enabling clients to flag transactions as confidential to restrict visibility when required.

“Recent times have been marked by the need to stay close and connected to our clients, facilitating the access to the digital platforms,” says Citi Algeria’s CEO Ramz Hamzaoui.

“The bank adapted quickly to remain close to its clients, showcasing a strong capacity to ensure undisrupted business operations in times of crisis, and availing interactive and intuitive digital connections, critical to our target market,” he adds.

While the bank reported an 11% drop in assets for 2020, profits continued to increase, with return on equity increasing from 26% in 2019 to 28%. The year also saw Citibank Algeria contribute substantially to the country’s Covid-19 relief fund.


Banco Angolano de Investimentos

After a bruising 2020, this year may see Angola finally come out of recession, thanks to an improvement in oil revenues – which account for 90% of exports – and International Monetary Fund-backed reforms that commit the country to fiscal discipline.

In a competitive country category, Banco Angolano de Investimentos (BAI) has been awarded this year’s Bank of the Year title, with the judges impressed by its digital initiatives and commitment to Covid-19 relief within the country.

While BAI’s financial performance fell short of others – Tier 1 capital declined by 6%, while profits plunged by 76% – the lender’s non-performing loans ratio, while still high, improved to 14.2% from 15.1% over the course of 2020.

One of BAI’s key achievements in the past year was the formal launch of ‘Adianta Já’ – a digital-only credit advance service with a repayment period of up to 61 days, targeting customers in the lower income segment. The bank signed up 37,000 subscriptions in its first full month of operations, with 500–1000 new subscribers added per day thereafter in its first year of operations.

The bank also implemented a major upgrade to its ‘é-Kwanza’ mobile wallet programme in June 2020, with the service available to anyone with a basic mobile phone. The service is used by around 500,000 people and more than 35,000 merchants – more than double the bank’s initial target.

BAI was one of the early supporters of initiatives coordinated by Angola’s government to contain the spread of Covid-19 in the country and to contain the resultant fallout in the economy. The bank donated Kz10bn ($16.8m) to the country’s Ministry of Health, while running a series of awareness campaigns for employees and clients on Covid-19 awareness.

“More than ever, we want to continue to deliver the best customer experience in banking in Angola, merging the physical and digital services experiences to achieve a truly universal access banking platform, serving both retail, small and medium-sized enterprise, and corporate segments in our market,” says BAI’s CEO Luis Lélis.


UBA Benin

UBA Benin has been selected as the country’s Bank of the Year for 2021 in recognition of the lender’s strong financial position during the Covid-19 pandemic, as its ambitious transformation programme bore fruit during a difficult year.

Last year began with the appointment of Gbenga Makinde as the new CEO and managing director of UBA Benin. The bank then initiated a change programme focusing on internal processes and working conditions, while targeting an improvement in key banking metrics versus market competitors.

In addition to improved working conditions, the bank has reaped benefits in financial performance, with significant improvements in its fundamentals compared with competitors in terms of deposits, balance sheets and profitability.

For example, UBA Benin saw its asset base increase by 50% over 2020. Profitability and efficiency also saw significant improvements; return on equity improved from 10.9% to 15.6%. The cost-to-income ratio, which saw an increase in 2019, dropped from 77.5% to 64.4% in 2020.

Improvements in key financial indicators have not come at the expense of UBA’s traditional strengths in digital finance. The bank’s Leo Chat Banking platform – the first of its kind in the country – is complemented by mobile money automation partnerships with local telcos, Moov and MTN. A partnership with a local fintech has seen the distribution of more than 100,000 prepaid cards for betting activities in the country.

In addition to rolling out measures to ensure the safety of staff and customers during the Covid-19 pandemic, the bank donated CFA Fr57.6m ($100,000) to the government to boost the country’s response to the virus. Coronavirus awareness messages accompanied all of the bank’s marketing campaigns on both social and traditional media, while pricing on digital finance products was relaxed to encourage the use of contactless payment measures to reduce risk of transmission.


First National Bank Botswana

After suffering its worst annual recession in 50 years in 2020, Botswana’s economy is set to post one of Africa’s strongest recoveries in 2021, as demand for the country’s mining exports – and diamonds, in particular – has improved.

In a competitive category, First National Bank (FNB) Botswana has been selected as the country’s Bank of the Year for 2021, thanks to significant strides in the bank’s digital offerings during the pandemic.

The bank saw healthy asset growth of 15% in 2020, but its profitability slipped during the year, with return on equity falling from 22.7% to 20.1% and non-performing loans rising from 6.7% to 7.6%.

However, FNB has benefited from increased activity within the micro, small and medium-sized enterprise (MSME) sector, as small businesses in the country mobilised to supply pandemic-related products, such as masks and sanitisers, to the government. FNB stepped in to support these companies’ need for additional banking services, increasing its MSME base by 24% during 2020.

The year also saw the increase of FNB’s Cash Plus agent network, offering cash deposits and withdrawals, as well as digital wallet remittances. Following the launch of the network in 2019, the bank had recruited more than 350 agents around the country by end-2020 – half of which are located in remote areas with no physical FNB branch. In June 2020, the bank recorded more than 100m Botswana pula ($8.71m) worth of transactions, ahead of target. FNB also launched eWallet Reversal, enabling the reversal of an eWallet transaction sent to an incorrect number, eliminating a pain point for customers.

FNB donated 5m pula to the country’s Covid-19 relief fund, and made a further 5m pula of donations via various initiatives under the auspices of the FNB Botswana Foundation. The bank also helped its customers via the country’s loan holiday programme to the value of 343m pula for retail customers and to the value of 1.1bn pula for commercial lenders, including MSMEs.

Burkina Faso

UBA Burkina Faso

UBA Burkina Faso has regained the Bank of the Year title in 2021, thanks to robust financial results and improvements in its core banking system.

The past year saw UBA strengthen its vendor selection framework to improve quality standards in line with an ongoing review of its existing vendor relationships, with a web-based platform for the registration of suppliers and service orders. The bank has also set up a dedicated business desk to better serve the country’s small business customers.

Significantly, the bank has also invested heavily in its core IT systems for better integration with local telcos, in a bid to improve financial inclusion in the country via mobile banking services. During the past year, UBA launched its e-payments system for the country’s National Tax Office; upgraded its internet banking platform for both retail and corporate customers; and released a new version of its UBA Mobile app, offering services such as personalised finance management and stronger authentication for transactions.

Alongside such digital upgrades and a commitment to agency banking, the bank has maintained its branch network in the country. In combination, these channels yielded around 28,000 new accounts in 2020.

After a decline in 2019, UBA Burkina Faso registered a 29% increase in its asset base in 2020 and a 21% increase in profit, while also posting improvements in its cost-to-income and non-performing loan ratios.

UBA continues to champion the cause of youth entrepreneurship via the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF), founded by UBA’s former group managing director. TEF’s entrepreneurship programme awarded 27 prizes of $5000 each to 27 young Burkinabes to help them build up businesses. The programme is targeting prizes for 100 Burkinabe for 2021.

The bank also donated CFA Fr87.5m ($150,000) in 2020 to Burkina Faso’s National Coordination for Pandemic Response to Coronavirus, in order to fight against the spread of the virus in the country.


UBA Cameroon

Despite the ongoing conflict between government forces and anglophone separatists, Cameroon’s economy has so far endured the Covid-19 pandemic relatively unscathed, its economy contracting by just 1.5% in 2020 and set to grow by 3.6% in 2021, according to the International Monetary Fund.

UBA Cameroon is the winner of this year’s Bank of the Year award thanks to its strong financial performance and the ongoing development of its digital services.

The bank saw its Tier 1 capital position rise by 25% during 2020, in line with increases for the previous two years. Net profit for 2020 increased by 7%, while return on equity improved from 28% to 32.4%. While the bank was able to significantly reduce its non-performing loan stock, from 12% in 2019 to 2.9% in 2020, its cost-to-income ratio rose for the second consecutive year, reaching 48%.

In addition to its existing digital strengths – which include its Leo virtual banker and mobile banking services – UBA recently launched its UBA Connect service, enabling customers to conduct traditional banking transactions at any UBA branch in the 20 African countries where it operates. Within Cameroon, the service has found favour with those trading along the borders with Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, Chad and Gabon, facilitating seamless transactions and reducing the risk of theft.

The solution charges 0.2% on withdrawal and 0.1% on deposits from a non-
resident location, encouraging a cashless business environment and enabling customers to directly access their bank accounts, deposit and withdraw cash from any UBA branch across the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa.

Within Cameroon itself, UBA continues to reap the benefit of its agency banking partnership with Cameroon Postal Services, with the deployment of more than 200 point-of-sale terminals and 100 offsite ATMs, expanding the bank’s reach within the country.

Cape Verde

Banco Interatlântico

Banco Interatlântico (BI) has scooped Cape Verde’s Bank of the Year award for 2021, despite a difficult year financially. The judges were particularly impressed by the bank’s efforts to maintain services for its customer base in the midst of challenging economic conditions.

The collapse of international tourism prompted by the Covid-19 crisis hit the west African island nation particularly hard, with a 15% contraction in its economy. The sharp slowdown in private consumption has had a severe impact on local banks. BI’s annual profit dropped by 41% during 2020, while costs associated with the pandemic saw its cost-to-income ratio increase from 50% to 57% during the same period. Despite this, its non-performing loan (NPL) ratio fell for the second consecutive year, from 11.5% in 2019 to 8.9% in 2020, as part of the bank’s on-going NPL recovery process.

In addition to a moratorium on loans announced by the Cape Verdean government, BI created a Covid-19 credit line to support companies’ cash flows, helping them fulfil obligations to suppliers, clients and staff. The bank also suspended transfer fees and created new channels enabling it to interact with customers remotely. The bank also implemented Visa’s 3D Secure System in April 2020, improving the security of online transactions, and introduced contactless payment for credit cards.

BI continued to invest heavily in its digital modernisation programme, with a view to implementing a fresh digital strategy that will provide new channels and points of interaction with its customers. The bank upgraded to latest-generation physical servers and increased its data storage capacity, while reinforcing its remote access capabilities via secure VPN connections, which enabled most of its staff to telework, thereby assuring the normal running of the bank during the pandemic. BI has subsequently introduced a controlled return to physical workplaces, assuring that half are teleworking while the other half attend the office on a biweekly rotation.


UBA Chad

Despite a challenging year financially, UBA Chad has been selected as the country’s Bank of the Year for 2021, in recognition of the lender’s efforts to deepen financial inclusion via both physical and digital channels.

While UBA Chad’s asset base continued to grow healthily in 2020, the year saw net profit drop by two-thirds, with the decline attributed to a decrease in electronic transfers to other countries and the freezing of loans to civil servants during the Covid-19 pandemic. There was also a drop in the bank’s foreign exchange income – a consequence of new exchange regulations requiring the repatriation of 70% of incoming foreign currencies to the central bank.

Despite such challenging circumstances, UBA Chad continued to expand its physical footprint – a necessary move for increasing financial inclusion in a country where less than a third of the population own a mobile phone. The bank launched a new branch expansion programme in early 2020, with the opening of four new branches in the provinces of Mandoul-Koumra, Ouad-dai-Abeche, Sila-Goz Beida and Chari Baguirmi-Ndjamena, thereby spreading its footprint in the north and south of the country.

In addition, the bank has implemented an upgrade to its mobile banking app, streamlining the banking experience and introducing new functionalities for visually impaired customers, such as offering voice recognition as a transaction channel. The app also allows for budgeting, loan applications, automated bill payments, card control, account opening, money transfers, hand-gesture control, shortcuts and mobile airtime data top-ups.

In the early stages of the pandemic, UBA Chad signed a memorandum with the government of Chad to provide loans to start-ups and entrepreneurs impacted by Covid-19. The bank was one of the first lenders in the country to donate to relief efforts, with a $100,000 donation to the government to help it purchase medical equipment.


Exim Bank Comores

Exim Bank Comores has been awarded the title of Bank of the Year for Comoros thanks to a combination of solid financial performance and a series of important product launches and technology upgrades.

Despite a challenging 2020, the bank’s net income continued to rise following its return to profitability in 2019. Return on equity improved from 18.5% in 2019 to 29.1% in 2020. After spiking to 22% in 2019, non-performing loans fell to 13.4% in 2020, with its cost-to-income ratio also improving during the year.

The bank launched a lending product for small and medium-sized enterprise customers in 2020, enabling them to raise loans using gold and jewellery items as security. This allowed business owners to raise funds for general business purposes, acquire tools and machinery, and pay other expenses.

This initiative contributed to an overall growth in the bank’s loans and advances portfolio with a total disbursement of CFr367m ($860,000) over a period of 10 months.

As part of its response to Covid-19, Exim Bank supported clients by offering moratoria on loans and waved late-payment penalties for customers and businesses affected by the pandemic. This was in addition to the support extended to employees of various corporates by allowing personal loans in view of delays in receipt of salaries.

Exim Bank has initiated activities to upgrade its core banking system with the latest technology, in a bid to improve existing functionalities and provide its clients with online banking and other up-to-date services and channels.

This year has seen preparations for a bank-to-wallet and wallet-to-bank service in partnership with the two major telecommunication companies in the country, with the bank’s prepaid Visa international card set for launch by the end of 2021.

Côte d’Ivoire 

UBA Côte d’Ivoire

Despite the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, Côte d’Ivoire was one of west Africa’s better performing economies in 2020. The country recorded a 2% gain in gross domestic product for the year, with growth rebounding strongly in 2021.

In a closely fought contest, UBA Côte d’Ivoire has been selected as the country’s Bank of the Year for 2021 thanks to a significant increase in its retail customer base, accompanied by a solid financial performance.

During the past year, UBA Côte d’Ivoire launched ‘Project BIM’, an initiative designed to significantly increase customers and deposits within the bank’s retail business. The initiative – which targeted new customers in the country’s markets and universities, as well as via door-to-door selling – prompted a 40% year-on-year increase in account openings, with significant contributions to both transaction fee income and pre-tax profits.

Overall, the lender saw a significant increase in profitability, with return on equity rising from 44.8% in 2019 to 59.2% at end-2020. After a surge in 2019, non-
performing loans improved from 4.4% to 3.7%.

The bank’s financing business saw significant growth in 2020, despite the impact of Covid on the wider economy, with risk assets increasing 24% year-on-year. Among the highlights were a contribution to the financing of construction of a second container terminal in Abidjan, a €150m letter of credit to the oil and gas sector for the importation of crude oil, and CFA Fr45bn ($78.5m) worth of agricultural loans.

In response to the pandemic, UBA Côte d’Ivoire deployed a remote account opening platform, called Customer Data Collect, enabling customers to open accounts via mobile phones, leading to a 700% increase in account openings. The bank also released an upgrade of its UBA Mobile App, offering simplified navigation and biometric security features.

The bank also donated a fully equipped ambulance to the Minister of Health to help in the fight against Covid, and helped several customers reschedule loan payments in line with guidelines from the central bank.

Democratic Republic Of Congo 

Trust Merchant Bank

Despite a difficult financial year, Trust Merchant Bank (TMB) has regained its title as the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC’s) Bank of the Year for 2021. In one of Africa’s most hotly contested countries, TMB stood out for the launch of its pioneering Afrissur product, the upgrade of its enterprise resource planning capabilities, and the introduction of leasing products.

Rising expenses related to the Covid-19 pandemic hit banks’ bottom lines hard in 2020, with TMB’s net profit dropping by 92%, even as its gross banking revenues increased by 10%. The complete suspension of commercial aviation for a five-month period required the bank to charter planes to import hard currency. Profits were also impacted by exceptional provisioning for non-performing and restructured loans.

Despite the challenging environment, TMB officially launched its new insurance subsidiary Afrissur in 2020, with more than $12m invested in the company as of late-2021. The launch makes TMB one of the few bancassurance players in the country, with life insurance products enhancing the credit profit of the bank’s loan portfolio.

Last year, in addition to its life insurance business, TMB became the first commercial bank in the DRC to offer leasing products, targeting the agribusiness, mining support and construction sectors. The leasing of agricultural equipment is a particular priority for the bank, with only 10% of the 80 million hectares of arable land in the country currently in use.

TMB continues to operate a loan repayment holiday programme for clients whose operations have been negatively impacted by the ongoing pandemic, and is working with small business and corporate clients to review their refinancing needs, and respond with solutions that account for pandemic-related current or potential disruption.

“Our digital strategy has... evolved to ensure that the significant lead we already enjoy in the digital banking space is further reinforced with the development of new mobile banking products and services,” says TMB’s CEO Oliver Meisenberg. “We will continue to broaden our product offering, focusing on the development of non-interest income streams.”


CAC International Bank

In a competitive category, CAC International Bank has been selected as Djibouti’s Bank of the Year for 2021, with judges impressed by its superior performance compared with rivals, as well as its initiative in sustainable lending.

In 2020, Djibouti’s economy was hit by a weakening of global demand in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, prompting a sharp slowdown in re-export activities from the country’s Doraleh Container Terminal.

While CAC International saw its return on equity slip from 16.2% to 15.7% in 2020, the lender’s net profits increased by 12% for the year. Costs remained stable, while non-performing loans improved to 4.7%, after rising to 6.7% in 2019.

One of the bank’s key achievements for the review period was the development of an online payment gateway system to facilitate payments for International Djibouti Industrial Parks Operation FZCO (IDIPO), as well as Djibouti Port Community Systems (DPCS).

The gateway enables customers of both IDIPO and DPCS to make online payments to the respective organisations, and enable the organisations to monitor all receipts into their accounts held with CAC International.

CAC International also went live with InfrasoftTech’s proprietary Univius anti-money laundering solution, enabling the bank to monitor and filter out any malicious activities, and immediately conduct enhanced customer due diligence to reduce the overall risk associated with digital and traditional banking activities in real time.

Additionally, the bank launched a green loan product – the first of its kind in the country – enabling customers to purchase and install solar panels in their homes or offices and encouraging the adoption of renewable energy across the country.

In the payments space, CAC International has introduced CAC Pay, a cashless payment application enabling payments via QR codes.

As part of its efforts to check the spread of Covid-19 in the country, the bank organised vaccination for its employees and their families, and has extended financial support to local businesses that have been adversely affected by the pandemic.


Banque Misr

Egyptian banks continued to outperform their African counterparts throughout 2020, as the country posted significant economic growth on the back of its oil and gas sector.

In one of the most competitive country categories on the continent, Banque Misr has been crowned as 2021’s Bank of the Year for Egypt. The judges were impressed by the bank’s strong financial performance, together with its acquisition of CI Capital and the success of Banque Misr’s small and medium-sized enterprise lending business.

Banque Misr’s net profit continued to rise in 2020, albeit at a slower pace than 2019’s stellar year, with return on equity increasing from 13.4% in 2019 to 15.4% in 2020. The cost-to-income ratio remained stable for the year, while non-performing loans edged up from 2.1% to 2.3%.

Last year, the bank acquired CI Capital – a leading provider of investment banking, leasing and microloan products – for E£4.05bn ($257.7m), via a 24.7% stake acquisition via pre-arranged block trades between June and August 2020, and a mandatory tender offer conducted for the remaining shares in March this year.

The acquisition is part of Banque Misr’s strategy to develop and cultivate CI Capital as a non-banking financial services (NBFS) platform to boost financial inclusion across Egypt, Africa’s third-most populous country, in combination with the bank’s existing NBFS assets.

Banque Misr’s digital transformation programme, powered by its Digital Factory unit, continued apace in 2020. One of the programme’s key milestones was the launch of Express SME, a digital loan product designed to support small businesses with loans of up to E£2m over a maximum period of five years, with no mandatory branch visits and the availability of funds within as little as five days. In its first 10 months of operation, Express SME approved more than E£9bn worth of loans to more than 8700 customers.

Equatorial Guinea

Ecobank Equatorial Guinea

Ecobank Equatorial Guinea is the country’s Bank of the Year for 2021, scooping the award based on its steady financial performance throughout the Covid-19 crisis, together with several significant digital advances among its product offerings.

The central African nation’s oil exports were hit hard by the collapse in global demand in 2020, and the economy shrank by 4.9% during the year. The subsequent recovery of oil prices to multi-year highs has brought some relief, however, with the economy forecast to record a 4.1% growth in 2021.

Ecobank’s financial performance bucked the main economic trend, with profits more than doubling and return on equity increasing from 5.1% in 2019 to 12.6% in 2020. While costs remained stable, non-performing loans rose from 23.6% to 31.1%.

One of the bank’s main milestones in 2020 was the launch of a new QR code payment system available to users of its smartphone app, which enables customers to make digital payments free of charge to participating merchants. The service, activated on request within 24 hours, is the only one of its kind offered in the country.

Ecobank’s smartphone app has also been upgraded, enabling users to pay electricity bills directly via the app to national electricity company, Segesa. The bank has also launched its ‘Rapid Transfer International’ service, enabling Equatorial Guineans living in Europe to easily remit payments to their home country at a lower cost than other competing service providers.

“We are gaining market share through our strategic initiatives, especially those towards digitalisation,” says Olivier Kouame Brou, Ecobank Equatorial Guinea’s managing director.

“With digitisation becoming the norm, and the advent of African Continental Free Trade Area, we see the payments ecosystem as critical to Ecobank’s growth.”

Beyond its digital service offering, the bank continues to expand its physical presence in Equatorial Guinea, with the deployment of seven new ATMs across the country. In 2021, Ecobank concluded an agreement with local mobile operator Muni, which will enable Ecobank customers to purchase mobile airtime via the bank’s mobile app.


UBA Gabon

UBA Gabon has been awarded the title of Gabon’s Bank of the Year for 2021 thanks to a solid financial performance in the midst of a difficult economic climate, together with the expansion of both its physical footprint and its digital services offerings.

As an oil and gas exporter, Gabon was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, its first recession in more than 20 years. The economy is forecast to recover in 2021 with a growth of 1.5%, increasing to 3.9% by 2022, according to the International Monetary Fund.

UBA moved into its new headquarters on Boulevard Triomphal in the heart of Libreville’s government and corporate district in April 2021. The move has enhanced the bank’s status in the capital, with the new building helping to generate new customer registrations among high-end institutions and individuals.

In addition to its new flagship headquarters, the bank has opened new branches in Ntoum in Estuaire Province and the port of Owendo, and has deployed an additional five ATMs around the country, together with 50 point-of-sale (POS) terminals, reinforcing the bank’s position as having the country’s second-largest POS network.

In late 2020, the bank offered its instant bill payment service via bank cards to its customer base, the first such service offered by any bank in Gabon. The solution has been integrated with all e-commerce aggregators in the country, providing services for public institutions, private organisations and businesses either directly or through the aggregators.

The service has prompted a surge in account openings for the bank. Between December 2020 and June 2021, the bank opened more than 75% of the number of accounts opened in the entire year for 2020 as result of the service’s popularity.

The bank’s financial strength improved considerably in 2020. After plunging to a loss in 2019, UBA Gabon returned to profit in 2020, with its asset base increasing by 35%.


Ecobank Gambia

Ecobank Gambia picks up the country accolade this year, gaining recognition for its sound financial performance, as well as its commitment to the financial empowerment of women entrepreneurs and a series of digital upgrades.

The bank recorded stable finances during 2020, even as the economy entered a mild recession – its first for seven years – due to a collapse in tourism revenues attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic. Return on equity fell from 38.7% in 2019 to 37.6%, even as net profits rose by 21%. Costs were stable for the year, with non-performing loans little changed at 1.6%.

In November 2020, the pan-African bank rolled out its ‘Ellevate’ product suite across 33 markets, including Gambia, with a view to supporting female financial empowerment across the continent. The products under this umbrella are designed for businesses owned by women – or with a high percentage of female board members or employees – as well as companies producing goods or services that target women.

Ecobank intends to allocate 10% of its commercial banking loan portfolio to the programme, in a bid to help bridge the financing gap for women in Gambia and across its African footprint.

On the digital front, Ecobank Gambia upgraded its workflow system with Newgen’s Intelligent Business Process Suite, and accelerated the migration of its critical banking applications and processes to private clouds in June 2020 with enhanced security features.

In March 2021, the bank upgraded its mobile banking app, offering new features including easier payments via QR codes, the creation and topping up of virtual cards, and the opening of current and savings accounts via The following month saw the bank launch contactless payments via Visa cards.

“In addition to providing significant support for our customers during the Covid-19 pandemic, we are continuing to roll out and improve our digital products and solutions,” says Ecobank Gambia’s managing director Carl Asem.

“We are also targeting highly important, but significantly underserved, women’s businesses with a package of tailored financial and non-financial solutions – it offers huge growth potential.”


Stanbic Ghana

Stanbic Ghana has retained the country’s Bank of the Year title for 2021, in recognition of its innovation within the healthcare field, together with its doubling down on supporting the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector during the Covid-19 crisis.

With less than half of Ghana’s population enrolled in the country’s National Health Insurance Scheme, the payment of hospital bills for family and friends – a common occurrence before the pandemic – became a significant pain point for both hospitals and patients’ family and friends.

Stanbic’s Heath Pay app was launched in March 2021 for use at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, Ghana’s first and largest teaching hospital, and enables patients or clients to make payments directly against a bill into the hospital collection account from any location.

The app also allows clients to track their bills using a unique reference number, which is saved and used for subsequent validation. For the hospital, it affords the opportunity of a single view on all transactions or payments made into the collection through the app.

“Increased adoption of mobile money payment services and the proliferation of solutions by fintechs over the past few years has deepened the levels of financial inclusion, and provided consumers with increased convenience and flexibility,” says Stanbic Ghana’s CEO Kwamina Asomaning.

“At Stanbic, we are devoting significant resources to better understand the evolving needs of our clients within this context, and to design digital solutions that address these needs in a manner that produces consistently positive customer experiences.”

Stanbic also entered into a series of partnerships to support Ghanaian SMEs impacted by the pandemic. One such partnership was with Investing for Employment, an offshoot of German development bank KfW to safeguard jobs in the SME sector, with grants worth €6m made available for selected small businesses. Stanbic further supplemented the grants by providing additional credit relief to these SMEs through extended loan tenors.


UBA Guinea

In a close contest, UBA Guinea retakes the crown as the country’s Bank of the Year for 2021. Impressively, it managed to return to profit after two years of losses as the result of a strategic transformation programme.

The bank began adopting a new strategic segmentation strategy from early 2020, developing new teams and products for specific segments, including small and medium-sized enterprises, consumer lending, personal and commercial banking. Key to the strategy has been the hiring of direct sales agents across all segments, with a particular focus on generating account-opening leads.

As part of this approach, UBA Guinea has renewed its focus on the student banking segment, with the launch of a new student savings product with no fees that can be linked to mobile wallets. The focus on students also saw the bank install two new ATMs in the first public university in Conakry.

The strategy has already borne fruit, with a market-leading 10,000 accounts opened during the year across all segments, compared with 8270 for its closest rival, and the second-highest growth in incremental deposits for 2020.

Such numbers have helped turn UBA Guinea’s finances around, with a GNf45.9bn ($4.8m) profit for 2020, compared with a loss of GNf3bn in 2019. Assets rose by 50% over the same period, while non-performing loans rose from 2.8% to 5.4%.

On the digital front, the bank launched its Red App for iPhone and Android, with features including cards and account management, transfer and payment to other banks, loan requests, standing instructions, ATM and branch locators, and the top-up of mobile airtime.

As part of its Covid response measures, UBA Guinea made a $100,000 donation to the government, reduced interest rates by 1% for borrowers, and reviewed and extended loan repayment periods for borrowers adversely affected by the crisis.


Orabank Guinée Bissau

Orabank Guinée Bissau takes home the accolade for Guinea-Bissau’s Bank of the Year in recognition of solid financial results, significant internal reorganisation and a series of new products.

After reporting a loss in 2019, Orabank surged back to profitability in 2020, its bottom line in a healthier state than in 2018. The lender’s cost-to-income ratio fell from 75% in 2019 to 68% to 2020, while non-performing loans remained stable – even as the country entered recession for the first time since 2012.

During the past year, the bank created a new department for recoveries, with a view to boosting collections. The move has borne fruit with collections up 59% in 2020 compared with 2019. The bank has also separated its risk management function from its credit function. As part of this reorganisation, the bank has recruited a new credit department manager, answering directly to general management.

The bank has also acquired a Bank Identification Number licence which allows it to produce its own prepaid Visa cards, after having previously relied on its sister bank in Togo to do this and then share commission with it.

In June 2021, Orabank launched its ‘Wallet-to-Bank/Bank-to-Wallet’ product in partnership with local telco Orange Bissau, enabling its customers to link their bank and mobile accounts to check balances and transfer money between accounts.

In line with central bank directives, Orabank reduced fees across several services and postponed loan repayments for companies in sectors affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, including hospitality and travel.

The bank donated protective equipment, hygiene and disinfection products worth CFA Fr2.5m ($4400) to the Ministry of Health and subscribed to the West African Economic and Monetary Union Covid bonds programme to the tune of CFA Fr7bn.


KCB Bank Kenya

KCB Bank, Kenya’s largest bank by Tier 1 capital, is the winner of the Bank of the Year title for 2021, coming out top in a very competitive field due to its efficiency and cost reduction drive, as well as the continued success of its digital business.

Despite a collapse in tourism revenues, the impact of coronavirus on Kenya was mild in comparison with other African states in 2020, with strong growth in agriculture. Nevertheless, a sharp rise in non-performing loans hit KCB’s net profit for the year, which fell by 19% from 2019 levels.

Yet the bank continued to reap the benefits of its ‘Beyond Banking’ efficiency and productivity programme during 2020, with its cost-to-income ratio improving from 42.1% in 2019 to 38.2% in 2020. The programme has seen the bank improve efficiency in its branches – with average wait times decreasing from 23 minutes to 14 minutes over the course of the year – while encouraging the use of online channels. Internal processes continue to be streamlined with the rolling out of business process management and electronic document management system solutions to aid workflow automation.

On the digital front, the take up of the bank’s KCB Vooma mobile wallet has been one of its main success stories for 2020. Launched in late 2019, the platform has registered more than 300,000 wallets, 125,000 merchants and 10,000 agents as of late 2021. Vooma was one of the main engines of digital financial services for the bank in 2020; 98% of all transactions for the year occurred outside physical branches, with mobile transactions exceeding Ks1tn ($8.9bn) and more than Ks150m in loans advanced via mobile channels.

The year was a watershed one for the bank’s micro, small and medium-sized enterprise (MSME) business. The number of MSME customers serviced by the bank passed a million, with lending to the sector rising to Ks49bn. As the pandemic took its toll on small businesses, KCB restructured more than 3800 MSME facilities worth Ks7.5bn, and offered temporary overdrafts to businesses to manage their immediate needs, such as payment of salaries and working capital.


UBA Liberia

In 2021, UBA Liberia repeats its win as the country’s Bank of the Year thanks to significant partnerships with the country’s tax authority and Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP).

The bank was selected by the MFDP for a pilot programme to upgrade the government employee salary-paying system from being cheque-based to one that is fully online. As part of the programme, UBA Liberia developed an application programming interface enabling government agencies and ministries to perform automated payments directly to employees’ bank accounts in either US or Liberian dollars, regardless of who the employee banks with.

The programme has greatly improved the government’s payments system, enabling the generation of timely reports that can be used for decision-making by executive management, as well as streamlining service delivery for government employees.

Additionally, the Liberia Revenue Authority introduced its prepaid tax card in collaboration with UBA in September 2020. The co-branded card, which can also be used as a Visa card, enables Liberian residents to pay their tax online, and can also be used for regular purchases anywhere in the world.

UBA Liberia reported strong financial results for 2020, with a doubling of net income resulting in return on equity increasing from 10.2% to 17.6% during the year. While the bank’s cost-to-income ratio continued to improve, non-performing loans surged from 6% to 24.1% for the year amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

In addition to implementing strict health protocols to check the spread of Covid among employees and customers, the bank restructured loan facilities and extended tenors for borrowers adversely affected by resulting economic tightening in the country during the year.

UBA Liberia provided financing for the health ministry’s import of ventilators and other crucial healthcare equipment, and donated $150,000 to the government for the provision of aid to the population.


State Bank of Mauritius

In an extremely competitive contest, State Bank of Mauritius (SBM) has been awarded the country’s Bank of the Year title for 2021, in recognition of key advances in its small and medium-sized (SME) banking and personal wealth management segments, alongside a marked improvement in its financial performance.

After two years of declining profitability, SBM’s bottom line rebounded impressively in 2020, with return on equity nearly trebling to 7.7% for the year. Its cost-to-income ratio saw an improvement after a spike in 2019, although non-performing loans rose from 7.6% in 2019 to 11.1% at end-2020.

During the review period, the bank has doubled down on the SME segment in Mauritius and its territory Rodrigues by hiring dedicated analysts and relationship managers across all its branches to better cater to SME client needs, in line with a branch upgrade programme.

The strategy has borne fruit during the Covid pandemic, enabling the bank to better serve small business customers facing financial challenges. The bank has also provided financial support to economic operators, SMEs, households and individuals over and above the central bank’s Covid-19 support programme.

SBM has also implemented a wealth and portfolio management solution to better cater for portfolio management services, improving back-end capacity, speed of execution and client onboarding. The bank launched a new private wealth client portal in July 2020, in line with its digitalisation strategy and its endeavour to provide a seamless online experience to private wealth clients.

Also in line with this strategy is the bank’s SBM Pocket mobile app, launched in March 2021, enabling customers search and view discounts at merchant partners, apply for credit cards and loans, and track foreign exchange movements. The new app generated more than 250 account-opening applications and more than 150 card applications in the six months after launch.


Bank of Africa

Morocco’s Bank of the Year for 2021 is Bank of Africa, the country’s third-largest lender, in recognition of the lender’s green finance initiatives and Covid-19 support measures.

In line with its impressive track record of promoting sustainable development, Bank of Africa signed a €10m ‘Green Value Chain’ facility in 2020 with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to promote the competitiveness of small businesses and investments, including of women-led businesses, in the green economy in Morocco.

In March 2021 the bank re-launched Cap Bleu, one of Africa’s first water financing facilities in partnership with Agence Française de Développement and the European Investment Bank, easing eligibility criteria for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), including free technical assistance and financial incentive.

In 2020, Bank of Africa signed a partnership agreement with the EBRD for a €145m finance facility – the first of its kind in the 40 or so countries in which the multilateral financial institution has operations – available within the framework of the EBRD’s ‘resilience framework’, in response to the global health crisis.

Under the agreement with Bank of Africa, the EBRD will provide a €100m loan for on-lending to corporations and SMEs that are experiencing a decrease in activity, turnover and profitability, to help them address their liquidity needs. In addition, the EBRD is increasing an existing uncommitted multi-currency trade finance limit by €45m to facilitate export and import transactions.

The bank has provided assistance and support for nearly 10,000 Moroccan small businesses, in the form of more than Dh12bn ($1.32bn) of funding since the beginning of the Covid pandemic. It has also made a Dh1bn contribution to the Covid-19 pandemic management fund established by King Mohammed VI.

“Bank of Africa’s reputation as a pioneer in digital banking and a catalyst for financial and social inclusion was further enhanced in 2020,” says Othman Benjelloun, the bank’s chairman and CEO.

“The group delivered a strong performance across a wide range of businesses, demonstrating its solid fundamentals, a constantly improving environmental footprint and a positive social impact with regard to its stakeholders,” he adds.


Millennium bim

Millennium bim retains its position as Mozambique’s Bank of the Year for 2021 thanks to significant progress in the bank’s ongoing digital transformation, together with measures taken to cushion the impact of Covid-19 on the local economy.

In the context of further encouraging the adoption of digital channels during the pandemic, Millennium bim revamped its Smart IZI app with a new look and feel, as well as an expanded suite of services. New features included seamless transfers to e-money accounts and services such as M-Pesa and e-Mola, social security payments, internet banking password retrieval, and self-service for transfers abroad, as well as an improved capability for uploading documents. The relaunch of the app saw a 46% increase in client loyalty within six months.

The bank launched Pay IZI, a mobile app that acts as a point of sale, in January 2021. The app, which can be enabled without visiting a bank branch, enables merchants to accept payments from Millennium bim customers and M-Pesa users, having immediate access to notifications of all payments made, daily transaction summaries, and access to all their past transactions, which can be filtered by date, type and payment status.

Millennium bim also enjoyed success with its mobile microcredit product, offering short-term financing at affordable interest rates. By the end of 2020, the bank had disbursed more than 160,000 loans and, by June 2021, this number increased to more than 745,000 facilities.

In the wake of the Covid crisis, Millennium bim cancelled events related to the bank’s 25th anniversary celebrations, donating the 15m meticais ($235,000) budget for the purchase of healthcare equipment.

“Our objective for the coming years is to maintain and reinforce our continued investment in our technological platforms, continue to invest in our human capital and grow our business with a focus on a tight risk control and sustainable results in order to keep the strength of our balance sheet,” says Millennium bim’s CEO José Reino da Costa.

“Furthermore, we will continue our social responsibility programmes, [making] our contribution to financial inclusion in Mozambique.”


Bank Windhoek

One of the key highlights of the year for Bank Windhoek – winner of Namibia’s Bank of the Year for 2021 – was the issuance of the country’s first sustainability bond in June 2021.

Following the success of its landmark green bond of 2019, the bank obtained alternative funding sources to the value of N$227m ($15.2m) through the sustainability bond on a private placement basis. The proceeds are exclusively applied to finance or refinance a combination of green and social projects – in part or in full, and new or existing.

Projects eligible for funding include those focused on renewable energy, energy efficiency, green buildings, sustainable waste management, sustainable agriculture and tourism, and investments into quality, accessible and innovative healthcare and education facilities.

In the same month as it issued the sustainability bond, Bank Windhoek was welcomed as a member of Nasdaq’s sustainable bond network, providing the lender with an online platform to showcase its Green and Sustainable Bond Framework details, impact reports, projects financed, and bond listing details.

Just a month before, in May 2021, the bank launched its new mobile app, offering increased convenience and security features including biometric login capabilities.

Bank Windhoek posted resilient results for 2020, even as the Namibian economy shrank by 8% following a sharp decline in tourism. After a 10% drop in net profits in 2019, the bank posted a 4% drop for 2020, with costs stable for the year.

In addition to assisting individual and commercial customers impacted by Covid-19 on a case-by-case basis, the bank offered payment holidays and restructuring facilities to those struggling with loan repayments.

The bank has launched a distribution transformation programme, branded as #GoBeyond, in an effort to develop a “a future-fit distribution model, leveraging data, digital and a customer-centric design to enhance the customer experience and lower our cost to serve”.


UBA Nigeria

UBA Nigeria is awarded this year’s Bank of the Year in the country in recognition of its solid financial performance and its response to the Covid-19 crisis. The bank – the third-largest in Africa’s biggest economy – saw its profits rise by 27.7% in 2020, with return on equity increasing from 16.2% in 2019 to 17.2% in 2020. Non-performing loans continued to decline for the second consecutive year, while the cost-to-income ratio remained stable.

In line with guidance from the Central Bank of Nigeria, the bank has restructured approximately 3% of its loan book for customers whose cashflow was impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, and has reduced or removed several transaction banking charges to further encourage customers to use digital channels.

Through the UBA Foundation, the bank donated N5bn ($12.2m) to fight the spread of Covid-19 in Nigeria and across its footprint, with half going to causes within the country. Following the closure of schools, UBA has partnered with an educational arts charity to distribute home-learning materials to help pupils remain motivated during lockdowns.

The bank promoted World Immunisation Week, which aims to raise awareness and increase rates of immunisation, to its customers and stakeholders. The UBA Foundation has committed to raising $1.5m for the Gavi Vaccine Alliance to end infant mortality through vaccinations.

As part of its digital transformation programme to encourage the use of non-physical banking channels, UBA has promoted biometric authentication at its ATMs, contactless payment cards, and contactless point-of-sale terminals for ease of transactions. Such measures are in addition to the bank’s deployment of technology to offer basic financial services outside of bank branches via its agency banking proposition.

The bank has also launched its UBA Connect service, enabling customers to conduct traditional banking transactions at any UBA branch in the 20 African countries where it operates.

Republic of the Congo

UBA Congo Brazaville

Picking up the accolade for Bank of the Year in the Republic of the Congo, UBA Congo Brazaville reported a robust financial performance even as the country’s oil-dependent economy suffered a significant setback in 2020. UBA also continues to make progress in its Customer First (C1st) initiative, a customer services transformation project across all segments.

Even as the domestic economy shrank by 8.2% in 2020, UBA Congo Brazaville recorded an 18% increase in net profits, together with a 21% increase in Tier 1 capital.

As part of C1st, the bank has made new efforts to target corporate customers with an increasingly holistic approach, offering products and services to both large corporate customers and their entire value chain, each customised to meet the need of individual market segments.

UBA Congo Brazaville has increasingly focused on winning regional and international settlement business among importers by customising international payment services, such as MoneyGram and Swift, alongside the bank’s in-house regional payment service, Africash.

With the bank’s mobile-based mass market ‘Magic Banking’ service, UBA is increasingly targeting the country’s emerging middle class with its next generation banking offering, via dedicated ATMs and branches.

UBA Congo Brazaville has continued to grow its lucrative Visa prepaid card business across all market segments in 2020. The bank scored several important distribution partnerships for the prepaid cards, including microfinance institution Mucodec, mobile operators MTN and Airtel, and the Ministry of Finance, to assist with the payment of university students’ bursaries.

As part of its efforts to combat the spread of Covid-19, UBA Congo Brazaville donated $100,000 to the government in 2020, and helped several of its customers restructure loans. This came on top of internal health and safety measures taken to help protect staff.


Equity Bank Rwanda

Rwanda’s Bank of the Year for 2021 is Equity Bank Rwanda, thanks to its solid commitment to the country’s small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) community during a challenging year for the country’s economy.

The bank launched a Covid-19 recovery and resilience programme for SME customers in mid-2020, in collaboration with the Mastercard Foundation and Enterprise Partner Solutions (ESP), with a particular focus on businesses in the tourism and hospitality sectors affected by the drop in international visitors to the country.

The programme, which concluded in July 2021, saw Equity Bank Rwanda provide financial support and technical assistance to 120 SMEs at various stages of maturity, distributing $2.5m from the Mastercard Foundation. The bank also conducted coaching sessions to all the SME business participants on financial literacy and entrepreneurial education to help them continue to operate during the pandemic and beyond.

The bank and its partners also provided incubation support to 60 start-ups through ESP’s Tourism Inc programme, and 50 established SMEs benefited from an accelerator programme. Some 10 businesses were also selected through a special innovation stream that focused on building and financing growth plans to increase their resilience and mitigate the impact of the crisis.

Among a notable series of digital innovations was the integration of the bank’s trade finance solution with UMUCYO, the Rwandan public e-procurement platform, following a key IT upgrade in late 2020. After coming on stream in April 2021, the new solution has seen a surge in the lender’s trade finance revenues, and enabled the creation of several new trade finance products targeting SME customers and retail markets.

Equity Bank Rwanda performed solidly in 2020, with its return on equity little changed at 21% and non-performing loans stable after doubling in 2019. The bank’s cost-to-income ratio, excluding loan-loss provisions, dropped from 48.5% in 2019 to 43.5% in 2020, validating the bank’s efforts on cost efficiency enhanced through the different digital offerings.


UBA Senegal

In a very tight contest, UBA Senegal has been selected as the country’s Bank of the Year for 2021 thanks to a significant improvement in its financial performance with improvements in account openings across the board.

After profits were all but wiped out in 2019, UBA rebounded strongly in 2020, with return on equity increasing from 1% to 20%. The bank renewed its focus on the high-growth affluent, corporate and business banking segments, with the opening of 100,000 new accounts in less than a year. The bank has created a new department specifically targeting customers among embassies and multilateral development organisations, with more than 15 significant accounts opened as a result.

At the other end of the spectrum, the bank deployed a remote account opening platform, called Customer Data Collect, in Senegal, allowing commercial agents to open accounts and generate account numbers instantly via a mobile phone, without visiting a branch.

UBA Senegal also recorded several successes in its corporate loans department, with syndicated loans to energy firm Société Africaine de Raffinage worth CFA Fr75bn ($132.4m). The bank also won the MCA Millennium Challenge Account mandate for a $600m project jointly implemented by the US and government of Senegal, aimed at improving electricity access in rural areas, in partnership with state-owned power utility Senelec. The project’s objective is to facilitate access to energy in rural areas over the next five years.

As part of its digital services rollout, the bank launched Orange Money Banking in collaboration with telco Orange, enabling UBA Senegal clients to transfer money between their bank and mobile money accounts.

In line with central bank guidelines, UBA Senegal restructured and delayed payments for several loans from companies impacted by the pandemic. In addition, the bank relaxed fees on bill payments, and a series of card and merchant transactions.

Sierra Leona

UBA Sierra Leone

UBA Sierra Leone has been awarded the country’s Bank of the Year award for 2021, in recognition of its introduction of Saturday banking and the rolling out of a new loan product for the low-income segment.

Following increased customer requests to offer banking services during the weekend, the decision was taken in February 2021 to open all branches on Saturdays. While banks have traditionally not done this, business activity continues at weekends, with merchants facing the risk of storing cash at business premises when banks are closed. UBA Sierra Leone is the first bank in the country to offer weekend services, including cash deposits and withdrawals, card issuances and clearing cheque deposits.

Another of the bank’s milestones in the past year was the launch of UBA Sharp-Sharp – an account with streamlined know-your-customer requirements. This product targets those with lower incomes and can be opened with an initial deposit of 10,000 leone ($0.91). The account is in line with initiatives launched by the Bank of Sierra Leone to boost financial inclusion in the country among students, farmers, traders and agricultural labourers, among others. The account offers access to internet and mobile banking, and a debit card for local ATM and point-of-sale transactions.

The bank also introduced its No Wahala loan suite for salary earners, including executive loans for high-net-worth individuals, salary advances enabling advance payment of up to 50% of monthly pay cheques, and personal loans of up to $50,000.

UBA Sierra Leone has also improved the turnaround time for dealing with customer enquiries and complaints, thanks to enhanced in-house training by the bank’s marketing and products department.

On the Covid-19 front, UBA Sierra Leone made a donation of $150,000 via the UBA Foundation to the government of Sierra Leone to buy medical supplies for health workers.

South Africa


Nedbank has been awarded the highly coveted Bank of the Year award for South Africa for 2021, in recognition of the impressive growth of its digital services portfolio and its efforts within the realm of sustainable finance.

The bank’s digital transformation gathered pace in 2020 as the bank’s core systems upgrade progressed. The implementation of the bank’s new Eclipse client onboarding platform saw digital sales within the bank’s retail banking unit increase to 49% of all sales for 2020, compared with 19% in 2019. The bank’s digitally active retail users increased by 25% to 2.2 million by year-end.

In 2020, Nedbank’s personal loans became the first of the bank’s products to be fully digitised, with client and loan applications vastly simplified, and loan applications now available over nine channels compared with just three previously.

Nedbank launched its ‘super app’ Avo in June 2020, enabling both consumers and suppliers to procure and supply essential goods and services during lockdown, with payment made via a digital wallet. Avo has signed up more than 265,000 consumers to date, along with 18,000 businesses registering and offering their products and services on this e-commerce platform.

The bank’s commitment to sustainability remains strong, with the establishment of a dedicated sustainable finance solutions unit in 2020. Impressively, Nedbank announced in April 2021 that it would stop funding new thermal coal mines – responsible for 80% of South African power production – by 2025 and halt direct funding of oil and gas exploration by 2045.

“Our current plans focus on delivering on our 2023 targets of getting earnings and return on equity back to 2019 levels, a cost-to-income ratio of 54% and [being ranked first] among South African banks on client net promoter scores,” says Mike Brown, CEO of Nedbank.

“This will be enabled by delivering market-leading client experiences; disruptive market activities; strategic portfolio tilt to grow market share in focus areas; driving efficient execution by unlocking R2.5bn ($163.4m) of benefits from our digital journey; and creating positive impacts as we build on our market-leading environmental, social and corporate governance and sustainability practices,” he says.

South Sudan

Equity Bank South Sudan

Equity Bank South Sudan retains its title of Bank of the Year for 2021, in recognition of its refreshed brand identity, launch of quick code-enabled banking for feature phones and expanded services for rural communities.

South Sudan remains one of the most difficult business environments in Africa, with 2020 marked by the ongoing weakness of the country’s currency and an inflation rate of more than 50% as of the year’s end.

Equity Bank South Sudan unveiled a refreshed corporate identity in December 2020 in line with a wider transformation conducted across the banking group. Re-branded simply as ‘Equity’, the bank presents itself as a unified brand, with one basket of products and services under one roof. It rolled out the refreshed look in all physical outlets and digital banking platforms, social media assets, websites, mobile applications, mobile banking platform, business online banking and ATM screens.

Non-smartphone based mobile banking has been identified as the bank’s key channel for reaching customers in South Sudan, with the country’s internet penetration standing at just 8% in January 2021. That month saw the launch of a quick code-enabled mobile banking solution called ‘Eazzy 247’, enabling customers with feature phones to process banking transactions. The bank has integrated the service with mobile operators MTN and Zain, and is hoping to target more than 3.5 million mobile phone users with the service.

In an attempt to improve the availability of banking services in the country’s rural areas, Equity has partnered with 18 international non-government organisations operating in the country to offer cash transfers to targeted beneficiaries. These partnerships include unconditional cash transfers to targeted beneficiaries in 5279 households in the north-western state of Western Bahr el Ghazal in collaboration with the World Food Programme, a project worth $3.9m.


Omdurman National Bank

Omdurman National Bank once again takes the accolade of Sudan’s Bank of the Year for 2021, an exceptionally challenging year for both the banking sector and economy as a whole. Reforms passed by the country’s transitional government, which came to power in late 2019, sent the value of the local currency plummeting, with shortages of fuel and bread prompting mass demonstrations. Worsening relations between the civilian and military arms of the transitional government culminated in a military coup in late October 2021.

This year marks the conclusion of the bank’s current five-year strategic plan, which has seen it upgrade its systems to enhance its products and services, communicate better with its customers, improve staff training and optimise resources to maximise revenues and profitability.

As part of this strategy, Omdurman National Bank recently launched its mobile app, which includes biometric security features, as well as a clear and intuitive design. In 2020, the bank also signed contracts with several e-payment bodies, together with an agreement with Visa enabling the bank to issue global Visa cards to its customers.

The International Islamic Rating Agency has set its rating for Omdurman National Bank for 2020 at AASD/A1. This shows that the bank has achieved adequate credit criteria providing adequate protection of rights of stakeholders. The agency has rated the lender highly for quality of assets, corporate governance and sharia governance.

“With regard to future plans, we are talking about the expansion of the financial inclusion policy through the expansion of e-banking services and products... Paying attention to strengths and weaknesses, as well as opportunities and threats – analysis that [will] help to achieve [the] sustainability excellence and leadership,” says Abdel Hameed Mohammed Jameel, Omdurman National Bank’s general manager.


Stanbic Tanzania

Stanbic Tanzania retains its title as the country’s Bank of the Year for 2021 in recognition of major system and product up-grades made by the bank, and its participation in key fundraising deals during the year.
In a bid to minimise face-to-face interactions and streamline interactions with customers, Stanbic Tanzania introduced a host-to-host solution enabling direct system-to-system integration between the bank and its commercial and co-operative clients’ enterprise resource planning systems, removing the need for intermediary users. The solution allows straight-through processing with no manual intervention, enabling a higher throughput volume with a reduction in errors due to lim-ited human intervention.
The system has already prompted a significant reduction in manual operational transactions; currently, it supports nine corporate clients.
The bank has also refreshed its fixed-income trading product, to enable trading by retail clients. Previously, bond trading was predominantly geared towards institutional investors, but growing appetite and knowledge has attracted many retail clients. The refreshed product has not only added a new revenue line, but also provided an alternative investment avenue, providing added value in terms of portfolio diversification.
Stanbic Tanzania’s investment banking arm had a successful year, participating in several key financings. In early 2021, the bank facilitated a TSh9bn ($3.9m) medium-term loan to Bayport Financial Services to support the company’s loan book in Tanzania. In the second quarter of 2020, the bank was the mandate lead arranger on a TSh15bn medium-term loan to local sugar manufacturer TPC.
During the pandemic, Stanbic Tanzania donated TSh95m to the Ministry of Health, the Medical Association of Tanzania and the community to assist in different initiatives in the fight against Covid-19. In May 2021, the bank launched a TSh50m grant that went towards assisting entrepreneurs who are making a positive impact in the community.


Ecobank Togo

Ecobank has retained its position as Bank of the Year in its home market of Togo, thanks in no small part to its increased embrace of fintech culture across the wider continent.

In 2020, Ecobank launched its pan-African Banking Sandbox, enabling African fintechs to access the bank’s application programming interfaces (APIs) for the development of innovative solutions and integration of payments. The initiative is part of the bank’s initiative to transform itself into a ‘banking-as-a-platform’ provider, enabling partnering fintechs to open ‘lite’ bank accounts for their customers, thereby enabling the next generation of African neobanks.

An early partnership example is the collaboration with Togo-based fintech Semoa, which has used Ecobank’s Xpress Account API to launch a digital banking service via WhatsApp messaging. Having gone live in Togo, Semoa is looking to extend the service across the West African Economic and Monetary Union region.

“We continuously invest to automate transactions and provide state-of-the-art digital solutions for our customers,” says Souleymane Toure, Ecobank Togo’s managing director. “We are positioning ourselves to be the ‘go to’ bank for payments and trade finance.”

In November 2020, the bank rolled out its ‘Ellevate’ product suite across its 33 markets, including Togo, with a view to supporting female financial empowerment across the continent. The products under this umbrella are designed for businesses owned by women – or with a high percentage of female board members or employees – as well as companies producing goods or services that target women.

Ecobank intends to onboard a minimum of 50,000 women business customers each year, granting a minimum of $100m of loans annually.

In June 2021, Ecobank launched $350m worth of 10-year Tier 2 sustainability notes, listed on the London Stock Exchange. The net proceeds are to be used to finance and refinance new or existing eligible assets in accordance with the bank’s sustainable finance framework, which focuses on financing green and social impact projects and transactions.


Equity Bank Uganda

Equity Bank Uganda is this year’s choice for the east African country’s Bank of the Year, in recognition of the ongoing expansion of its digital business during the Covid-19 crisis.

In addition to implementing thorough safety precautions and mental health support to its 1100 staff, Equity Bank Uganda has worked hard since the start of the pandemic to ensure that its customers have been able to use the bank’s digital platforms to conduct business. As a result, the banks’ digital customer base has grown from 96,000 in April 2020 to more than 310,000, as of August 2021. Transaction volumes have risen from USh180bn ($51m) in the first quarter of 2020 to USh1.5tn in the second quarter of 2021.

The bank’s agent network has seen a similar flourishing with agent transactions increasing from USh1.2bn in the first quarter of 2020 to USh3.5bn in the second quarter of 2021, with around 90% of the bank’s transactions now happening outside physical branches.

The bank has also focused on how best to support the ecosystems of major clients, offering cash-collection services for agents of local telcos to enable the country’s thriving mobile money ecosystem to continue. The initiative proved successful and has been extended to other corporate clients.

Equity Bank Uganda and the Mastercard Foundation signed a memorandum of understanding to launch Young Africa Works, a private sector-led consortium that aims to create three million jobs for Ugandans by 2030, with an emphasis on women and young people. The bank has disbursed USh6.4bn in loans as part of the programme between November 2020 and June 2021.

In addition to offering relief on loans to businesses impacted by Covid-19, Equity Bank Uganda donated two brand new Toyota double-cabin pickups and personal protective equipment worth USh100m to the Covid-19 national response task force.


UBA Zambia

UBA Zambia retains its Bank of the Year title for 2021, thanks to a combination of solid financials and its improved focus on capturing increased business within corporate value chains.

Zambia’s economy, already suffering from years of mismanagement, has been hit particularly hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. The country, which became the first African state to default on its debt during the crisis, is attempting to win over bond investors and the International Monetary Fund through a reform programme led by its new president, Hakainde Hichilema.

UBA Zambia’s profitability continued to grow during 2020, with return on equity increasing from 18% in 2019 to 25% at end-2020. Non-performing loans rose from 2% to 3% over the same period.

While continuing to compete for large corporate business in Zambia, the bank has increasingly turned its attention to the wider ecosystems in which such large firms operate, focusing on small and medium-sized enterprises and sole traders. By leveraging the value chain, the bank has, in several instances, been able to capture the large corporates, their suppliers and distributors, as well as their employee accounts. The number of new accounts opened in 2021 is set to be double that of 2020, with a large increase in UBA Zambia’s deposit base as well.

To help check the spread of Covid-19, the bank made a $150,000 donation to the Zambian government in March 2020 to help acquire medical supplies. To ensure business continuity in its branches, UBA Zambia has divided its staff into two exclusive teams, with only one team physically present at the office at any point, in order to minimise risk of staff infection.

Through the UBA Foundation, UBA Zambia has developed the Read Africa initiative to encourage reading skills among local children. As part of the initiative the bank has donated literature books authored by African writers to primary and secondary schools, supplementing government efforts.


Stanbic Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s Bank of the Year accolade once again goes to Stanbic Zimbabwe, in recognition of the bank’s efforts to boost both its digital banking services and its physical footprint in one of the continent’s most challenging markets.

Zimbabwe’s economy faced several challenges in 2020, including deepening foreign currency shortages, spiralling inflation – peaking at 838% in July 2020 – and a decline in aggregate demand, all exacerbated by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

To minimise value erosion of its capital, Stanbic Zimbabwe strengthened its value preservation strategy in 2020 by setting a target for investment in properties which appreciate in value in a soaring inflationary environment. As the year began, the bank started to strongly drive this strategy through enhancing its properties portfolio. This investment in properties contributed immensely to the bank’s performance, as evidenced by the reduction in the loss on its net monetary position during the period.

The bank has expanded its footprint by setting up nine remote branches at tobacco auction floors throughout the country, to enable ease of access to funds for tobacco farmers during the tobacco selling season. Stanbic Zimbabwe is the biggest financial investment player in Zimbabwe’s tobacco industry, with $405m offshore and $20m onshore tobacco facilities currently being used by the main tobacco merchants and primary producers linked to the major tobacco merchants and their value chains.

On the digital front, Stanbic Zimbabwe rolled out its integrated point-of-sale solution to local merchants, enabling them to efficiently accept card and mobile money payments.

“The playing field continues to evolve digitally and, as Stanbic, we have also evolved with the primary focus being to transform our customers’ experiences,” says Stanbic Zimbabwe’s CEO Solomon Nyanhongo. “As we become more digitally driven, we remain human at heart through the use of both human skill and digital capabilities to deliver sustainable value to our customers.” 


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