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Strategic Review of Société Générale Ghana Underway, Says Parent Company

The statement hinted that if a concrete decision is made, a subsequent communication will be issued at the appropriate time, in accordance with applicable legislation. This has sparked speculation about the potential implications for Société Générale Ghana's operations.

Société Générale Ghana has received notification that its parent company, Société Générale Group, which holds a 60.22 per cent stake in the bank, is exploring a strategic move.

The Group announced this development in a statement dated Thursday, May 9, 2024, without providing further details.

The statement hinted that if a concrete decision is made, a subsequent communication will be issued at the appropriate time, in accordance with applicable legislation. This has sparked speculation about the potential implications for Société Générale Ghana’s operations.

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“If a concrete development were to be decided, a subsequent communication would be made at the appropriate time according to applicable legislation,” the statement said.

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Earlier, the Managing Director of Société Générale Ghana, Hakim Ouzzani, had dismissed reports that the bank was exiting the Ghanaian market. He clarified that such information did not originate from the Group’s Head Office in France.

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Fitch Ratings had previously predicted that Société Générale’s exit from Africa would create opportunities for pan-African banks to expand their presence through organic growth or mergers and acquisitions. This development is expected to stimulate competition and benefit local banking sectors, despite some short-term challenges.

“This should stimulate competition and benefit local banking sectors despite some short-term challenges”, Fitch said.

Reports suggest that Societe Generale is indeed planning to exit the Ghanaian market due to concerns about profitability and high regulatory demands in the financial sector. The bank’s departure would likely have significant implications for the local banking industry.

As the situation unfolds, stakeholders are eagerly awaiting further communication from Societe Generale Group about its strategic plans for its Ghanaian subsidiary. The outcome will likely have far-reaching consequences for the bank’s customers, employees, and the broader financial sector in Ghana.

Background: Fitch Ratings

In the past six months, SG has also agreed on the sale of some other smaller African subsidiaries and launched a strategic review to dispose of its 52.34% stake in Tunisia-based Union Internationale de Banques. BNP Paribas, BPCE and Credit Agricole’s African presence has also decreased over the last 10 years and is now very limited. We expect further divestments in the next 12-24 months, especially if valuations are attractive to the selling banks.

Divested subsidiaries face several challenges as their parents’ risk appetite has been lower than local competitors. In addition, the exit of highly rated foreign shareholders is often credit-negative for subsidiaries. We placed SGMB’s National Ratings on Rating Watch Negative, signalling that upon completion of the sale, we will no longer factor in potential support from SG, which is likely to result in a downgrade.

A lower rating, or the exit of a foreign shareholder, could make access to the global financial system and correspondent banks more difficult, potentially disrupting cross-border remittances, payments and trade finance activities.

In many sub-Saharan markets where FX liquidity is tight, it could also make access to hard currencies more difficult without the FX liquidity lines that French parent banks typically provide to support trade finance activities. However, these are short-term hurdles and banks typically have good access to funding from development finance institutions.

“We see significant opportunities for local and regional banks in Africa despite the challenges. Some banking groups with pan-African ambitions should eventually gain enough scale to compete with long-established institutions. Vista Group agreed to acquire several subsidiaries (including some of SG’s) in sub-Saharan Africa in 2023, which would increase its African presence to 16 countries”.

Coris Bank, present in 11 African countries, finalised the acquisition of SG’s Chadian subsidiary in January and is awaiting regulatory approval to acquire SG’s Mauritanian subsidiary. Vista and Coris are emerging as credible competitors for the well-established South African, Nigerian and Moroccan pan-African banking groups.

Increasing competition among pan-African banking groups should boost credit growth. French-owned African subsidiaries are often unable to target certain segments of the economy due to their parent bank’s conservative risk appetite, and they follow more stringent loan classification and provisioning policies than locally owned banks.

This can act as a drag on growth and profitability. Stricter capital management, with higher buffers over local minimum regulatory requirements, has also constrained subsidiaries’ lending. We expect credit growth to accelerate with the exit of French banks, albeit mainly in lower-risk segments, which will help preserve asset-quality metrics.

The French banks’ exit from African retail and commercial banking is slightly credit-positive for them. They are refocusing on more mature retail banking markets in Europe and on activities such as insurance, leasing, and corporate and investment banking, where they can realise higher synergies.

Reduced presence in Africa also aligns better with their conservative risk appetite and efforts to optimise risk-weighted assets under European banking supervision, which is tighter than the local supervision for their African peers. Increasing economic uncertainties and heightened geopolitical tensions in some African countries are also influencing their strategic reassessment.

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