Standard Bank chasing DRC mining business
LUBUMBASHI- Standard Bank, Africa's largest bank by assets, opened a full-service branch in Congo's mineral-rich Katanga region on Tuesday in a bid to expand business with mining firms and wealthy individuals.
The opening of the branch in Lubumbashi represents a move away from a general trend by banking groups in recent decades of having local African firms handle their interests.
"We are conscious of the rich treasure chest of minerals that abound in the Katanga province and wish to ensure that we can help facilitate the development of these resources," Clive Tasker, chief executive of Standard Bank Africa, said at the official opening.
Tasker told Reuters earlier that Standard Bank would target international mining firms and high-income individuals in the region, providing foreign currency services, investment planning and other global services.
Clients will also gain access to the group's operations in more than a dozen other countries on the continent, he said.
Standard Bank and other leading banks are keen to spread out throughout Africa, especially in resource-rich economies with high growth rates, such as Angola, Nigeria and the DRC.
Corruption and a lack of economic transparency on the part of African governments and private companies have tended to deter global banks from staking big claims in much of the continent, despite the rich rewards for those who succeed.
A push by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to get African governments to reduce corruption and make their countries more accessible to investment has improved the situation and stoked more interest.
While admitting that corruption and weighty regulation remained barriers, Tasker told Reuters that the DRC had made good progress in these areas.
He noted that the DRC, which is rebuilding infrastructure destroyed in fighting between 1997 and 2003, was becoming more politically stable and had gained investors' confidence with its economic policies.
Earlier DRC central bank Governor Jean-Claude Masangu said that the country's economy was expected to grow by 10 percent in 2008, buoyed by growth in commerce and mining. The DRC has some of the world's biggest copper and cobalt reserves. Speaking at the Standard Bank opening, Masangu said annualised inflation would average 21.5 percent for the year, a sharp increase over the 9.8 percent reported last year.
The central bank has raised interest rates recently in an effort to clamp down on inflation. (Editing by Phumza Macanda/Will Waterman)
(c) Reuters 2008