Economic Issues

Nigerian banks face credit risks from regional expansion – Fitch

Nigerian banks face credit risks from regional expansion – Fitch

Feb 24, 2023 2:14 AM

Nigerian banks will face near-term execution and credit risks from their presence in other Sub-Saharan African (SSA) markets, depending on the degree of operating environment…


Nigerian banks will face near-term execution and credit risks from their presence in other Sub-Saharan African (SSA) markets, depending on the degree of operating environment difficulty and underlying sovereign ratings of these markets, Fitch Rating has said.

However, longer-term, increased geographic diversification may support banks’ business profiles and growth prospects and financial performance stability, Fitch explained in a statement dated Wednesday, February 22.

It noted that hampered by regulatory intervention and domestic country risks, large Nigerian banks are transitioning into regional financial services providers by leveraging their developed domestic business models and franchises, supported by enhanced governance practices and risk management capabilities.

Fitch said barriers to entry and competition from incumbents in new, mostly frontier, markets are relatively low, while the exits of long-established international banks from the region provide significant growth opportunities.

“We believe Nigerian banks’ expansion strategies, which include Greenfield and M&A investments, are credible,” It said.

It cited that United Bank for Africa (UBA)’s and, to a lesser extent, Guaranty Trust Holding Company (GTCO) Plc.’s strategies are to establish fully-fledged banking subsidiaries, weighted towards corporate banking and treasury. “UBA has by far the largest regional presence. FBN Holdings (FBNH) Plc. and Zenith Bank Plc.’s focus is also mainly on corporate banking, which is highly competitive,” it said.

It noted that Nigerian banks also see significant opportunities in retail banking. Access, with growth fuelled by M&A activity, is focused on both retail and corporate banking. Access is ambitiously targeting a 30% contribution to gross revenues from its regional operations in the medium term.

This comes as Access HoldCo announced a five-year expansion strategy that will see it increase its presence across the African continent and beyond.

That is African countries where it will expand to include Namibia, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Rwanda. It is also interested in having its footprints in Morocco, Egypt, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal, the Republic of Benin, and Togo.

Access is already present in China, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Ghana, Congo, and Cameroon, among others.

According to Fitch, regional expansion for Nigerian banks typically involves setting up banking and non-banking subsidiaries. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) requires banks’ non-banking subsidiaries to be held separately under group holding companies. Non-banking subsidiaries offer diversified products including payments, insurance and pension funds which have significant upside potential.

It noted that despite the global economic slowdown, SSA GDP is estimated to grow by around 4% in 2023 compared to the global growth of just 1.4%. Opportunities for banking and financial services can be significant, with African countries having large, young, and underbanked populations. To tap the retail segment in particular, Nigerian banks will utilise proven digital offerings to acquire market share, reduce operating expenses and increase investment returns.

Fitch said despite the regional expansions, their operations and risks remain concentrated in Nigeria, and regional growth and diversification do not necessarily provide ratings uplift. It said Nigerian banks with sizeable exposures outside their home market can be negatively affected by exposures to low-rated countries, such as the Republic of Congo (‘CCC+’), Mozambique (‘CCC+’), Ghana (RD) and Zambia (RD). However, the operating environment (OE) score can be supported by exposure to higher-rated OEs, such as Cote d’Ivoire, South Africa and Namibia (all rated ‘BB-’).

According to Fitch, banks’ risk profile scores can be negatively affected by market risks, especially FX risk. It said regional expansion brings significant operational risks and requires robust processes and systems to mitigate human error, fraud, and cyber-related risks. Business profiles can be notched up when regional diversification directly benefits the franchise, market position, and performance stability, or notched down when expansion strategies fail to deliver stated objectives.

Fitch also noted that Nigerian banks typically lend to the government or invest in government securities in countries where they have a footprint, making subsidiaries’ creditworthiness closely linked with domestic sovereigns. The credit profiles of the latter are very weak in a number of African countries, it noted.

“Regional expansion for Nigerian banks may benefit profitability and internal capital generation, with increased risk-weighted assets usually tempered by zero-risk weighting for government exposures. Conversely, uncontrolled growth may exert near-term pressure on capital. Regional subsidiaries that gather low-cost, local-currency, and US-dollar-denominated deposits can help diversify the parent group’s funding base and lower overall funding costs. Subsidiaries can also support the groups’ liquidity when USD funding is fungible,” Fitch said.

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