Diamond out as Atlas Mara eyes South African banking market

LONDON — Bob Diamond, who resigned from Barclays after the Libor scandal in which Barclays, was fined a record amount for trying to manipulate inter-bank lending rates, is exiting another bank. He is stepping down as executive chairman of African banking venture, Atlas Mara, but will remain as a non-executive. It follows after shareholder adviser groups to the bank raised red flags over corporate governance issues. Atlas Mara under new boss, Michael Wilkerson wants to move “key functions and personnel closer to its operations in Africa” while keeping its headquarters in Dubai. Atlas Mara is said to be shifting focus to agricultural finance eyeing a 35% stake in South African Agricultural Bank, GroCapital Holdings in which the Public Investment Corporation also hold a 35% share. With access to the South African banking market,  Atlas Mara also plans to establish a Sub-Saharan digital bank. – Linda van Tilburg

By Vernon Wessels

(Bloomberg) – Bob Diamond, the financier who once ran Barclays Plc, is stepping down as executive chairman of his African banking venture as it reviews assets and seeks to exit some countries.

He will be replaced by Michael Wilkerson, the chairman of Fairfax Africa Holdings Corp., which owns 49% of the firm, but will stay on at the London-listed firm as a non-executive director, Atlas Mara said in a statement on Wednesday. Diamond wants to step back to “increase his focus on his other executive roles.”

The 67-year-old took the post two years ago on a temporary basis as the firm struggled to contain expenses that were engulfing income. In that time, he helped secure financing from Fairfax Africa and increased Atlas Mara’s stake in its Nigerian banking unit to 49% from 31%, a cornerstone of its African strategy.

Atlas Mara will seek to eliminate duplication created by past acquisitions that will result in lower costs, the company said. Dubai will for the time being remain as the company’s corporate headquarters while it shifts key functions and personnel closer to its operations in Africa.

Dubai exit

The potential acquisition of Fairfax Africa’s 35% stake in financial-services firm GroCapital would give Atlas Mara its first presence in South Africa and allow it to accelerate initiatives in digital banking and agricultural finance. The offshore segment of Atlas Mara’s markets and treasury business will migrate from Dubai, it said.

Diamond has been looking for ways to revive confidence in Atlas Mara after prospects for African economies dimmed – contributing in part to a decline of more than 80% in its shares since selling stock to the public in December 2013. The securities rose as much as 4.6%, the most since April, and were trading 4.2% up as of 8:49am in London, the first gain in four days.

Atlas Mara

The lender, which is in seven African countries from Botswana to Rwanda, wants to be among the top five banks in the markets in which it operates, while assessing indications of interest for certain banking assets with Citigroup Inc.

“Atlas Mara continues to focus on investments in core markets where a path to market leadership is clearly achievable,” the firm said, adding it “will seek to partner, exit or reduce risk exposure elsewhere.”

In other changes, Muhammad “Omar” Khan has been appointed as chief financial officer, effective April, while Kenroy Dowers, who served as acting CFO, will continue in his role as managing director for strategy and investments. Two other directors resigned and ex-ABN Amro Bank NV banker, Jawaid Mirza, will also join from April as a non-executive member.

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