What’s next for Maria Ramos after she leaves Absa?

EDINBURGH — Absa CEO Maria Ramos has announced she is to step down from her position as CEO of the Absa Group. The media release says she is retiring. But will Ramos really put her feet up at home and wile away her hours on hobbies? That seems unlikely. Ramos is a workaholic, telling me once over a breakfast meeting that she only needs about four hours of sleep a night. Ramos also has a history of taking on big challenges and working in the interests of the greater good. Her Encyclopaedia Brittanica entry serves as a reminder that she is resilient, smart and influential. Lisbon-born Ramos, who arrived in South Africa as a child, is an economist who has worked in banking and finance and served (1990–94) in the African National Congress’s Department of Economic Planning. In 1996 she was appointed the country’s director general of finance, which she held into 2003. In that position she worked closely with Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, now her husband, “to strengthen the country’s economy by increasing exports and cutting debt”. Manuel and Ramos “effectively guided South Africa toward a free-market economic model”, says Encyclopaedia Brittanica. It’s hard not to speculate that President Cyril Ramaphosa, who has already brought back former central bank governor Tito Mboweni into the centre of his plans by appointing him Finance Minister, has a role ready for Ramos as he works on accelerating economic growth. – Jackie Cameron

By John Bowker

(Bloomberg) – Absa Group Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Maria Ramos will step down after overseeing the split from Barclays Plc, an alliance blamed for the loss of retail market share at South Africa’s third-largest bank.

The stock rallied the most among its Johannesburg-based peers on Tuesday in the wake of Ramos’s pending exit. Absa, once the nation’s largest mortgage lender, fell behind after Britain’s Barclays acquired control in 2005. Now that the UK bank has sold down its stake, Absa is plotting how to play catch up in a country with sluggish economic growth and an unemployment rate of more than 27%.

“For a long time she was doing what Barclays wanted to,” Harry Botha, a banking analyst at Avior Capital Markets in Cape Town, said by phone. “She presided over Absa while Barclays destroyed the retail franchise.”

Maria Ramos
Maria Ramos speaks during the Group of Thirty (G30) International Banking Seminar in Washington, D.C, in this file photo. Photographer: Olivier Douliery/Bloomberg

Ramos, who will turn 60 in February, led the lender for 10 years, and will be replaced as interim CEO by René van Wyk from March 1, the company said in a statement on Tuesday. With the separation from Barclays on track “and our new strategy as a standalone financial institution in place, Maria feels that this is the right time to retire.”

When asked at an interview in Davos last week on whether she plans to retire, Ramos said: “I made a commitment and when I do something I do it completely and totally and when the time comes to do something else I will think about that.”

The CEO – who helped draw up South Africa’s constitution and served as a director-general at the Ministry of Finance under the late President Nelson Mandela – led Absa through a number of milestones, the lender said. That included guiding the bank through the financial crisis and acquisition of eight of Barclays African units for R18.3bn ($1.3bn) in 2013, the largest African purchase yet by a South African bank. The deal transformed Absa into a pan-African lender.

Ramos in March brought in new management and restructured the retail and business banking unit – which accounts for more than half of earnings and deposits and 60% of loans. Since Barclays sold its controlling stake down to below 16%, Absa has also rebooted its image and revamped its other management teams. It’s appointed a new corporate and investment banking head, and expressed the willingness to take on more risk.

The shares climbed as much as 3.9% to R182.39, the highest since May 2018, before paring gains to trade 2.9% up at R180.65 as of 9:41am in Johannesburg. The stock has jumped 12% this year, outperforming the six-member FTSE/JSE Africa Banks Index.

“They seem to be on the right path with the strategy,” said Avior’s Botha. “But they still need to execute.”

Other key points from Absa:

  • Van Wyk was previously the Registrar of Banks at the South African Reserve Bank and has 19 years experience with another of the country’s big four banks. Most recently he sat on Absa’s board as a non-executive director.
  • Ramos led the separation negotiations with Barclays, which resulted in a R12.6bn upfront contribution plus R2bn earmarked for black-economic empowerment. The sell-down by Barclays involved two book builds with the second one worth R38bn, a record for South Africa.
  • Over the past decade, Absa grew its dividends per share 82% through to last June, and paid a R6bn special dividend in 2013.
  • It’s Tier 1 capital ratio also improved to 12.8% on a Basel III basis from 11.6%.
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