SMEs represent two thirds of our corporate clients in Africa Supporting their development is key

Foto Blandine Gamblin Publikováno

The Société Générale (SG) Group, which also comprises Komerční banka, is one of the top three international banks in Africa today. With an established position and extensive and high-quality retail as well as corporate banking network on the continent, it has a strong ambition here. “We want to play a key role at a time when financial services are going through fast changes,” says Blandine Gamblin, the Group’s Regional Head of Trade Finance for Africa, adding that the bank expands beyond the existing French-speaking countries in Africa, thanks to a cooperation agreement that was just signed with South Africa’s Absa Group. We spoke to Ms. Gamblin about opportunities for Czech businesses.

Infrastructure, SMEs, agriculture and energy

Q: From a banker’s perspective, where do you currently see the main opportunities for doing business with Africa?

A: We have identified four main areas of development that can become growth drivers for broader sectors and individual economies in the future. First, it’s infrastructure financing, which represents a key factor in Africa’s progress. Another focus area is supporting the development of African SMEs. They represent two thirds of SG’s corporate clients in the region. Another priority is the development of the agricultural sector, as it contributes to a major share of the wealth produced in the continent and is the primary source of employment. Last but not least, energy inclusion and energy transition are big challenges. There are still large disparities between urban and rural areas with almost 40% of the population without access to electricity. Energy transformation may accelerate this, including the use of alternative and renewable sources in these unconnected areas.

Which countries do you personally perceive as most promising ones from trade perspective and why?

While we see opportunities in all African countries, there are three which may appear as the most promising, traditionally acting as hubs for their respective regions. In North Africa, Morocco seems to be the most stable and resilient economy. The country has proved its strong institutional and political framework last year by handling the covid crisis in a very efficient way and remains as of today the only country in the continent to have vaccinated more than 50% of its population. The country’s growth strategy aims at developing strong value chains linkages for instance in the automotive or aeronautics sectors, and it also benefits from a strong international support. Moroccan companies are also well rooted in other African markets.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal appear as the most dynamic markets. Both countries benefit from a diversified economy, with strong agricultural sectors, large public investment plans to revamp the countries’ infrastructure, expanding middle classes with growing needs, and improving business climates and governance levels. They are both also part of the West African Monetary Union, allowing them to benefit from a stable currency and low inflation rates. On top, Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire have recently discovered significant offshore oil and natural gas reserves, and production is expected to start within three years.

Are you aware of any projects in these countries in which Czech companies also take part?

As an example, I can mention a large EPC project of a reconstruction of five regional airports in Senegal, which Komerční banka along with many Czech and foreign subcontractors are also working on.

First issuance of green bonds in Africa

What about Africa and ESG? Can you share any examples of recent ESG projects supported by SG in Africa?

For instance, we have launched a structured green trade finance initiative in Africa, targeting customers active in clean energy or organising their transition from a carbon-intensive activity to a sustainable business model. In partnership with EBRD, we are promoting green investments of SMEs in Morocco, through financing energy and resources efficiency. In Madagascar, SG has taken part in the financing of the GreenYellow largest solar power plant, and in Benin, we participated in the first issuance of SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) bonds. This represents a landmark transaction in the emerging market space.

What is the current level of digitisation in African markets? Is this an opportunity for European exporters?

In the frame of the African Continent Free Trade Area, each improvement to move toward a greater economic integration of African markets will be a key factor – hence digitisation is paramount.

In this purpose, Société Générale has introduced the trade finance digital platform Komgo, and we are also actively seeking opportunities to expand, a digital trade finance platform already active in Europe, and its products also to African countries.

What is your professional advice to export companies who are about to start doing business in Africa?

Thanks to the SG group’s strong expertise in trade services through its international presence and experience in Africa, our advisors can provide Czech exporting companies with proven solutions to support their export strategy. In Africa, we are now present in 19 countries as SG, or in 27 countries if we also include those where we work in cooperation with Absa. We have built dedicated teams in each of these countries who have good knowledge of the local trade specifics, and we offer their unique know-how to exporting as well as importing companies. I will also refer Czech exporters to our international trade expert team in Komerční banka, who can check the best options for their business plan along with their peers in the given country, and structure the transaction. It is important to cover the usual risks associated with international trade, such as risk of non-payment, risk of non-delivery or exchange rate risk. Geopolitical risks are also a major factor in Africa.

How exactly is SG helping SMEs?

One of our successful initiatives is the creation of eight centres for SMEs whose aim is to support African entrepreneurs in their international development projects. At the moment, they are located in Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Benin, Guinea and Madagascar and there will soon be another one in Mozambique. It is actually the first initiative of its kind from a bank in Africa and an example of active participation in the development of entrepreneurship.

Ms. Gamblin was interviewed by Jana Jenšíková and Daniel Libertin.

Photo credit: Blandine Gamblin and Shutterstock

Článek si přečtěte v tištěné verzi TRADE NEWS 6 / 2021.

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