This is Societe Generale's first strategic move under the leadership of Slawomir Krupa. Two weeks after taking office as managing director (May 23), the bank announced on Thursday to reduce its operations in Africa. It is thus preparing to sell four of its subsidiaries, in Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Mauritania and Chad to two pan-African banking groups - Vista and Coris. Societe Generale could also leave Tunisia where it is present via the Union Internationale de Banques (UIB), in which it holds 52.34% of the capital.
"A strategic reflection has been opened", specifies the group with the red and black logo. These withdrawals come after the shutdown a year ago of Yup, its pan-African mobile payment solution (Cameroon, Senegal, Ivory Coast, etc.), on which it had relied heavily. However, it did not resist competition from telecom players such as Orange Money and especially from the American payment start-up Wave.
Societe Generale assures that it remains present in 13 African countries, including Senegal, Côte d'Ivoire or Cameroon, where it occupies "a leading position" with "a critical size". This was not the case in the four countries from which it withdrew, where its subsidiaries were small.
The presence in Africa of French and European banks has shrunk to a trickle in recent years. Crédit Agricole was the first French establishment after the 2008 financial crisis to separate from its subsidiaries in West Africa. In 2018, it was the turn of the mutual group BPCE (Banque Populaire, Caisse d'Épargne, Natixis) to sell almost all of its African banks.
Same strategy at BNP Paribas, which is also selling many of its holdings on the continent (Gabon, Mali, Comoros, etc.). "For five or six years, French and European banks, whose profitability is sometimes under pressure in retail banking, have tended to refocus on their domestic and European markets, for example, in which they exercise several professions", notes Nicolas Darbo , associated with Accuracy.
These establishments, which several decades ago had founded a lot of hope on the African continent, have still not managed to take significant market shares in the countries where they were established. And to create synergies with the rest of the group. "They therefore prefer today to reallocate their equity to other more profitable activities", argue Nicolas Darbo.
Other factors explain the withdrawal of Western banks. The African continent has not yet kept its development promises: the emergence of a middle class is slow to materialize. And on the geopolitical level, tensions remain high in several countries. Not to mention a certain anti-French sentiment.
French banking groups also have to come to terms with new competitors, often pan-African, who are constantly taking market share. In the lead, the Moroccan Attijariwafa bank, now omnipresent in sub-Saharan Africa. The Gabonese BGFI or the Togolese Ecobank are also on the rise. Not to mention the breakthrough in recent years of Russian and Turkish banks on African soil.