Monday, September 27, 2021

    Nigeria’s Biggest Lender Access Bank in Talks to Buy Atlas Mara Assets

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    By Vernon Wessels and Dinesh Nair

    Access Bank in talks for Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe businesses

    Diamond’s Atlas Mara disposing of assets amid debtholder talks

    Nigeria’s biggest bank is in talks about a potential acquisition of assets belonging to Bob Diamond’s Atlas Mara Ltd. to expand its reach in the rest of Africa, according to people familiar with the matter.

    Access Bank Plc is interested in Atlas Mara’s businesses in Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia, the people said, asking not to be identified because the matter is private.

    Deliberations are in preliminary stages and no final decision has been made, they said.

    If successful, Atlas Mara will be left with its largest investment, a 49.97% stake in Union Bank of Nigeria Plc, which gives it a footprint in Africa’s largest economy.

    A deal would also mark the second transaction between Atlas Mara and Access Bank after the Lagos-based lender agreed to buy its Mozambique unit at the end of September.

    Representatives for Atlas Mara and Access Bank declined to comment. Zambia was listed among the company’s discontinued operations in its first-half earnings report.

    Atlas Mara, which has lost 96% of its value since listing on the London Stock Exchange in 2013, is exiting markets or seeking partners in countries where it doesn’t see opportunities to bulk up or make money.

    The firm last week agreed to sell its Rwandan and Tanzanian units to Kenya’s KCB Group Plc.

    Access Bank plans to be present in 22 African countries over the next five years and currently operates in Sierra Leone, Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda, Zambia and Congo. It recently invested in South African lender Grobank Ltd. that counts Fairfax Africa Holdings Corp. among its shareholders, while Chief Executive Officer Herbert Wigwe has said he is also targeting Angola, Senegal, Liberia, and Ivory Coast for growth.

    Atlas Mara said last week that it is in talks with principal holders of $81 million of convertible bonds due Dec. 31 and other creditors “regarding a range of options to address the upcoming debt maturities.”

    The break up of the company comes after Diamond, 69, misjudged competition and overpaid for acquisitions, with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic accelerating the need to reposition Atlas Mara.

    The former Barclays executive, who was an African bull even during his days with the London-based lender, was replaced as chairman early last year by Michael Wilkerson, the chairman of Fairfax Africa, which owns 49% of the firm.

    — With assistance by Emele Onu

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