Bob Diamond’s African investment vehicle Atlas Mara has posted a 25 per cent plunge in profit but is aiming to more than double earnings this year through cost savings and a focus on fintech. The London-listed company reported a net profit of $8.4m for 2016, compared to $11.3m the previous year, because of a “challenging” macroeconomic environment and adverse currency movements.
Mr Diamond, who is serving as interim chairman after Arnold Ekpe stepped down in October, conceded that the start of last year was “tough” with a “weak first quarter” in particular.
The American banker created Atlas Mara after being ousted from Barclays in 2012 over the Libor rate-rigging scandal, with the aim of building a pan-African banking group based on new technologies. The company has acquired interests in seven sub-Saharan countries — Nigeria, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia. Despite the lower profit, total income increased 17.8 per cent — or 32 per cent on a constant currency basis — to $242m last year.
This was largely because of its acquisitions of two banks in Rwanda and Zambia respectively, and lower cost of funding in Botswana. Mr Diamond is aiming to double reported earnings this year by making more than $20m of savings annually through cutting operating and staff costs — a reduction target he unveiled last month.
The company also announced a reorganisation in February, splitting itself into three units comprising commercial and retail banking, fintech, and markets and treasury. It said the change would “enable faster expansion and responsiveness in the market environment”. The new structure and extra cost-cutting measures were revealed as chief executive John Vitalo, a former Barclays senior manager, announced his immediate departure from the company in another blow to Atlas Mara.
Mr Vitalo, who became the group’s first chief executive after its creation, worked for Mr Diamond when he ran Barclays. Atlas Mara is not actively seeking to replace him, according to a person briefed with the plans. Atlas Mara also raised $13.5m this year from a placement of more than 7m shares at $1.91 each to a number of existing shareholders, including Mr Diamond.
The company said in its results on Friday that, following this recent equity raise, it has “invested in specific growth initiatives in our digital finance product offering” to diversify and boost revenue generation.
Atlas Mara’s fintech offering will build on its strategic partnerships recently formed with Visa and MasterCard in order to expand access to digital payments across sub-Saharan Africa. Mr Diamond said: “We have simplified our management structure, reduced costs, streamlined operations and put increased resources behind our growing fintech and markets and treasury businesses.”
Both of these divisions he expects will contribute “meaningfully” to the company’s overall profitability in 2017.