Bob Diamond’s African bank off $400m target


Bob Diamond’s African banking venture Atlas Mara looks set to miss out on its latest fundraising target because of weak investor demand. 

The American banker, who quit Barclays in 2012 when the bank became embroiled in the Libor rigging scandal, raised $325m (£193m) from investors in December when the cash shell was listed on the London stock market, but is hoping to raise more to pursue takeover targets and grow the business. 

However, sources close to the 62-year-old say that although Atlas Mara’s latest fund is still open to new investors, it is unlikely to reach the $400m originally hoped for because investors’ demand was lower than expected.

Atlas Mara is a joint venture between the former Barclays chief executive and the Ugandan IT entrepreneur Ashish Thakkar. It is being managed by Mr Diamond’s new investment bank in New York, Atlas Merchant Capital.

The plan for the business is to build it into Africa’s leading financial services firm. This could put Mr Diamond on a collision course with his former employer, which has pinpointed Africa as one of its main areas of growth.

Atlas Mara shares were suspended following its purchase of the Botswana-based lender BancABC in April because the deal was treated as a reverse takeover, although the company is expected to relist before the end of July. Investors are understood to have expressed concern about the illiquid nature of Atlas Mara shares during the current fundraising.

The news will be seen as a setback for Mr Diamond, who is rebuilding his reputation following his departure from Barclays. However, it is unlikely to deter him and he could now look to raise debt in the next few months to finance acquisitions. 

Africa’s sub-Saharan economy grew by 5 per cent in 2013, according to African Economic Outlook, and is forecast to expand by a further 5.8 per cent this year. In a report last month the research group described the continent’s growth as being “broad-based”, with a growing middle class driving demand for goods and products, including financial services. Ghana, Kenya and Ethiopia are among the fastest-growing countries, and some experts believe they can replicate the success enjoyed in South-east Asian countries.  

Mthuli Ncube, the chief economist and vice-president of the African Development Bank, said: “In order to sustain the economic growth and ensure that it creates opportunities for all, African countries should continue to rebuild shock absorbers and exercise prudent macro-management. Any slackening on macro-management will undermine future economic growth.”