Standard Chartered eyes a stake in South Africa's biggest bank

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The Independent Online

Standard Chartered is exploring the opportunity to take a strategic stake in South Africa's largest bank, Standard Bank. The move would turn the clock back 17 years to when Standard Chartered sold its then South African subsidiary because of worries about apartheid.

Standard Chartered is exploring the opportunity to take a strategic stake in South Africa's largest bank, Standard Bank. The move would turn the clock back 17 years to when Standard Chartered sold its then South African subsidiary because of worries about apartheid.

Jacko Maree, chief executive of Standard Bank, said last week that he wanted a foreign bank to come and take a stake. "We would be delighted to be the African arm of one of the major global banks if one was prepared to come and buy shares at an appropriate price," he said. "I'm pretty sure that would be allowed [by regulators]."

At least two UK banks are understood to be looking at Standard Bank - HSBC and Standard Chartered. Though it refused to comment, it is understood that Standard Chartered is more likely to move as it has already gained a foothold in South Africa and has earmarked the country as one of its key areas of expansion.

Standard Chartered successfully launched an internet bank in South Africa called 20/20, and also has corporate lending operations. It opened a Johannesburg branch a few months ago.

Standard Bank is the largest bank in South Africa, with a market value of nearly R60bn (£5.3bn). Its biggest shareholder is Old Mutual, the life assurance company which controls a rival bank, Nedcor. Earlier this year Old Mutual underwrote a R5bn rights issue for Nedcor to shore up its balance sheet.

Jim Sutcliffe, Old Mutual's chief executive, said he was sure South African regulators would allow a foreign bank to buy into a South African group. "They would see it as recognition of the strength of the South African economy," he said.

Standard Bank recently stole a march on its rivals when it concluded a black empowerment deal that saw it sell 10 per cent of its shares to a diverse group of black business people, employees and investors. The move satisfied the bank's obligations under South African empowerment legislation and produced what even its rivals admitted to be "good PR".

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