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Access Bank to buy Atlas Mara assets in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia

Access Bank Plc. is in talks about a potential acquisition of assets belonging to Bob Diamond’s Atlas Mara Ltd., as Nigeria’s biggest lender seeks to expand its reach in the rest of Africa, people familiar with the matter said. According to Bloomberg News, Access Bank 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 per cent 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 Nigerian lender agreed to buy its Mozambique unit at the end of September. Representatives of Atlas Mara and Access Bank declined to comment.

Zambia was listed among the company’s discontinued operations in its firsthalf earnings report. Atlas Mara, which has lost 96 per cent 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 was in talks with principal holders of $81 million of convertible bonds due December 31 and other creditors “regarding a range of options to address the upcoming debt maturities.”

The breakup 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 Londonbased lender, was replaced as chairman early last year by Michael Wilkerson, the chairman of Fairfax Africa, which owns 49 per cent of the firm. About four months ago, Access Bank completed its acquisition of Transnational Bank (Kenya) Limited, a Kenyan-based financial institution. It acquired the bank after announcing in January that it had secured regulatory approval to acquire the Kenya lender.

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