Zimbabwe’s biggest bank plans to buy several smaller lenders in a consolidation drive to leave the troubled southern African nation with fewer, stronger institutions, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter.
CBZ Holdings Ltd., majority-owned by the government, is in talks with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe over the acquisitions, the people said, asking not to be identified because the discussions are private. Under the consolidation push, the authorities are seeking to cut the number of banks down to six or seven major players from 21, the people said, declining to name any potential targets.
Zimbabwean lenders are struggling to survive in a shrinking economy. The country is battling severe cash shortages, rampant inflation, a depreciating currency and a lack of confidence among depositors because of frequent policy changes. More than 90% of transactions are performed digitally, resulting in branch closures and more than a fifth of bankers losing their jobs over the past year.
Also read: US lifts sanction on Zimbabwe banks
The spokesman for the central bank and Governor John Mangudya didn’t answer calls to their office and mobile phones and didn’t respond to text messages seeking comment. A representative for CBZ Holdings Ltd. declined to comment.
CBZ is going through a shake up itself since appointing Marc Holtzman, a 30-year veteran who has worked at Barclays Plc, ABN Amro Bank NV and Kazakhstan’s biggest private bank, as chairman in September. The lender in January fired six executives after cutting more than a 100 jobs in 2019.
Holtzman has since assembled a management team that worked for lenders ranging from New York-based Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Russia’s Renaissance Capital Ltd. to British American Tobacco Plc and auditing firm Deloitte. Five of Zimbabwe’s lenders are foreign-owned and include Standard Chartered Plc, Nedbank Group Ltd., Standard Bank Group Ltd. and Ecobank Transnational Inc.
“The market has to determine how many players there are, if the objective is to create capacity it augurs well,” said Ralph Watungwa, president of the Bankers Association of Zimbabwe. “Consolidation creates the capacity to lend to critical economic sectors.”