Ekpe Out as Diamond Becomes Interim Chairman of Atlas Mara

Arnold Ekpe stepping down at the end of term to ‘concentrate on other interests’

Former Barclays chief Bob Diamond will become interim chairman of Atlas Mara, the Africa-focused banking group he co-founded, which has lost much of its value since its London listing in 2013.

Mr Diamond takes the place of Arnold Ekpe, who is stepping down at the end of a three-year term at the close of the year “to concentrate on his other interests”.

Mr Ekpe brought a wealth of experience in African banking to Atlas Mara, having been chief executive of Ecobank for 12 years and built it up into the continent’s biggest cross-border lender.

His departure is the latest blow for Atlas Mara, which recently announced a 71 per cent drop in profits for the first half of the year and said it would reduce its headcount by 35 per cent in its shared services and central functions to cut costs.

The group aims to create a pan-African banking group based on the latest financial technology. It was hit in the first half by what it described as the “full impact” of last year’s declines in African currencies, more challenging economic conditions and liquidity issues in a number of the countries in which it operates.

Founded in 2013, Atlas Mara has acquired control of, or significant stakes in, banks in seven sub-Saharan African countries, including Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia.

Its shares, which have steadily declined from more than $12 to below $3.50 in the past three years, were unchanged on Tuesday.

Mr Diamond remains determined to turn it round and told Bloomberg: “This isn’t five-minute rice. This is a long game, a five- to seven-year game.”

He is still trying to acquire Barclays’ majority stake in its African operations — one of the biggest banks on the continent — but faces widespread scepticism about his chances since US private equity group Carlyle dropped out of his consortium.

Atlas Mara, which is due to announce third-quarter results on October 25, said: “Early indications for Q3 2016 reflect continued positive operational momentum, as was reported in the half-year results.”

Mr Ekpe said: “What the team has achieved in establishing and building Atlas Mara over such a short time is remarkable. I believe the foundation has been laid for the future growth and success of the group.”

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