DURBAN, South Africa – Ecobank plans to close branches and cut jobs as the pan-African lender steps up investments in digital platforms, its chief executive said on Wednesday.
Ecobank’s operations in nearly 40 countries across sub-Saharan Africa are exposed to some economies that have been pressured by the slide in commodity prices and unfavourable currency swings.
The bank, which counts South Africa’s Nedbank and Qatar National Bank as shareholders, suffered a hefty $131 million pre-tax loss in 2016.
Speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum for Africa in Durban, Chief Executive Officer Ade Ayeyemi said the bank’s plans to expand its mobile platforms would help deliver profits.
“This means reducing our branch network, using technology to deliver to customers and processing transactions centrally,” said Ayeyemi. “We believe that this business model can deliver profitability to our shareholders.”
The bank reported a pre-tax profit of $75 million in the first quarter of 2017 though that was still down 17 percent from a year earlier due to high bad loan provisions.
Ayeyemi, a former Citigroup executive in Africa who took over at Ecobank in 2015, said the expansion into online platforms would lead to lay offs. The bank employs more than 17,000 people.
Ayeyemi also said a recovery in oil prices in 2017, which would result in higher import revenues for African economies dependent on crude sales, was a positive for the bank.
Nigeria accounts for 40 percent of Ecobank’s revenues and is in its second year of recession, as lower oil prices caused chronic dollar shortages that hurt businesses and households.