Bank of Africa on boosting regional trade

Ghali Lahlou, regional director, Bank of Africa.
Bank of Africa (BOA) regional boss Ghali Lahlou left Morocco two and a half years ago to head the lender’s operations in the East African region, as well as Ghana.

The bank has roots in Anglo-African and Francophone countries. Financial Standard spoke to its regional director about the lender’s regional business outlook.

What makes you suitable for the job?

I have key regional experience across Africa, having worked across the continent and specialised in finance.

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I have worked in the capital markets, enterprise venture capital, industrial finance, insurance finance, before finally landing in banking finance.

BOA is not well known in Kenya even with its personal banking services. Why is this the case?

We have not yet gained the notoriety of some of the bigger banks in the region.  In fact, some people often confuse BOA with Commercial Bank of Africa.

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This public perception may be because we started off serving corporates before going into the retail market recently. BOA has 12 branches in the country – from Westlands, the city centre to Kitengela – with more in the pipeline.

Is BOA big in other continental markets?

Well, we are the number one bank in Mali, where our founder began in 1982. BOA is also the biggest bank in Burkina Faso and Togo. 

We are number two in Niger and Senegal, third in Ivory Coast and Morocco.  We also have a presence in Kenya, Ghana, South Africa, Madagascar, Ethiopia and Djibouti.

What’s BOA’s specialisation in the Horn of Africa?

Djibouti has a big port that does a lot of business with landlocked Ethiopia. BOA facilitates the business transactions that make this kind of trade possible.

If, or rather when, the Lamu port gets completed, we are the corporate bank with the continental presence, experience and capabilities to get those sort of end-user facilitations done.

But beyond governments and corporates, we seek out Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) now.

What is unique about BOA and SMEs?

Very few banks or commercial institutions have the trans-borders’ capabilities that we do. Say you are a Kenyan importer of optical equipment and even spectacles from Wuchang and is caught up in the coronavirus scare and quarantine.

Our BOA branch in Shanghai would extend you, say, USD10,000 credit or personal line during your enforced stay, and ensure your commercial business is transacted. Later, when screened and cleared, you’ll be reunited with your optics, with your import business intact.

What about a normal BOA customer in Kenya?

We have an open door and personalised policy for all our clients. We are not a crowded bank, we listen and personally address customer concerns.

We give loans to entrepreneurs and SMEs, with great credit lines across the continent.

Banking seems to be going digital, is this the future of the sector?

Technology is good and also inevitable. So we have in place all the modern elements of it. But it is not just banking that is going digital, it is everything.

More money is becoming crypto, legal and accounting services are getting digitised, health check-ups someday will be done by body bleepers instead of general practitioners (down to surgeries by robots), elections across the world are electronic (with some rigged by algorithm), cars are getting driverless.

But because we are human beings, we’ll always need the personal touch in every industry, whether banking, hospitals or hospitality.  

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