Shareholder PIC tells Ecobank to rein in growth pace

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Ecobank Transnational’s board had to reconsider the speed at which the pan-African lender was expanding after allegations of management fraud and poor governance, the Public Investment Corporation said last week.

“One of the key lessons is that the pace at which you grow is important,” said Elias Masilela, the chief executive of the PIC, the state pension fund manager that is Ecobank’s biggest shareholder. “Governance issues are as important as investment considerations.”

Ecobank’s board replaced chief executive Thierry Tanoh last month after it called for him to quit amid allegations of mismanagement, which he denied. That followed a probe after Laurence do Rego, the group executive director of finance and risk, told Nigeria’s Securities and Exchange Commission in August last year that Tanoh and former chairman Kolapo Lawson planned to sell assets below market value.

Ecobank operates in France and 35 African countries. It reported in October last year that profit rose 65 percent to $250 million (R2.6 billion) in the nine months to September as its businesses in Nigeria and Ghana expanded.

Whistle-blower Do Rego, who was reinstated last month, said she was pressured to write off debts owed by a business headed by Lawson and manipulate the results of the Togo-based lender. Lawson has denied any wrongdoing.

The PIC is Africa’s biggest money manager with R1.6 trillion assets under management.

Albert Essien, who was named Ecobank chief on March 12, would focus on consolidation and making operations in eastern and southern Africa profitable. – Bloomberg

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