By Rafiq Raji, PhD
In early January, the Bank of Ghana (BoG) announced there are now twenty-three banks – from thirty previously – licensed to operate as universal banks in Ghana. This followed their successful recapitalisation to at least 400 million cedis on or before 31 December 2018. The central bank gave the ‘minimum capital directive’ more than a year earlier. Out of the twenty-three, sixteen met the minimum capital requirement on their own. Three were mergers: First National Bank and GHL Bank, Energy Bank and First Atlantic Bank, and Sahel-Sahara Bank and Omni Bank.
Five indigenous banks, which could not secure the minimum capital before the deadline but deemed solvent and well-governed, were rescued by private pension funds through the “Ghana Amalgamated Trust Limited (GAT)”, a 2 billion cedis special purpose vehicle they formed for the purpose. They are state-owned Agricultural Development Bank and National Investment Bank, Omni/Sahel Bank, Universal Merchant Bank, and Prudential Bank.
Bank of Baroda, an Indian bank, chose to exit the Ghanaian market all together for strategic reasons. Assuringly, its operations have been taken over by Stanbic Bank. GN Bank, one of the erstwhile universal banks which could not meet the minimum capital requirement by the deadline, successfully applied for a savings and loans company licence. It has until June to complete the transition.
Some confidence restored
Seven banks, which were considered insolvent, had their licenses revoked, however. Unibank, The Royal Bank, Beige Bank, Sovereign Bank, and Construction Bank lost theirs over the previous one and a half years. Premium Bank and Heritage Bank are the two which were shut down in the new year. Like the earlier five, some of their assets and liabilities have also been transferred to Consolidated Bank Ghana, the ‘bad bank’ the authorities set up for the purpose.
The infractions by the closed banks were virtually the same. There were perenially illiquid and insolvent. Huge loans were granted to related parties and investments were fictitiously booked. And in the case of the defunct Heritage Bank, the sources of its capital were considered to be suspicious by the central bank and its majority shareholder adjudged not to have met the “fit and proper person” test.
In the most recent comprehensive update on the banking sector published by the central bank in November 2018, the main financial soundness indicators “recorded broad improvement…” relative to the year before. As at October 2018, there were thirty banks with total assets of 106 billion cedis. Thirteen of these were indigenous banks and seventeen were foreign-owned. Deposits were put at about 67 billion cedis, a quarter of which were in foreign currency. Shareholders’ funds were put at about 14 billion cedis.
By and large, the central bank has done a decent job of bringing some sanity to the erstwhile beleaguered banking industry. But are these steps enough? What about the reported poor governance systems at many banks? Not a tad few point to mismanagement and corruption for the genesis of the crisis. Have these been addressed? Would the central bank officials found culpable be dealt with to the full extent of the law?
What about the top politicians found to be responsible for embezzlement, insider deals, and stagnant loans at these banks? Would they be dealt with? And what informed the rescue of the five indigenous banks and not others?
More importantly, has confidence now been restored to the banking system? Probably. There certainly are now no panic withdrawals. And all those who go to their banks are able to do their transactions with little or no hassle.
An edited version was published in the first quarter 2019 issue of African Banker magazine