"Expansion slowed a little bit down in 2019, but it was still a very good year. We have seen an impressive development of Kolwezi, where we still have a lot of minerals, while the old reserves in Likazi are progressively being exhausted. Related to that, we also noticed the arrival of many new actors in terms of subcontractors working for mining companies. Overall, the business for banks in Katanga has been very good."
Could you give us an overview of BanqueCommerciale du Congo and your role in the organization?
BCDC is the most senior bank in DRC, with more than 110 years of existence. We are the second largest bank in the country in terms of market share, closely after Rawbank. BCDC is more focused on corporate clients, even if we have a fairly recent retail segment as well. I am based in Lubumbashi and I am responsible for the southern region, covering the ex-Katanga province, mainly focusing on mining clients but also the different contractors and providers that serve the industry. In terms of gross banking products, pure mining companies probably account for between 35% and 45% of our corporate business. If you also add all the mining contractors and providers, the figure probably goes up to 60% or 70%.
What is changing with the acquisition of BCDC by the Equity Bank of Kenya?
The activities of both banks complement each other very well. The Equity bank mainly focuses on mid-sized companies and retail, with a very good electronic payment in place. BCDC is traditionally focused on corporate banking. DRC still has a lot of people out of the banking system, even in professional segments, so post-merger we have a good opportunity ahead to increase bank usage in the DRC.
How has business evolved in the DRC over the last five years?
The business for BCDC has increased substantially in the last five years, with a lot of mining investment. Expansion slowed a little bit down in 2019, but it was still a very good year. We have seen an impressive development of Kolwezi, where we still have a lot of minerals, while the old reserves in Likazi are progressively being exhausted. Related to that, we also noticed the arrival of many new actors in terms of subcontractors working for mining companies. Overall, the business for banks in Katanga has been very good.
What does the COVID-19 crisis mean for the mining industry in DRC and for the banking segment?
For sure, 2020 is a totally different case, due to the unexpected coronavirus crisis. This is the perfect time to show that we are good bankers, though. I would not say that business was easy in the past, but it was certainly not so difficult. From a business perspective, 2020 is over, and it will take time for businesses to restart. We need to listen to the market and be very creative in terms of solutions, accommodating requests for flexibility in cases where liquidity is an issue. We can accommodate these requests thanks to the fact that at BCDC we have always been very prudent, perhaps sometimes perceived as a bit too conservative, but thanks to this we can now navigate this crisis and support our clients.
How attractive is the DRC for mining investment?
Mining players are finding the DRC to be an attractive place to invest, as shown by the overall capital expenditure figures over the last years. From a bank’s perspective, legal stability is really key to continue attracting investment, not just in mining but also other segments. All the Congolese banks have a foothold in Katanga, which shows that Katanga is attractive for the banks too.
Does the local banking segment have the shoulders to fund large projects like Ivanhoe’s Kamoa-Kakula, for instance?
The pure local actors are limited in terms of their credit possibilities. Bank deposits in DRC probably do not exceed US$7 billion at the very maximum. This means the credit capacity of the banks is also limited. The family-owned banks, paradoxically, are the largest banks locally. Of course, there are banks with international connections as well, from pan-African banks to global banks.
What is your expectation about the copper and cobalt markets for the future?
The cobalt price is currently low, but this is not new, as this trend started in late 2018. Some actors have stopped operations and some projects have been put in the back burner. The copper price was in a better position, even if it suffered with the COVID-19 crisis, but it is already recovering. In copper, operations continue for the most part.