South Africa’s FirstRand Bank eyes India for growth

July 9th, 2008 - 4:08 pm ICT by IANS  

Johannesburg, July 9 (IANS) South African integrated financial services group FirstRand Ltd is looking to India for future growth, a top company official has said. FirstRand chief executive Paul Harris, commenting on the annual results of the company, said while FirstRand was focused on building a diverse portfolio of leading financial services franchises in South Africa, it would also concentrate on selected niche international opportunities, particularly in Africa, India and Brazil.

“In line with this strategy, Rand Merchant Bank is currently building investment banking and private equity capacity in India and Brazil,” Harris said.

“We’ve been looking at India for a number of years now, but we really started looking at it very seriously during the course of last year, and in October started exploring opportunities by sending people to India,” Sizwe Nxasana, chief executive of FirstRand Bank, a wholly-owned subsidiary of First Rand Ltd, told IANS.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) approved Firstrand’s application to set up a representative office last year; the South African bank is now awaiting approval to start operations, he said.

“We are now at a stage where we have an office and have employed people. Although there are a few expatriates, the majority of the staff are Indians. That is very important to us, because they give us the local knowledge and they understand the environment very well, obviously much better than we could coming from South Africa,” Nxasana said.

Nxasana said FirstRand is looking at several niche areas in the market in which it planned to operate.

With trade between India and South Africa increasing, FirstRand sees an opportunity to service South African companies setting base in India, as well as Indian companies exporting goods and services to South Africa.

Nxasana was undeterred by competition, saying: “There isn’t really any bank from the African continent that has been licensed to operate in India.”

Bobby Madhav, provincial chairman of First National Bank and representing the commercial banking interests of FirstRand in India, said he was looking at affordable housing in India.

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