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The Eastern and Southern African Trade and Development Bank (PTA Bank) is a treaty-based regional institution, whose membership is open to member states, African institutions and non-African states whose eligibility is determined by the Board of Governors.
The Bank was established as an international organization in 1985 and has grown at a fast pace throughout the years to reach a balance sheet of about 3.5 billion US dollars.
Admassu Tadesse, is PTA Bank’s 4th President and CEO, appointed in late 2011. Prior to this, he served for 10 years with the DBSA in South Africa, responsible for international finance and corporate strategy. Earlier, he served in various capacities in international institutions and funds, mainly in Johannesburg and New York. He holds an MSc from the LSE, an MBA from WBS, and trained at Harvard and INSEAD in banking, private equity and executive leadership. Admassu spoke to Capital’s Eskedar Kifle about the financial sector in Ethiopia and Africa as a whole, as well as the investment climate in the region. Excerpts:
Capital: Tell us about PTA Bank and its engagement in the region.
Admassu Tadesse: I run the PTA Bank which was formally known as the Eastern and Southern African Trade and Development Bank. We are a specialized institution that provides a range of financial services to the countries and economies of most Eastern and Southern African nations.
The bank is a fairly mature financial institution, it has been in the banking business for a good 30 years now, and it has been growing very well. Our bank has been very fortunate like many other financial institutions in the region that have been doing good business and taking advantage of the strong growth that was being seen in the region.
We are active, we are open to do business with everyone, we are very excited about the region, and we are very excited about Ethiopia of course. PTA works in the areas of trade, finance, agribusiness and industry. We support manufacturing and tourism projects. So we are a very well diversified financial services group.
PTA also has some specialized funds it has anchored from seed investors that it provides more special services to the region. So it is a very exciting organization to be with, we are quite happy with the achievements we have had in the past few years, we now have a balance sheet of about 3.5 billion US dollars and we have earned two credit rating upgrades since 2012. So, there is a lot of confidence in the bank both globally and within the Eastern and Southern Africa region.
Moreover, we have managed to raise our funding to record levels. We are not a deposit taking bank. Instead, we issue bonds on the global capital market and some of the capital markets in the Eastern and Southern Africa region and the response has been very good so far and we are very excited that the bonds we issued had attracted so much attention.
Apart from that, we are interested in doing more in Ethiopia. It is a large economy with a very large population in the Eastern and Southern Africa. We are keen to get involved even more here to support the continued growth and transformation of the economy.
Capital: Tell us more about the business you have been doing in Ethiopia?
Admassu: Here, PTA has been very active in the aviation sector, we have also financed some industries; specifically we financed a new green field cement project which is still undergoing construction. We are also supporting a real estate project of the very strong state-owned enterprise, Ethiopian Airlines.
Ethiopian Airlines is by far our largest client in the country. PTA has a long history of business relationship with the airline. Our bank has a lot of confidence in them, and so we have done a lot with them in terms of aircraft financing and a few other projects.
Right now we are looking at other sectors here, but they are premature right now. But we are still exploring a number of projects at the moment that are looking for fund, we are contemplating on financing them.
Capital: Can you tell us which sectors you are looking into specifically?
Admassu: Well, we are looking into the industrial sector and agribusiness sectors.
Capital: What is your view of the Ethiopian financial sector?
Admasu: The Ethiopian economy as we all know has grown very well, particularly in the past decade. Everybody is very inspired by the story of the Ethiopian growth and transformation; it is a very ambitious program that the country has embarked on.
The infrastructure development has been phenomenal and this is a country that has a great deal of natural resources that can finance its infrastructure development. So it is a country that is very committed to using its scarce resources in a very impact ful way.
It is quite evident to everyone that this is a country that is very serious about its development and there is a great deal of opportunity to work with that kind of energy momentum to take the country to the next level. This is also why we are very keen in getting involved more and more in Ethiopia.
Regarding the financial sector of the country, Ethiopia has a particular view of when it would like to diversify and open up its financial sector to international operators. I think there have been a lot of public discussions about that, I don’t think I am very well suited to give you any deep insight on that but all I can say is that, there is a time for everything.
I also think the country will probably take a different stance on the matter in the future of course, but I think the country is still in the early stages of development in that particular sector and maybe there is no comfort to proceed aggressively at this moment.
PTA is a multilateral bank and Ethiopia is one of the member states of the bank, so fortunately, for us, we have no impediments in working here. PTA envisions itself as an international financial institution that has a lot to offer and can do more here. So that is why we have been increasingly active in Ethiopia and we have got some good results to show for it too.
Capital: How do you see the investment environment in Africa today?
Admassu: Africa has really attracted a lot of global investors by surprise because it is a continent that was never known to be such an exciting destination for foreign direct investment, and business in general, and of course, things have changed and people have seen ten years of sustainable growth.
Per capita income is rising very quickly, urbanization is picking up, and governments of most African countries have realized that they need to fuel that growth to improve the standards of living of their citizens. They need to generate the economic development, which requires investment. Now, we are witnessing much more international attention being created to do business in Africa in a way that has never been seen in the past.
There are so many African countries now that are toping the lists of global surveys as countries that are really making a strong effort to make doing business as easy and as inexpensive as possible. You have countries that have done very well; Mozambique is a country that has grown very well, Rwanda is also one that did very well, Uganda did very well in the 90s. Generally, Africa has been catching up and picking up on all the lost time of the 80s and 90s.
The mood is very positive. Now it is just a question of finding specific opportunities, because it is one thing to do the macro-analysis, and to be captivated by the story and to feel you have apatite; but it is another thing to find a specific transaction, business or project you really want to invest in. I think that is where a lot of international investors and financiers are grappling with, how best to get on the ground and actually do the deal, that is the tough part.
This is where the continued effort is exerted by African governments to streamline the regulatory and administrative environment around the business climate in general. That is very important for investors who are looking into investing in this region because they are comparing many different alternative destinations too. Clearly, we have a lot to do as Africans to make our business environment as attractive as possible, we have to be competitive. There are a lot of things that are within our own hands that we can change.
Capital: What are the things Africa should change to make countries and the continent attractive for investors?
Admassu: On the regulatory side, the way the businesses work, the way the logistics system works and the way taxation system works need a tuning up. Basically, being customer orientated allows predictability, providing quick service, not having a very bureaucratic approach, which is time consuming. Time is very costly for entrepreneurs, for investors and business people in general.
That is one thing that has always been a challenge; getting on to the ground in the region and navigating your way through so many hurdles, how to do business and sometimes it becomes very inefficient. That part I think is within our own hands to improve as Africans, it is not about global issues but local issues.
This is where we should show leadership as Africans to continue streamlining and improving our ability to allow business to happen in a way that is sustainable. That is a key aspect of African jobs; every African leader today wants to generate jobs because unemployment is a huge problem. Governments can only employ a few many people. So the closest leaders can get a silver bullet to the problems of poverty and youth unemployment by generating as much investment as possible in sectors that absorb labor.
I think corporate businesses and enterprises, whether small, medium or large, collectively has the solution, but they need to be enabled to play their role, they need to be facilitated to do what they do well. The engine for growth and job creation is in the hands of the enterprises and I think this is where governments have to do everything within their power to make things as easy as possible and should encourage people who go into business as much as possible.
That is the essence of the issue. We just need to stand behind the discourse on the Africa rising narrative, all these discussions about Africa is the new attractive global emerging market, I mean that is all true. Now, we need to unlock opportunities, we know they are there, it has been tested. A whole bunch of people have made money in telecom, agribusiness, consumer retail goods and construction sectors. There are a number of sectors where it has been very clear that there are a lot of opportunities and people have done well. But that is just the tip of the iceberg, there is so much more that needs to be done.
We are a very fast growing continent in terms of population, and so, again, it is a race against time. Yes, one has to be very positive and needs to acknowledge the major strides we have taken as Africans in the past decade, all is well. But, we can’t afford to sit comfortably and say that we have cracked the problem. We are very far from achieving the high level growth rates on sustained bases that will allow us to really start absorbing the labor.
Africa’s labor force is growing very fast. A lot of young people on our continent are not really active in the economic development process. It is really a very sensitive issue and the only way forward is to generate as much investment in the real economy as possible so that opportunities are thrown up for entrepreneurs, for professionals and for workers.
That really boils down to the point that there is limited capital in this world. There are limited numbers of investors. The world is a very small place today, so people can just go about anywhere and invest and pursue their business dreams, and it is a question of who really captures that interest and that appetite. So countries do compete, regions compete amongst one another to attract as much investment as possible.
Fortunately, we are on a very good track, but there is still so much to be done. There is a lot of perspective on the quality of our growth; there has been a lot of benefit from higher commodity prices over the past ten or so years that have been part of the story of our growth. Resources are good but that is not really the key to the transformation of an economy. People have to get involved in the development process.
Investing in manufacturing, industry, agribusiness and service sector is the real determinant of whether all these great growth and all this great movements are sustainable.
So as a bank we focus on development and trade, and looking at helping African enterprises to move forward. PTA bank has a lot of capacity to help. We, ourselves, were a very weak institution 20 years ago, reflecting the reality of the region back then; 20 years later, we are a much stronger bank with a lot of capacity that can really make a difference. It is just a question of whether all of us are doing our part by not slowing down, and being innovative but staying very aggressive and energetic to ensure that we realize the opportunity and unlock the potential.
So yes, we are excited as PTA bank; my own story has been a story of really discovering the African renaissance. And this renaissance is manifesting in the economy, in stability, in the improved governance, and it is manifesting in financial institutions.
Local banks in Ethiopia also have done really well over the past ten years. Banks mushroomed in this country and also in other African countries in the past two decades and a half. Many other countries have also seen their financial and banking sector growing very rapidly and our experience has been the same.
We have been growing at a rate of 30 percent annually, for almost six or seven continuous years and this is on a dollar balance sheet. We are attracting a lot of investors both foreign and African. Investors like pension funds and insurance companies that would never invest in Africa in the past are investing here now. That just continues to boost our capacity to do more. But we have to be disciplined and we have to be performance orientated and we have to maintain high standards.
That is really what it takes to achieve excellence and transformation, whether it is at corporate level or at a national level. In the end, it is all about people; it is the skill and talent of people that unlocks a country’s potential. So, we have to pay a lot of attention on our skills and our human capital, we need to make sure that we invest in our people and we make sure our skills, whatever they are, are put to work in our environments.
The brain drain that we saw in the 70s, 80s and 90s had cost us heavily. In Africa what has not always been appreciated is the fact that the key to development is people. People are of course the ultimate beneficiaries but we need talents and skills to unlock development.
You can talk of what you want, you can say all the right things, but if you don’t have the right people with the right skills and the right capabilities in the right positions to drive the performance, it all remains a pipe dream. And that is another huge challenge that I think the region faces, skill and talent. That is going to be another area of interesting engagement for PTA in the years to come.