What you need to know:
Standard Bank Group’s Regional Chief Executive for East Africa Patrick Mweheire tells Monitor in an exclusive interview that after a stellar performance as the first female chief executive of Uganda’s largest commercial bank, Anne Juuko deserves bigger responsibilities within the group. Excerpts:
From your vantage point overseeing the region for the continent’s largest commercial bank by assets, what do you see as East Africa’s medium and long-term economic growth prospects?
At the Standard Bank Group, we remain optimistic about Africa’s growth prospects. For East Africa, the economic fundamentals remain extremely positive on account of its substantial population—a young one, I must say—so the demographics work, and a real GDP growth that significantly outperforms the other regions on the continent. For context, Africa is projected to grow at three percent, which is significantly slower than East Africa’s outlook of six percent.
We have a massive economic engine in East Africa and it is growing fast with a young, energetic productive population of over 400 million, and a GDP that is north of $500 billion.
I see East Africa as the continent’s premium area for investment. The other important aspect is the inter-regional trade story—trade amongst the East African countries has doubled since 2022 to an impressive $6 billion.
This is one of the largest intra-regional trade numbers that we’ve seen across the continent and demonstrates the connectedness that we have enabled. I believe it’s one of the reasons that we showed resilience in bouncing back from the Covid-19 pandemic and its economic distress a lot faster than many countries in Africa.
For example, Kenya is Uganda’s largest export market and Uganda is Kenya’s largest export market resulting in trade north of $1.5b both ways. We need to celebrate this connectedness.
As we think through the growth drivers for the Standard Bank Group, it is not surprising that we see East Africa as a key geographic vector—an economic growth zone that we want to focus on by investing in it and harnessing the opportunity for the foreseeable future.
In Uganda, you enjoy the largest market share in assets, deposits, and revenues. How have you sustained your dominance, especially through a challenging operating environment in the last three years?
Without a doubt—the Ugandan leadership team, especially our banking subsidiary chief executive Anne Juuko has been exceptional in continuing to understand and solve the needs of our customers. Our record-breaking numbers over the last three years are a result of our laser-focused customer-centric model.
We have been a client-driven business from day one and during challenging times, we were relied on to provide thought leadership on how to respond and that continues to pay off for us in many ways.
That is why, for instance, we were the first bank to proactively provide Covid-19 related relief programmes such as loan restructures for our clients in distressed sectors of the economy, and initiatives like the Economic Enterprise Restart Fund which has been pivotal in helping our clients recover from the effects of the pandemic.
Of course, we also have the advantage of leveraging our being part of the largest financial institution on the African continent—this means we enjoy a level of expertise and capital that comes through in allowing us to continue investing in the African story even in moments when others are in doubt.
For instance, we are proud of our recent role in arranging a €500 million budget finance transaction with the Government of Uganda at a time when sovereign risk was deemed to be too high for African nations.
We have done similar financing for Tanzania, and we are now assisting Kenya in refinancing her 2024 Eurobonds, so I think all these are the benefits of being a global regional dominant bank—but remaining relevant locally.
Also, we don’t take for granted that we have a strong and trusted brand that has been around for over 160 years.
Uganda is looking at 2024 as a particularly important year—if all goes as planned, it will be the last mile to the country’s first oil; what opportunities does this present?
I think most people make the false assumption that this is an oil and gas story, but it isn’t because, at the end of the day when you have such a massive injection of foreign direct investment of more than $20 billion, almost half of GDP, it inevitably trickles down into other sectors.
So, oil and gas is just a catalyst. If you think about the infrastructure - the new Hoima airport, the new oil roads, and the permanent trade route that is being opened between Tanga and Hoima, you think about all those small, sleepy towns in Tanzania set to open for this trade activity—then you start to see the big picture.
While it’s oil and gas that we want to get out, you know, 300,000 barrels a day at some point to Tanga, that’s the end game; think about now and the impact on ancillary industries, whether it’s transportation, logistics or food.
Our job is to support, through our business incubator, the local enterprise capacity building to align and enable them to take up these opportunities.
You have just announced a new chief executive for Stanbic Uganda- Holdings—Francis Karuhanga who has been heading audit for the group. This is a significant development, could you provide some context?
We are excited to have Francis return to Uganda in this new role and I hope that everyone will appreciate the significant investment that we are making into the Ugandan franchise by extracting a top-15 leader in the group leadership hierarchy. Indeed, there is a bigger purpose for him to bring his extensive experience and abilities and help us cement our view across Uganda and East Africa.
Andrew Mashanda, the outgoing chief executive, has done a fantastic job in building on what I left, which was really to set up holding company structures and bring the subsidiaries to life, building a strategic direction for each of them.
And now Francis will lead us in the next phase of the growth with the original vision we created the subsidiaries—not just to make more money but ultimately to give us depth and be a more efficient organisation in serving our customers and driving Uganda’s growth holistically.
You describe Anne Juuko’s leadership at the bank as exceptional and the numbers have been truly impressive under her watch. Her current term runs, I believe, until March. What next for her after such an incredible run?
That is a good question. The Standard Bank Group typically works in chief executive cycles of, you know, three to five years and Anne has now done four years, and I can confirm that her term comes to an end at the end of March 2024.
We are very proud of the exceptional job she has done—leading the business to record-breaking numbers, through what was a challenging period—with the lengthy pandemic and other factors in the operating environment.
She has led and continues to lead the team well in building our franchise, keeping us relevant in the market and in many ways, also providing trailblazing female leadership across Uganda and the region.
We are very grateful for her dedication and we would love to keep and see her take on even bigger responsibilities within the Group. Given the level of confidence we have in her, I would say the next logical step after here would be a regional management role where she can partner with me and support more countries like I do.
There’s also a vacancy at SBG Securities, another one of your subsidiaries—are you close to finding a replacement for Joram Ongura?
Yes, we are very close. We have zoned in on someone we believe to be the right fit for the role and we are now engaging that individual. So, we’ll be making an announcement on that, hopefully before the end of the year.
There have been economic headwinds globally and in the region. What’s your outlook for next year?
I am very optimistic about East Africa and extremely encouraged about the performance that we have as a bank and the support from the group.
I am confident that we are going to continue to grow our regional market share by building internal connectivity to match the connectivity of the region.
Within the region we’ll continue to become the leading bank in supporting renewable energy—it’s an African priority that is very relevant for East Africa and Uganda as well.
We have the capital and network, we have the clients, we have the support and the goodwill to win and more importantly, we have the right people working for us—so, I am looking forward to 2024 and all that it brings for us.