Benoit: African Countries Must Strive to Attract More FDIs

James Benoit

James Benoit currently leads FCMB Bank (UK) Limited in London. He is an international banker and investor for 27 years in North America, Asia Pacific, Africa, Middle East & Europe. He led and developed businesses for multinational bank HSBC for 18 years including credit cards, consumer banking and private and corporate banking. In this interview with Obinna Chima he speaks about how countries in Africa can leverage technology for growth. Excerpts:

Africa must generate more local wealth and Foreign Direct Investment aside from remittances. Over reliance on remittances means that a country has failed to sustainably internally develop

As the CEO of an institution with root in Africa, what do you think should be done to fast track growth in Africa?

Well, there is no fast track and that is part of the problem. We need to stop thinking of fast track, one off game changers. Africa has a major demographic challenge which will be its growth engine or else drown it. Red tape bureaucracy must be cut, youth must get education or trade and other skills and the empowerment of women must all be addressed. The continent must also be joined up to trade among itself rather than just export which is low value-added.

What role do you think technology can play in this regard?

A major role. This will however depend on access to it and hence infrastructure must be built for that. And also, what is the technology serving? If it is not able to be used by a growing middle class or used to produce services for export, then it is unclear if the “leapfrogging effect” will happen.

How can the continent take advantage of its massive youth population?

I refer to my opening comments about ensuring growth in Africa. More specifically, it is important to educate or train them and ensure medical care is plentiful so they can healthily contribute.

The total amount of inflow from diaspora remittances into Nigeria in 2018 was equal to 84 per cent of the country’s budget last year. What do you think should be done to enhance remittance in Nigeria and other African countries?

Well the cynical answer, would be maintain the status quo! That is however not sustainable and clearly Africa must generate more local wealth and Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) aside from remittances. Over reliance on remittances means that a country has failed to sustainably internally develop. The dependence upon diaspora remittances will not disappear any time soon but its proportion of the total budget has to reduce at some point in the near future.

What role has FCMB Bank (UK) Limited been playing in facilitating trade in the continent?

FCMB Bank (UK) Limited is an award-winning trade finance bank. We have financed over hundreds of millions of dollars trade across nearly 2 dozen countries in the past 24 months. We know those markets well and can manage transactions that many other banks including big global banks will not do. We have the compliance and credit appetite to do so since we are an African bank by shareholding and with experienced African bankers.

In 2014, FCMB UK commenced commercial banking operations in London, how has the journey been?

It has been long and productive as all good journeys should be. Our Wholesale Trade Finance and Corporate Banking units are going from strength to strength. Now that we have launched Private Retail Banking including cross border SMEs, we are experiencing a new growth phase. Exciting times for our customers we hope!

What are some of FCMB UK’s product offerings and services that distinguish the financial institution from others?

We offer very attractive trade finance terms across many African countries with size and tenor often not matched by larger global or Pan- African banks. We also offer superb interest rates on private client and business deposits combined with speedy compliance procedures as we know Africa better than most. If you have sophisticated Africa cross border banking needs from a UK base, whether Corporate, Trade or a Private individual. then we are a unique fit for you.

What is your medium-term projection for the bank?

We remain very growth minded and are rolling out new services regularly. We expect to double or triple our client volumes in the next 3-5 years.

Finally, what message do you have for your clients and others?

London Leverage… Africa Awareness… If we cannot help you, it is likely no other bank can.