With nearly 160 years of history, Standard Bank began its activities in 1862 when it was founded in London under the name Standard Bank of British South Africa. Standard Bank ranks as the largest asset dealer on the African continent and has gained recognition for its capabilities in financial management and banking solutions. Although it was created in the United Kingdom, its operations actually started in South Africa through diamond exploration. Nowadays the bank operates in different fronts, being present in other regions besides the African continent, such as Brazil.
Based in São Paulo, Standard Bank’s Brazilian base is headed by Natália Dias, an executive with over 30 years of experience in the financial market, working in investment banks in Brazil and in the United States, having held several leadership positions in various institutions, with emphasis on capital markets, syndicated loans, and mergers and acquisitions.
Natália has a degree in Public Administration from Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV) and a specialization in finance from the Amsterdam Institute of Finance, as well as several courses in leadership, corporate finance and investment banking. Since 2018 she holds the position of CEO of Standard Bank in Brazil.To tell her story, Natália talked to the ATLANTICO Portal about her trajectory, the challenges she has overcome, and her perspectives on Standard Bank’s economic-financial performance.
ATLANTICO – What role does the bank play in the relations between Brazil and the African continent?
Natália Dias- Standard Bank largest financial services conglomerate on the African continent, both in total assets, where we have about 170 billion dollars, and in market capitalization, which is around 16 and 17 billion dollars, according to the Johannesburg stock exchange. We have the largest geographical coverage on the continent, where the Bank operates in 20 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and is also the only African financial institution to also have a presence in the major global financial centers. Internationally, the headquarters responds to the head office in London, but also has offices in New York, Dubai and Beijing. The objective of these strategic centers around the world is to connect multinational companies from these regions that are interested in doing business with the African continent. We do this in 2 ways: through foreign trade or when companies decide to establish a physical presence in the continent, and then we make a foreign investment directly in the desired location. We are a complete bank that offers a diversified range of products to offer our clients, from simple retail operations such as credit cards, current accounts, and payroll for employees, to more complex operations such as advisory services, company mergers and acquisitions, listing companies on the stock exchanges of each country, and medium and long-term fund raising.
“Standard Bank is the largest financial services conglomerate on the African continent, both in total assets where we have about $170 billion, and in market capitalization, which is around $16 and $17 billion, according to the Johannesburg stock exchange”
ATLANTICO- What positive experiences from Standard Bank Brazil can be taken to Africa and vice-versa?
Natalia Dias – It is difficult to make a direct comparison because in Africa I am a banking entity and here I am a representative office where I provide advisory services to companies. But the parallel that can be made in this sense is to ask what can Brazil learn from Africa and Africa from Brazil in the financial market? There they are Project Finance. And what would project finance be? It would be precisely the stages of knowing and developing a project, and you have a company for this. And you do all the credit analysis of the sales revenue that the project can do and create an actual project structure. Here in Brazil, we have a market that is “badly used”, where financing until recently was more concentrated in financing banks that did not want to take the risk of the project. So, Brazil still doesn’t have a well consolidated project finance culture, which is something that can be learned from the African continent.
ATLANTICO- The pandemic generated several financial impacts and according to the African Development Bank Group (ADBG) Southern Africa should grow 2.4% in 2022. What are your projections for the economic recovery in Southern Africa post-pandemic?
Natalia Dias- First it is important to point out that Africa is the fastest growing region in the world after emerging Asia. To get an idea of this growth, between 2010 and 2020, Asian growth was 4.86%, Sub-Saharan Africa was 4% and the world average was 2.8% . The sub-Saharan region grew more than the global average and this is one of the factors that have attracted many investments from multinationals coupled with other trends that are influencing the future of Africa as the issue of urbanization, population growth and political stability. In 2020 was the first year where Africa registered a decrease in GDP because until then the continent had maintained a robust growth rate that was sustained for 50 years and because of the pandemic there was a 1.7% return of the overall African GDP. When one separates by sectors, the countries that depend more on the tourism sector, for example, fell economically something around 6%, the countries dependent on the sale of oil like Angola and Nigeria fell something around 3.5%, and the economies that are more diversified fell less.
But economic growth was considerably large in 2021, with Sub-Saharan Africa registering 4.5% growth, and our projection is that the continent will grow by 3.8% in 2022. The accelerated growth is due to the fact that the pandemic had a smaller than expected impact on the African continent. One of the possible explanations is the average age of the continent’s population, which is around 19.7 years. In other words, it is a very young population for the most part, where approximately only 8% or less is in the older age group. Although the vaccination rate was low, somewhere around 14%, the young population has more resistance, and the lockdown that occurred in large parts of Africa also contributed to the virus having difficulty spreading. These have been reasons for many sectors to believe that the new growth frontier is in Africa. With 1.3 billion people living on the continent today, there is a great possibility that the population will double by 2050, and this means that in the future at least 25% of the world’s population will be living in Africa. Africa’s population will be larger than that of India, China, and Latin America combined.
“In the future at least 25 % of the world’s population will be living in Africa. Africa’s population will be larger than that of India, China and Latin America combined”
ATLANTICO- In 2017 Standard Bank raised $122.5 million for “FEENIX,” an initiative to bring education to young people with fewer financial resources. What has been the perceived economic-social return so far from the implementation of FEENIX? . What other initiatives with the same objective are supported by Standard Bank? How much is being invested in them?
Natália Dias- FEENIX was a very good project because it was focused on creating a funding plan to help people with education without creating debt. So far we have raised $7.4 billion and impacted 2,800 people; so it was a great idea. Here at Standard Bank, we measure our performance through financial return, so we have metrics to achieve in terms of revenue growth, the total cost on top of that revenue. But we also measure our progress through a performance metric called IBS Impact, which is the social, economic and environmental impact that the bank brings. This metric has aligned us with the UN development guidelines.
ATLANTICO- The decrease in carbon emissions and the creation of sustainable energies are vital to slow down climate change. Financially, how has Standard Bank Brasil sought to act in the energy and infrastructure sector to fight global warming?
Natalia Dias- This is the trillion dollar question. There are many people discussing what would be a “Fair Transition” because the energy transition will impact African economies a lot due to the fact that oil is part of the economy of several African countries and the continent corresponds to only 2% of the planet’s carbon emissions. So it is necessary to discuss fair solutions since Africa has not contributed as much to global warming as the so-called developed world. There are many factors to be taken into consideration, such as the socio-economic impacts of the energy transition that are not yet well understood. The area of livestock, for example, is a carbon-intensive sector, so we are looking for partners in this sector that are committed to reducing carbon emissions. Recently, we launched our Net Zero commitment initiative through the financing of what we call transition energies. Within this initiative we have, for example, metrics to fund natural gas that we consider in some way to be a transitional energy.
The European Union itself issued a new taxonomy earlier this year putting natural gas as a “green investment.” And the entire African continent will go through this energy transition, respecting the socio-economic reality of each country. The bank also has a reserve of $15 to $20 billion dollars that is being earmarked for 100% green financing until 2026, of which $4 billion will be allocated to the creation of renewable energy. Africa concentrates 30 % of all natural resources in the world, 11% of all oil reserves with a tendency for this number to grow, for example Mozambique, one of the poorest economies in the world and on the continent with a GDP of $15 billion and which recently discovered a natural gas reserve on its continent the size of Qatar and is among the top 3 gas players in the world. We have already financed the construction of a floating platform that will start producing its first natural gas demand in 2022.
We invested US$8 billion, or half the country’s GDP, and last year we also led the largest project financing in the African continent in a US$15 billion operation to develop the Afungi field, which is being developed by the French oil company Total, which is one of the fields in this natural gas project in Mozambique where we played several roles in the transaction stages, We had several roles in the transaction stages, from the very beginning conducting feasibility studies for the government, analyzing whether it would indeed be possible to make this project a reality, as well as advising private sector players on investment decisions, which resulted in a total of US$ 500 billion invested in all phases.
“Africa concentrates 30 % of all natural resources in the world, 11% of all oil reserves with a tendency for this number to grow”
ATLANTICO- Natalia, we know that you embrace the fight for female empowerment. Your trajectory to becoming CEO of Standard Bank is a demonstration of this. How do you see the participation of women today in the corporate world and more specifically in the financial market?
Natália Dias- This is a very important issue for me and I have been a very active voice in defending diversity as a broader issue. The financial market is still a very male environment and we still have several difficulties in getting women into leadership positions. There is a study done on more than 3,000 companies in the US that found that only 6% of these companies are headed by women, and only 15% have women as vice presidents. And yet, the study shows that women who manage to break this barrier and reach the top of the company take at least 5 years more than men to get the position. Here in Brazil, a recent survey by the IBGE showed that women earn three quarters of the salary that a man in the same position earns. In other words, unequal pay only 12% of them have their leadership occupied by women. Even though there are more women leaders in Legal Techs and Techs, the general picture raised by the research shows that there is still a lot to be done in the search for diversity and equity in corporate cultures.
“The financial market is still a very male environment and we still have a hard time getting women into leadership positions”
ATLANTICO- You have been present in past editions of the Brazil Africa Forum. What are your expectations for Forum 2022?
Natália Dias- We always look forward to the Forum with great expectations. I think that the Forum has established itself as the largest event committed to establishing Brazil-Africa relations and there is always a very robust composition of members of academia, government representatives and more and more representatives from the private sector that can see business opportunities and angles of cooperation between the two regions. I always have high expectations, the level of the talks is very high, the speakers are always very good, and what I have felt every year is that the Forum started with dialogues very much focused on academia and public policy issues, and later on it started adding more and more private agents, which are important when aiming at business. I believe that this year the great expectation is for us to connect face-to-face after the pandemic period.
ATLANTICO- Could you name some investment goals, social impact, or launch and completion of projects that Standard Bank has for 2022?
Natália Dias- From an objective point of view, we have a growth target of 8 to 10% in our business that involves our wholesale bank by 2025, this being the bank’s objective metric, and what we were feeling, and that the international area will be fundamental, is that multinational companies have the capacity to accelerate the economic growth of regions that are suffering a lot from the pandemic, and here I highlight the African continent markets. So our international goal is always to grow 5% more than we grew in the previous year.
“We always look forward to the Forum with great anticipation. I think the Forum has established itself as the biggest event committed to establishing Brazil-Africa relations”