KENYA – Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB), is looking to set up subsidiaries in Somalia and the DR Congo as it looks to grow its regional footprint to 10 countries chief executive Joshua Oigara.

The lender is looking at additional markets for expansion while awaiting a licence to operate in Ethiopia, where it already has a representative office from 2016. It aims to be the first bank from Kenya to start operations in Ethiopia

KCB is optimistic that ongoing reforms by the Abiy Ahmed-led government will pave the way for the bank to open a fully-fledged branch in Ethiopia before the end of next year.

Ethiopian laws bar licensing of foreign banks to operate fully-fledged services, but rapid reforms being laid out by the country’s PM have raised hopes that lenders will be allowed to set up branches there.

The lender said last year it hopes to enter the market of 100 million people through a partnership with an Ethiopian bank or opening a fully-fledged subsidiary in the country, which has no foreign bank.

“Our main area of focus is to have a business and presence in Ethiopia. We hope that by the end of 2020 we can be allowed to go further whether by opening a branch or through our mobile lending platform,” said Mr Oigara.

“We are talking about two markets in trying to scale up our businesses so the market we are looking at is Congo and Ethiopia because they are very much aligned to our business,” he said. “For us there is a chance to really grow our business to reach the psychological height of Sh1 trillion of balance sheet size which is a strong size.”

KCB is planning entry into DR Congo within the next three years through an acquisition like was the case with Equity Bank in 2015.

“In Congo, we are not looking to open a branch and then grow from there. It is going to be through an acquisition or a combination of businesses…in three years we should have made a conclusion to enter the country.”

Access to banking services in the resource-rich nation is lower than other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. About 90 per cent of the population is unbanked, according to official statistics.

Somalia has, however, proved to be a tougher market, Mr Oigara added, largely due to lack of government structures on registration of persons that make it hard for a lender to apply international regulations on money laundering.

KCB also operates in Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.