KENYA – Billionaire investor Baloobhai Patel has bought 6.6 million shares in NIC Group, rising in the list of top local individual investors in the Nairobi Securities Exchange-listed lender, reports Business Daily.

Mr Patel, who has previously traded in and out of NIC, made the new purchases where his stake of nearly one percent has a current market value of Sh185 million(US$1.78m).

This comes as the bank prepares to merge with rival CBA Group to form the country’s third-largest lender by assets. In the merger of the two banks, NIC will issue new shares to the current owners of CBA, resulting in a single lender whose shares will be tradeable on the NSE.

The CBA/NIC merger is part of a flurry of deals in the local and regional banking sector as lenders seeks to cut costs and grow economies of scale, with bigger banks seen as best positioned to grow their earnings.

Current CBA shareholders will emerge with a 53 percent stake in the combined bank while existing investors in NIC will get a 47 percent equity.

Trading of shares in the new outfit was scheduled to commence by the end of this month and it remains to be seen if the merger timetable will be kept.

NIC’s stock Wednesday closed at Sh28(US$0.27) on the NSE or more than 30 percent of what the combined lender will have in net asset per share.

Mr Patel joins NIC’s directors James Ndegwa and his brother Andrew Ndegwa who also raised their interest in the bank.

James took his ownership to 52.5 million shares, up from 46.2 million shares last year when the bank also implemented a bonus issue of one for every 10 shares held.

His ownership is higher than Andrew’s holdings by 11,874 shares, with the younger brother having also raised his stake by the same margin since early last year.

It was not immediately clear whether the brothers bought the additional NIC shares in the open market or if they accrued as a result of changes in the ownership of their family’s investment vehicles.