SBI sees business opportunities in Indian firms' Africa plans

PORT LOUIS: Having established itself as a major player in Mauritius, top Indian bank SBI expects robust business in providing funds to Indian companies looking to use this island nation as a gateway for investments in Africa.

"For Indian companies using Mauritius as an investment gateway to Africa, we will naturally be a preferred banking partner," SBI (Mauritius) Ltd Managing Director and CEO J S Hiremath said.

SBI Mauritius is a foreign subsidiary of SBI. It began operations here as a joint venture with the country's local banking major State Bank of Mauritius (SBM).

It also bought SBM's stake in the JV, State Bank International Ltd, and also acquired another local bank, Indian Ocean International Bank Ltd. In 2008, it merged both these entities here to form SBI International (Mauritius) Ltd.

"Mauritius is an ideal gateway for Africa and holds enormous potential as a bridge between Asia and Africa in the years to come. We feel that our expansion plans would also get a leg-up once Mauritius' place as an African gateway gets a boost," the bank chief told PTI in an interview here.

"Today, SBI has got 15 branches and 19 ATMs in this small island nation," Hiremath said.

The bank operates in both offshore and local banking segments, servicing retail, corporate and SME clients.

"In our offshore segment, we look at Indian businesses looking for external commercial borrowings and syndicate loans here," he said.

Mauritius has a total 21 banks, including 14 local and remaining in offshore sector. There are three Indian banks, SBI, Bank of Baroda and a new entity called Banyan Tree which has started just a few months back.

"I would say that Mauritius is highly over-banked with a population of 1.3 million. All the citizens here have bank accounts and many of them have in fact multiple accounts," Hiremath said, while adding that SBI has also got some of the top corporates here here as its clients.

SBI Mauritius has a total staff size of 235 persons, out of which only 13 are from India and all the rest are locals.

"All our branch heads are local people," he said. Asked about the expansion plans, Hiremath said: "We will expand going forward in a big way. Our expansion would have been much more, but we had to put brakes on our plans due to the global economic slowdown."

"Africa is the next growth continent and Mauritius for many reasons, including political scenario, climate, highly skilled and multi lingual workforce with good knowledge of English and French, offers great opportunity as investment gateway to Africa," Hiremath said.

"SBI as such has its own branches in other African countries and it would not make sense for SBI Mauritius to go there and compete with its own parent bank. But, we will service the businesses looking to expand into Africa through Mauritius," he said.

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