by Christian Nägele, Head of Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Office, UniCredit
UniCredit has a long heritage in Africa, having established an office in South Africa as early as 1972. Since then, the bank has expanded the scale and scope of its activities enormously to reflect both the growing importance of the continent to its home market customers, and the international expansion of African corporations, particularly those headquartered in South Africa. While many countries in Africa have demonstrated impressive growth rates in recent years, with considerable opportunity for the future, corporations together with their banks, still face sizeable challenges.
Scale and diversity
While entering any new market brings difficulties and unknowns, these are exacerbated in a continent of the sheer size and diversity as Africa: 48 countries, more than 3,000 ethnic groups and 2,000 languages. Even though most cross-border business is conducted in English, French or Portuguese, there are key cultural differences between countries that speak these as their native language, let alone countries in Africa where these sit alongside a huge number of other languages and dialects. While South Africa and Nigeria are the biggest markets economically in Africa, for example, it is almost impossible to compare the two, whether politically, economically or culturally. Similarly, the distances across Africa cannot be underestimated: it takes around six hours to fly between Lagos to Johannesburg, only a few minutes less than between Lagos and Frankfurt.