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07 February 2019 08:31

Bob Diamond steps down as head of Atlas Mara

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Bob Diamond,the financier who once ran Barclays Plc, is stepping down as executive chairman of his African banking venture as it reviews assets and seeks to exit some countries. He will be replaced by Michael Wilkerson, the chairman of Fairfax Africa Holdings Corp., which owns 49 percent of the firm, but will stay on as a non-executive director, Atlas Mara said in a statement on Wednesday. Diamond wants to "increase his focus" on other executive roles, including that as chief executive officer of New York-based Atlas Merchant Capital LLC, which has investments in Britain's Panmure Gordon & Co., Greece's Praxia Bank SA, France's Kepler Cheuvreux SA, and U.S. insurer Talcott Resolution Life Inc. In that time, he helped secure financing from Fairfax Africa and increased Atlas Mara's stake in its Nigerian banking unit, a cornerstone of its African strategy, to 49 percent from 31 percent. The potential acquisition of Fairfax Africa's 35 percent stake in financial-services firm GroCapital would give Atlas Mara its first presence in South Africa and allow it to accelerate initiatives in digital banking and agricultural finance. Diamond said in Wednesday's statement his confidence in Atlas Mara is as "strong" as ever, has been looking for ways to revive confidence in a company that's shares have tumbled about 80 percent since they started trading.

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That hindered Atlas Mara's ability to make acquisitions as slumping commodity prices and volatile currencies weighed on Africa's economic growth in 2016, spurring the firm to cut costs that nearly matched income. Some miscalculations were also made along the way as Atlas Mara faced much more experienced hands across in the seven African nations where it operates from the likes of Standard Bank Group Ltd., Standard Chartered Plc and a now-invigorated Absa Group Ltd. It potentially overpaid for some acquisitions, its operations are small and it was also exposed to countries like Zimbabwe, which is going through an economic crisis, Mozambique, which was caught hiding debt from investors, and debt-laden Zambia. "Atlas Mara continues to focus on investments in core markets where a path to market leadership is clearly achievable," the firm said, adding it "will seek to partner, exit or reduce risk exposure elsewhere." In other changes, Muhammad "Omar" Khan has been appointed as chief financial officer, effective April, while Kenroy Dowers, who served as acting CFO, will continue in his role as managing director for strategy and investments. Bob Diamond has insisted that he is not preparing to leave Atlas Mara after his decision to step down as chairman of the African banking business he co-founded. He will return to his previous role as a non-executive director and will be replaced as head of the board by Michael Wilkerson, chief executive of Fairfax Africa, Atlas Mara's biggest shareholder.

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The flotation of Atlas Mara in London in 2013 marked the return of Mr Diamond, 67, to the City after his resignation as chief executive of Barclays in 2012 during the furore over the Libor interest rate-rigging scandal. The former boss of Barclays, Bob Diamond, is stepping down from his role as chairman of pan-African finance firm Atlas Mara. While Mr Diamond, who founded Atlas Mara six years ago, will no longer be the group's chairman, he is staying on as a non-executive director at the firm. Atlas Mara, which invests in financial services companies across sub-Saharan Africa, is also weighing up which markets it will continue to operate in and which to leave. Moving on: The former boss of Barclays, Bob Diamond, is stepping down from his role as chairman of Atlas Mara The company said Mr Diamond's return as a non-executive director of the group will allow him to 'increase his focus on his other executive roles while continuing to contribute actively to Atlas Mara's growth and strategic direction.' It is also considering buying a 35 per cent stake in South African financial services provider GroCapital Holdings from Fairfax Africa, Atlas Mara's largest shareholder.

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Mr Diamond will be succeeded by Fairfax Africa boss Michael Wilkerson as executive chairman of Atlas Mara. Mr Diamond said: 'I am excited to return to my original role on the board and to continue to partner with Michael to accelerate the execution of our strategy. Bob Diamond, the financier who once ran Barclays, is stepping down as executive chair of his African banking venture Atlas Mara as it reviews assets and seeks to exit some countries. He will be replaced by Michael Wilkerson, chair of Fairfax Africa Holdings, which owns 49% of the company, but will stay on as a non-executive director, Atlas Mara said on Wednesday. Diamond wants to "increase his focus" on other executive roles, including that as CEO of New York-based Atlas Merchant Capital, which has investments in Britain's Panmure Gordon & Co, Greece's Praxia Bank, France's Kepler Cheuvreux, and US insurer Talcott Resolution Life.

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In that time, he helped secure financing from Fairfax Africa and increased Atlas Mara's stake in its Nigerian banking unit, a cornerstone of its African strategy, to 49% from 31%. The potential acquisition of Fairfax Africa's 35% stake in financial-services company GroCapital will give Atlas Mara its first presence in SA and allow it to accelerate initiatives in digital banking and agricultural finance. Diamond, an African bull who said his confidence in Atlas Mara has remained "strong", has been looking for ways to revive confidence in a company whose shares have tumbled about 80% since they started trading. That hindered Atlas Mara's ability to make acquisitions as slumping commodity prices and volatile currencies weighed on Africa's economic growth in 2016, spurring the company to cut costs that nearly matched income. Some miscalculations were also made along the way as Atlas Mara faced much more experienced hands across the seven African nations where it operates from the likes of Standard Bank Group, Standard Chartered and a now-invigorated Absa Group.

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"Atlas Mara continues to focus on investments in core markets where a path to market leadership is clearly achievable," the company said, adding it "will seek to partner, exit or reduce risk exposure elsewhere". In other changes, Muhammad "Omar" Khan has been appointed as CFO, effective April, while Kenroy Dowers, who served as acting CFO, will continue in his role as MD for strategy and investments.