Ecobank deal extends AMEX to 12 new African countries

American Express card members will be able to use their cards in twelve new African countries: Burundi, Central African Republic, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Niger, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, The Gambia, and Togo.

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Image : SIA KAMBOU/AFP

American Express and Ecobank have entered an agreement to significantly expand American Express card acceptance in twenty-one countries across Africa.

Through this partnership, which was unveiled on the sidelines of the African Development Bank annual meetings in Nairobi, American Express card members will be able to use their cards in twelve new African countries: Burundi, Central African Republic, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Niger, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, The Gambia, and Togo.

Additionally, the number of merchants accepting American Express card payments will increase in nine further countries where American Express acceptance already exists: Cape Verde, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Nigeria, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda.  Acceptance in these countries will be rolled out over the next 12 months. Ecobank will also provide ATM acceptance for American Express in all 35 countries where it operates in Africa (with the exception of Cape Verde).

 “We are delighted to welcome American Express to our network, reinforcing our commitment to offering innovative payments solutions for customers across Africa,” said Jeremy Awori, CEO of Ecobank Group. “This agreement will benefit American Express card members, providing them with greater choice and will help merchants to grow their businesses. It also highlights the scalability of Ecobank’s unrivalled borderless banking ecosystem and network across Africa.”

“Ecobank is committed to offering its retail customers innovative and easy-to-use financial solutions through its unified banking platform across Africa.”

Mohammed Badi, president of global network services at American Express, commented: “This agreement with Ecobank is a major milestone for American Express acceptance across Africa as it will expand our presence in sub-Saharan Africa to 42 countries from 30 at present. With Ecobank’s support, we look forward to providing merchants in these countries access to higher-spending American Express Card Members both in Africa and from around the world.”

Ecobank’s partnership with American Express will bolster its cards business, which is underpinned by similarly structured partnerships with Visa, MasterCard and China UnionPay.

Boon for merchants, SMEs

The agreement will also enable merchants, including small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to attract business from a new customer base of American Express consumer, business and corporate card members in Africa and around the world.

SME lending has proven not only to be essential for economic empowerment, but also profitable for banks.

“We want to grow our consumer and SME segments, and the cards business is part of that, and that’s both issuing cards as well as accepting card payments,” said Awori.

“All our businesses have grown strongly in the past year but the strongest performer has been the commercial or SME business”

In November, Ecobank signed a $200m agreement with the African Guarantee Fund to support SMEs. “The deal will help bring risk sharing facilities to enable us to lend into the SME segment, into gender segments, as well as agriculture,” he added.

Growth prospects

In April Ecobank released its audited results for 2023. The lender’s profit before tax edged up 8% to reach $581m, or a 34% increase at constant currency. The Group also surpassed the $2bn mark in net revenue for the first time since 2015. 

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Lennox Yieke

Lennox Yieke is a business and finance journalist based in Kenya.