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Financial system plays role in spurring Equatorial Guinea's economy

Interview - January 20, 2015

The CCEI Bank is the most important banking institution in the country. It was founded in 1994, before the exploitation of hydrocarbons started. Today, the financial sector in Equatorial Guinea has a protagonist role due to the new phase of the economic plan “Horizon 2020”, in which Equatorial Guinea is entering.

The CCEI Bank is still a key institution in this development process that aspires to transform the country in an emerging economy by the year 2020.

The IBATIN team met Alberto Doria, Deputy Director at the CCEI Bank, which has more 20 years in the country, to debate about the moment Equatorial Guinea is living. Doria delved into the financial system’s role in this moment of transformations and significant economic growth. He highlighted the country’s stability and emphasized the benevolence of the tax laws in force. Finally, he detailed the services the bank offers and the potentialities of a growing country that shows a unique development in the region in terms of infrastructure. 

ALBERTO DORIA | DEPUTY DIRECTOR AT CCEI BANK

Which characteristics would you suggest as distinguishing Equatorial Guinea from its neighbors and other countries in the region?

First of all, what’s distinctive here in Equatorial Guinea is that, compared to other countries in the region, many things have been accomplished, even though there are still many things to do. There are various needs to satisfy and that’s very important for companies, to be able to satisfy the needs of products of the population.

Secondly, the state of Equatorial Guinea has enough liquidity to be able to pay for the works it undertakes. Moreover, we have a growing middle class with enough resources to pay for the needs companies tend to satisfy.

And which opportunities does the country have with this growing middle class? Taking into a count that, due to its strategic geographical position, Equatorial Guinea has access to a potential market of 300 million consumers in a 400 km radius.

Absolutely! Equatorial Guinea is situated in Central Africa and from here you can reach all the other countries in this zone. Therefore, when establishing here you would not only count on the Equatorial Guinea market, but on the bordering countries and those on the region.

Another advantage that Equatorial Guinea presents is its stability, which is fundamental. It is a country in which the legal aspects are favorable for investments.

For example, everything invested in Equatorial Guinea, due to the transfers system, can be transferred. All of it. That doesn’t happen in many countries.

What is the role of Equatorial Guinea in the region, and why it is increasingly prominent?

Equatorial Guinea is increasing prominent because of the idea of its head of state. First, he is a pan-Africanist. He is a person who truly believes in Africa and promotes the idea that solidarity must prevail between all African countries in order to make progress. It is very hard for a single African country to move forward. Actually, many country blocs are being created all around the world. He thinks that only with a united Africa can we can move forward.

Secondly, the chief of state truly believes in relations with other states and institutions. A clear proof of this is that, before 1985, Equatorial Guinea had serious problems, particularly economical, because of its isolation. We had a non-convertible currency and our relations were, basically, with Spain. The chief of state, understanding that it was convenient for all of us to improve our relations, has integrated the country in various institutions for better development. That, precisely, is what has given its present prominent role to Equatorial Guinea. It is the reason why we are celebrating here the next CAN summit.

The CAN summit was planned to be celebrated somewhere outside Africa after Morocco’s refusal to host it. That would have been the case if it wasn’t because of Guinea’s offer. How should Africans interpret this?

I think things should be clearly understood. It is not Equatorial Guinea who offered, but the institutions, those responsible for the CAN, who have encountered Equatorial Guinea asking for its cooperation to find a solution to the question. Various countries had refused, for whatever reason, to celebrate it.

Because of its pan-Africanism, the chief of state offered then a solution to the question accepting the request of celebrating it here.

Focusing now on the infrastructure, which is especial distinctive in Equatorial Guinea. What do you think is the impact it has on the population, on the one hand, and, on the other, on the expectations of a potential investor?

Equatorial Guinea is a country with an economic program –the “Horizon 2020”- and the infrastructures built accounted for the first step to accomplish such economic program. We all know that, for economic and social development to be a reality, there are some basics which are fundamental.

In order to have movement of people and goods we need roads, which we didn’t have before. In order to satisfy people’s needs, which are many -such as housing- we need to build houses and that also has been done.

This said, I only want to add that we are talking about a vast economic program, which is accomplished within phases. Now we are finished with the essential elements, that’s why we’re about to start a second phase regarding the industrialization of the country.

In my opinion, all of this should be seen by investors as something positive and a reason to invest in Equatorial Guinea.

Regarding this second phase” orientated to the diversification of the economy in order to find new ways for developing and reducing the dependence on hydrocarbons. Which do you think is the role of the financial sector in this second stage?

The financial sector plays a very important role in every country in the world. It is the one who stands by the companies to finance diverse projects.

The CCEI Bank, more concretely, has financed, during the first stage, many infrastructure projects concreted in the country and now is willing to accompany the different economic actors as well.

The bank is about to turn 20 years old. You have been supporting the country even before oil reserves were found, showing a full commitment to the country’s development. Could you give us a brief summary of this 20 years’ experience? Which have been the principal obstacles that the CCEI bank has found before becoming the first financial institution in the country?

When the CCEI Bank arrived in 1994 there were no oil exports. Its founder, Dr. Fokam –someone who also truly believes in relations between Africans and African nations-, realized there was a strong potential in Equatorial Guinea and this is reason why he set up here; and found a strong support of the state in hard moments to develop its economic and social policy.

During those years there have been difficulties, clearly, but, despite them, we have done many things.

Why is it the CCEI Bank the best ally to any company, institution or investor who decides to operate in the country?

From my point of view, what differentiates the CCEI Bank from any other institution is our management model. We have a slogan, and many times people might think a slogan is not a big thing, but in our case it is. Our slogan is: “Our customer’s interest is our priority.” In the CCEI Bank, from managers to people who, apparently, would have nothing to do with the customers, as waiters for example; we all dedicate fully to the interest of our customers.

Many would consider that in an economy with such fast growing rates as the Equato-Guinean, the financial education might be one of the biggest challenges to face in order to accompany the growing rhythm.

The CCEI Bank is trying to get closer to the population; a goal we achieve in different ways. One of them is by opening more agencies where we are already installed. Another one is by opening agencies where we are not present yet.

This year, particularly, we have opened many agencies in the city of Bata, as well as in other cities.

Which may be the role of technology in this inclusion process? Are you supported by technological improvements, such as mobile banking?

Evidently, technology is very important when it comes to social and economic development. The CCEI Bank is creating new products to satisfy new needs.

In two weeks – right now we are in the middle of a user trial- the mobile bank will be a reality. And that is just one of the various projects we are undertaking.

Referring now to the bilateral relations with Spain, which are seen by many, from the outside, as not tightened and close as they should due to a common language, culture and history, in which way do you think should Equatorial Guinea present itself? Because many times the news Spain receives are belated, show out of date statistics or distorted data. Why is it so important for Spain to get to know this new Equatorial Guinea?

I think that, as a matter of fact, Spaniards are exposed to certain misinformation regarding Equatorial Guinea. It may be in certain interests or not, but what we do know is that things progress daily here. I remember, three years ago there were just a few Spanish companies here, but now a days there are between 40 and 50 companies working in the country, and this is due, mostly, to facts; because facts are undeniable.

Despite the misinformation, many important things have been done in Equatorial Guinea. The country is developing and the people, like it or not, start to realize this. And that’s the reason why, even when being exposed to misinformation, Spanish businessmen are interested in visiting the country and seeing for themselves what is actually happening here. Besides, actions taken by the chief of state, as well as the diverse methods used for communicating and informing, help to perceive things from another point of view.

Do you think he should keep on working on these lines?

I think we should keep on informing people about what is actually going on in Equatorial Guinea because, accepted or not, the country did progress in many aspects. Nevertheless, people should also realize that a country’s development is not achieved in a year or two. It requires time. Things transform gradually.

In fact, some time ago, there has been a political conference called “The National Dialogue”, after which most of the people who attended recognized that the idea they had about Equatorial Guinea was distorted. That’s why it is important to keep on working and informing.

Which message would you send to all Spaniards considering entering the African market through Equatorial Guinea?

I sincerely think that Equatorial Guinea is a good platform for investments, not only in Equatorial Guinea, but in the rest of the African countries. As I’ve said before, there are many necessities that need to be satisfied and that’s important for any businessman willing to work.

The fiscal legislation is the best that I’ve seen in Central Africa. The judicial sector has made a lot of progress, allowing companies to rest secure in Equatorial Guinea. All these elements are objective elements that allow the companies to install here without a single problem.

A suitable entry not only for investors, but for people looking for employment opportunities to develop professionally as well.

As I was saying, we have a distended situation where you “enter and leave”. Here there is no problem for people to do their activities, whether they are social or economic ones.  

We also see that there is a very important human development. New generations that, in many cases, have had the opportunity to be educated abroad and are very well prepared now.
At the same time, we see that the country offers good basis, in terms of infrastructure, education…

Indeed. Progress has been made and it has been fundamental for this second phase to start.

Let’s suppose that you are a goods producer, how are you going to distribute them without roads? How can people consume things if they don’t have what’s basic: housing? Moreover, what about energy and water?

The main aspect is to decide exactly what needs to be done, what kind of industrialization is going to be implemented, what products are going to be produced; and to start working!

We, as a bank, will be there accompanying all businessmen willing to dedicate to those matters.

We will only be able to develop with a united Africa. Take a look at the “Ebola” case; we have realized that none of our countries was able to face this epidemic. Only the union of African countries, in conjunction with the rest of the world, can face it and solve it.

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