A consumer rights activist and an economist say they are not surprised by the country’s commercial banks posting “huge” profits in the year ended December 2014 despite the economy sailing in turbulent waters.
Although most of the commercial banks have decried “a tough operating environment” last year due to high interest and inflation rates and the impact of donor aid freeze, financial statements published by both listed or non-listed financial institutions have shown that they made profits in the year ending December 31 2014.
A Blantyre-based economist Colleen Kalua, in an interview last week, said: “Malawi is one of the Sadc countries with the highest lending rates. The Reserve Bank of Malawi bank rate is high and, so, the commercial banks also charge high interest rates to their customers.
“So, if you borrow money from commercial banks, you pay back the principal plus about 40 percent interest, so this played a part on how they managed to still make profit.”
He said generally, banks make profits when they lend out money and high interest rates could be a reason most banks have profits.
Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) executive director John Kapito expressed no surprise, saying banks are making such profits when most companies are sinking because they are charging consumers high rates, especially when they borrow.
“Even the disparities between buying and selling foreign exchange are too wide, benefitting the banks not the consumer. Some of these charges do not make sense at all,” he said.
Kapito said besides high rates, banks also charge other seemingly small but still high charges such as monthly ledgers and charges for usage of automated teller machines (ATMs).
He called for independent financial ombudsman to monitor and regulate the commercial banks’ dealings with the consumers because the Reserve Bank as a regulator seems not to be doing enough.
National Bank of Malawi (NBM), one of the blue chips on the Malawi Stock Exchange (MSE) has achieved an after-tax profit of K14.5 billion in the year ended December 2014, a 14.3 percent increase from the previous year’s K12.7 billion.
Similarly, listed Standard Bank financial report indicates that despite the challenging environment, it was operating in, it managed a K12.3 billion after-tax profit from the previous year’s K12.1 billion, representing a two percent increase.
Another MSE-listed bank, NBS Bank also enjoyed a 40 percent jump in after-tax profit after its audited accounts for the year ending December 31 2014, indicated it achieved a K2.6 billion after-tax profit compared to K1.9 billion during the same period the year before.
Audited statements from FMB also showed it made about K5.2 billion after-tax profit in the year ended December 2014, despite it being a drop from the previous year’s K5.9 billion.
The year was also equally glowing for non-listed Ecobank Malawi, which by end of December 2014 posted K1.5 billion after-tax profit, more than double its profit for 2013 when it made K602 million.
The bank also experienced a 46 percent increase in its revenues from K4.1 billion to K6 billion.