SA's central bank probe blames Abil's collapse on former management

The bank launched the investigation after the collapse to determine if the lender engaged in reckless conduct.

Picture: Christa Eybers/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - A report into the 2014 collapse of South Africa's biggest unsecured lender African Bank Investments (Abil) laid the blame squarely on management, saying they negligently chased after growth while lacking banking experience.

The central bank launched the investigation shortly after the collapse to determine if the lender, which was rescued in a $1.6 billion bailout, engaged in reckless conduct or questionable management practices.

The report, released late on Thursday, painted a picture of the board that ignored foreseeable risks such as growing competition, a weak economy and labour unrest as it "aggressively" grew its loan book.

Abil's increased lending between 2012 and 2014 coincided with a slowing economy and a series of work stoppages among its mainstay blue collar clients, including an unprecedented five-month strike by mine workers in South Africa's platinum belt.

"The poor quality of the loans granted, the difficulty in collecting repayments, and the growth in NPLs (non performing loans), can squarely be laid at the door of the bank," the report said.

The report also found that "the business of the bank was conducted negligently" in some aspects, which included appointing some executives with no banking experience.

It also examined whether Abil was involved in "questionable management practices or material non-disclosures, with the intent to defraud depositors or other creditors".

But John Myburgh, who headed the probe, said there was no evidence that the business of the bank was conducted with the intent to defraud depositors or other creditors of the bank.

Abil's failure has raised questions among investors about levels of disclosure at the bank and whether regulators did enough to monitor its lending.

Under the rescue plan, the bank, which had 3 million customers and more than 5,000 employees, underwent restructuring that included carving out a "good bank" using its health assets worth $2.1 billion.