“Across the continent, there is increased demand for infrastructure and IT services, opening up markets and creating significant opportunities for business”
Maria Ramos was Director-General of the National Treasury from 1996 to 2003 and in January 2004 was appointed as
Group Chief Executive of Transnet. She joined Absa as Group Chief Executive in March 2009 and is a member of the Barclays
PLC Executive Committee.
Maria is a Non-executive Director of Compagnie Financiere Richemont SA. She is also a member of the International Business Council Executive Committee; the World Bank Chief Economist Advisory Panel; Business Leadership South Africa and the Banking
Association of South Africa.
You have been ranked as one of the most powerful women in international business. Please speak about the growth
of business opportunities you see happening across the African continent in the next five years.
Global growth is expected to pick up modestly from 3.1% to 3.4% in 2016, although we saw the year open with markets reflecting
continued concerns about China and other macro trends. Closer to home we are facing multiple challenges in the short term, but there
are reasons to be fairly optimistic about Africa’s future, including the continent’s maturing economies, growing urbanisation and
youthful workforces, as well as a burgeoning middle class. Africa remains one of the fastest growing regions in the world and the
continent has strong fundamentals in place, which will strengthen its resilience to withstand the current economic headwinds.
Africa is a very young continent – two thirds of the population is under the age of 30. Whereas western nations and China are facing
the challenge of an ageing population, we’re seeing the opposite across Africa. We could very well be the source of future labour for
regions where economic growth is threatened by ageing populations and a shrinking workforce. Our young demographic will also
provide a large future consumer population, compared to many other parts of the world.
Our population is increasingly clustered around urban centres and urbanisation is a key driver for economic activity. By 2030, almost
50% of Africans will be living in cities. Across the continent, there is increased demand for infrastructure and IT services, opening up markets and creating significant opportunities for business.
Innovation, especially technology-based innovation, changes lives in Africa, exponentially more so than in
developed countries where access to goods and services is easier. This is true for the financial services and other sectors – from
transport to tourism – where technology’s power of disruption is changing traditional ways of doing business. Mobile penetration in
Africa, estimated at 89% at the end of 2014, is growing fast and enabling transactions such as money transfers and microfinance.
The opportunity for financial services companies is to develop solutions that meet diverse and complex market needs; demand for
formal banking services is increasing and local companies across a number of African countries need sophisticated financial products
to grow. Conversely providing increased access to basic financial services is just as critical.
According to McKinsey’s 2015 report South Africa’s big five: Bold priorities for inclusive growth, the three largest opportunities for
service exports to sub-Saharan Africa are in the construction sector, financial services and business services.