Banking sector support for the economy’s transformation

Banking sector support for the economy’s transformation

Mauritania’s strong and well-governed banks are helping to upscale traditional industries, facilitate emerging sectors, develop SMEs and boost financial inclusion


Mauritania’s banks are robust supporters of the country’s economic growth and transformation, says Mohamed Bouna Moctar, president of the Federation of Financial Institutions — an affiliate of the National Union of Mauritanian Employers that represents all companies in the country — and director general of Banque El Amana (BEA), a large universal bank offering a complete range of services to businesses, institutions and individuals.  

“The economy is mainly focused on traditional sectors like mining, agriculture and fishing, making it vulnerable to fluctuations in commodity prices, climatic hazards and variations in international demand. Banks play an essential role in reducing this dependence and promoting economic diversification,” Bouna Moctar reveals. He explains that the sector is doing this is by, for example, providing enterprises in those industries with the financing to modernize their equipment, introduce sustainable practices and move up the value chain into manufacturing and exports. 

Mauritanian banks are also supplying essential services for the country’s leap into hydrocarbons, Moctar notes, “These projects require significant investments and ongoing support for the local and international companies bringing them to fruition.” BEA is a significant enabler of this diversification, he adds: “The bank stands out for its leadership in artisanal fishing and agri-food and for its trade expertise, as well as being at the forefront of the energy, telecommunications and construction sectors.” According to Bouna Moctar, “Mauritania is evolving rapidly and now offers a favorable business climate, incentives and benefits for investors with numerous opportunities. As a dynamic and secure bank, BEA is a key partner for those looking to invest in the country. With nearly three decades of experience, strong international business and banking relationships, plus a commitment to health, safety and environmental compliance and standards, we are ready to support and advise investors at every stage of their investment journey.” One challenge for the nation is financial inclusion, with only 21% of the population holding a traditional bank account in 2022. However, “Mobile payments have gained in popularity since 2020, with intensive communication campaigns led by banks. The number of mobile payment app users grew from 270,000 in December 2021 to 800,000 in September 2023, increasing the level of financial inclusion to 38%,” he states. 

BEA is a good example of the sector’s focus on innovative services, notes Bouna Moctar: “We invest in the steady development of digital banking and mobile payment solutions to meet the changing needs of our customers and provide greater flexibility and convenience. Thanks to our highly successful Amanty application for mobile payment services, our full-service digital banking app and our bea website, BEA is perfectly positioned to strengthen its market share.”

Widespread adoption of smartphones plus mobile and online banking has catalyzed the country’s fintech sector; and in 2023, the government introduced a bill that will help expand it. “Startup ACT Mauritania is a framework aimed at encouraging innovative startups and small and medium-sized enterprises. It includes various measures, including mechanisms to facilitate access to financing,” he explains. The country’s banks already work with SMEs in all sectors to support their growth, Bouna Moctar continues: “Banks are seeking to develop innovative financial solutions and are collaborating with government institutions and development organizations. The objective is to make credit more accessible and affordable while minimizing risks.” 

Supporting Mauritania’s SME’s is a major focus of Banque Mauritanienne de l’Investissement (BMI), one of the country’s five biggest universal banks in terms of balance sheet and branch network, which is part of a well-established group that also operates in energy, construction, telecommunications and the distribution of computer equipment. “In partnership with the European Investment Bank, the International Financial Company and the French Development Agency, we have launched financing of $75 million aimed at advancing SMEs by providing them with the necessary financing for their development, helping them to structure themselves and better organize themselves,” reveals BMI’s director general Mohamed Yahya Sidi. “As part of that, BMI has contracted long-term credit lines of over $40 million with the EIB and $20 million with the IFC to finance projects with high added value in the fishing, services and food industry sectors.” Financing from these initiatives is set to particularly benefit startups and SMEs that are owned by or empower women and young people, and the partnerships represent the first time the Mauritanian financial sector has worked with either the EIB or the IFC in nearly two decades.

These collaborations indicate the confidence top international institutions have in the capabilities and governance of a fast-growing shariah-compliant bank, which provides its clients with services that include commercial banking, investment banking and wealth management. Those services are available through its branches and its Sedad digital bank that is used by 230,000 customers. As Sidi explains: “We have built strong relationships with a network of foreign banks. This has been possible because the organization of BMI is perfectly aligned with commonly accepted standards in terms of governance. Our financial indicators comply with central bank guidelines and are all above prudent standards and the national average.”

BMI’s management standards reflect the recent progress Mauritania’s wider banking sector has made in improving its governance mechanisms, which is supporting its greater integration into the global banking order. “The central bank has put in place a regulatory framework around governance within banks that is largely based on commonly accepted international standards. For example, one third of a bank’s board must be made up of independent directors who must satisfy well-defined conditions,” details Sidi. “In addition, virtually all Mauritanian banks respect ratios calculated according to the Basel directives. In terms of compliance and the fight against money laundering, the banks have put in place a system that allows them to comply with most of the Financial Action Task Force recommendations, and we have a very effective know-your-customer and operations monitoring system that has proven itself.”

In line with Mauritania’s other leading financial institutions, BMI is working hard to help realize the nation’s potential in energy sectors, Sidi states: “It is now clear that Mauritania has significant gas reserves in terms of volume and quality, as well as enormous capacities in solar and wind energy, which will enable the country to become an energy hub in the sub-region. Local banks are striving to support the growth of these new activities through targeted financing that is intended to provide the logistics and infrastructure necessary for the smooth running of those industries.”