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Kenya’s finance minister opposes capping of banks’ lending rates

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya’s Treasury opposes a move by parliament to cap commercial lending rates because other measures being put in place will help bring down borrowing costs over time, the finance minister said on Tuesday.

Parliament passed changes to the banking law two weeks ago to cap commercial interest rates at 400 basis points above the central bank’s policy rate, now 10.5 percent. The changes are awaiting presidential approval.

Henry Rotich, the finance minister, told Reuters his ministry preferred to improve the transmission of monetary policy signals to commercial rates and the creation of a central registry for collateral to cut rates, rather than capping them.

“Our approach in this issue is to deal with the root cause of why interest rates are where they are in Kenya,” he said.

The average lending rate was 18.2 percent last month, compared with 15.8 percent in July last year, the central bank said. The central bank cut its policy rate to 10.5 percent in May, having left it at 11.5 percent since July 2015.

Rotich said they were working to improve the Kenya Banks Reference Rate (KBRR) to ensure banks were pricing loans correctly.

Introduced by the government in 2014 to help rein in high costs of loans by offering a benchmark for banks to price their loans, the KBRR has been criticised widely for failing to help bring down interest rates.

“There is more room for refining the KBRR and banks are working on ensuring that the margins reflect the best pricing of loans,” the minister said without offering details.

He said a law to establish a central registry of collateral would be taken to parliament soon, enabling borrowers to transfer their loans between different banks easily and cutting costs of securing collateral once it is passed.

“We think these measures are going to help to bring down rates over a period of time,” Rotich said.

Kenyan banks have reported rising profits in the last decade, attracting foreign investors. Rotich said the growth of the sector had helped to boost the share of the population with access to formal financial services to 70 percent.

“We don’t want to rock that boat … Anything that reverses that would not be a good way to go,” he said.

The central bank also opposes capping interest rates saying it could restrict lending. It however wants banks to lower their rates.

Rotich said the government’s budget deficit for the fiscal year starting last month would be lower than the 9.3 percent approved by parliament, adding they would also raise money in capital markets abroad to avoid putting pressure on local rates by borrowing too much in the domestic market.

“Our strategy is to diversify our sources of funding so that we don’t borrow heavily domestically,” the minister said.

(By Duncan Miriri, Editing by Richard Balmforth)


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Old Mutual to invest in Nigerian real estate, agriculture

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters

ABUJA (Reuters) – Anglo-South African financial services firm Old Mutual and Nigeria’s sovereign wealth fund on Friday signed agreements to set up two funds to invest in real estate and agriculture in Africa’s most populous nation.

Old Mutual and Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) said they would jointly raise a $500 million fund to invest in real estate and another $200 million to spend on agriculture projects in Nigeria.

The West African nation is in the middle of its worst crisis in decades as a slump in oil revenues hammers public finances and the naira. Gross domestic product shrank in the first quarter and the central bank governor has said a recession is likely.

Chief executive of NSIA, Uche Orji, said both parties will each commit $100 million as initial commitment for the real estate fund and $50 million for the agriculture fund.

“We are looking at office towers, commercial real estate,” Orji said. “We are investing equity in agriculture. We are looking at farming with emphasis on export.”

Poor infrastructure and access to capital is a major bottleneck to growth in Nigeria, which has made diversifying its revenue base and reducing a huge import bill its top priority.

“The most important thing is infrastructure. The problem is that its cheaper to move goods from China to Lagos, than move it from Kano to Lagos and that’s because we don’t have the infrastructure,” Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun said.

Nigeria established the Sovereign Investment Authority (SIA) in 2011 with $1 billion of seed capital in an effort to manage oil export revenues.

The new funds, which will stay invested for up to 12-years, will target returns of around 20 percent, Hywel George, chief investment officer at Old Mutual said.

A successful real estate investment in Nigeria can earn an returns as high as 30-35 percent, while rental income yields in cities such as Lagos and Abuja can easily reach 10 percent, developers and estate agents say.

However, navigating through opaque land laws, corruption, a lack of development expertise and financing, a dearth of mortgages and high building costs will take courage and influential local partners.


(By Chijioke Ohuocha. Editing by Ulf Laessing and William Hardy)


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Standard Bank joins rush to mobile banking

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured

Africa mobile banking

The largest bank on the continent has launched a pan-African application in five countries that enables financial transactions across borders.

The largest bank on the continent is rolling out a pan-African banking application as it shifts its business toward mobile.

The action by Standard Bank – African’s largest bank by assets – reflects a growing trend of financial institutions moving to mobile financial services that so far have been dominated by telecoms.

Standard’s mobile banking has been doubling year over year, according to Peter Schlebusch, the bank’s chief executive for personal and business banking.

Standard has launched the mobile application in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Uganda and Ghana and plans to launch in Nigeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Zambia later this year.

The app reflects a significant investment by the Johannesburg-based bank to give customers convenient access to their accounts regardless of their location, a bank representative said.

Transactions can cross borders

Standard Bank app

Standard Bank app

Adrian Vermooten, head of Africa Customer Channels for Standard Bank, said the app is one of the first in Africa that enables transactions across borders.

The app takes advantage of sophisticated smartphone technology, including biometrics. In the future, features including real time payments, online account opening and other services for individual consumers or businesses will be added to the app.

The app reflects the bank’s goal of becoming a “universal bank” for Africa, Vermooten said. The bank, with global assets of about $165 billion, operates in 20 markets across the continent.

“We’re trying to be really focused on Africa and take out the friction of dealing in Africa,” Schlebusch told Forbes, noting that the new app will enable customers to execute transactions across borders.

“The pan-African app will enable customers to view the whole bank regardless of their geography or what kind of customer they are,” he said.

ATM transactions decline

The bank last year processed more than 800 million transactions worth nearly $30 billion through its banking application while in-person branch and ATM transactions shrunk to less than 5 percent of all transactions, Schlebusch said.

Standard’s experience underscores two shifts taking place on the continent. One is the rapid trend toward consumer use of mobile technology for financial transactions. The other is the move by banks for a share of the market previously dominated by telecommunications companies.

In 2014, mobile financial transactions generated $656 million in revenue in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the research firm Frost and Sullivan ICT. That amount will nearly double to $1.3 billion by 2019, Frost and Sullivan predicted.

According to the World Bank, growth in mobile banking in Africa has outpaced other regions in which it operates. Sub-Saharan Africa was the only region in which the World Bank operates where more than 10 percent of adults have a mobile banking account.

Meanwhile, one expert said that African banks are taking the lead globally in ensuring security of mobile financial transactions.

Schalk Nolte, chief executive officer of Entersekt, said African banks are placing security at the center of the app will add mobile development, setting an example that other banks can follow.

Globally, banks have led development of mobile banking. But in Africa, telecoms have been the major players in mobile financial transactions because far more Africans have mobile phones than have bank accounts.

More phones than bank accounts

According to the World Bank, 40 percent of Africa’s 1.4 billion residents have a mobile phone while less than 25 percent of the population has a bank account.

But banks like Standard are working to change that. A top East African bank announced plans to enter the market while banks in Cameroon and Mali are also trying to tap into the continent’s rush to electronic payments.

In Kenya, Equity Bank, the country’s largest in terms of number of customers, is providing customers with SIM card overlays that enable them to securely access their accounts on their phones.

In Nigeria, GT Bank is partnering with Etisalat Nigeria, one of the country’s larger mobile operators, to create a savings account that can be opened on a mobile phone.

Pan-African Ecobank is partnering with the telecom Orange Cameroon to enable customers to transfer money between the two services. The companies have launched the service in Cameroon and Mali and expect to offer it to Ivory Coast, Guinea Conakry and Niger in the future.

South Africa presents a contrasting example. In that country, where 75 percent of the population has a bank account, M-Pesa failed to take hold and folded its operations earlier this year.

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Uganda’s Stanbic Bank H1 profit rises 57 pct on trading income

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters

KAMPALA (Reuters) – Stanbic Bank Uganda (SBU), the country’s largest bank by assets, said on Wednesday its operating profit surged 57 percent in the first half of 2016, helped by strong performance in its trading activities.

A unit of South Africa’s Standard Bank, SBU’s operating profit jumped to 144 billion shillings ($42.73 million) for the first six months of 2016, from 92 billion shillings in the same period last year.

“Strong profitability was driven by … deploying high yielding investment assets and generating strong trading revenues,” Sam Mwogeza, SBU’s Chief Financial Officer, said.

The results showed strong earnings from trading in the interbank money market, interest from Treasury bills and bonds, and foreign exchange trading.

During the period SBU helped with arranging a $114 million syndicated loan for telecoms firm MTN Uganda and an interest rate swap deal with the Ugandan government on funds borrowed from China to finance a power plant.

SBU said the two deals supported the strong performance.


($1 = 3,370 Ugandan shillings)


(Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Edmund Blair and Alexandra Hudson)

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South Africa’s Standard Bank awarded banking license in Ivory Coast

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s Standard Bank has been awarded a banking license in Ivory Coast, one of Africa’s fastest growing economies, extending its reach to 20 countries on the continent, the lender said on Monday.

“Standard Bank – trading as Stanbic Bank – has been formally awarded a banking license in Côte d’Ivoire,” it said in a statement, adding that it was gearing up to commence banking operations but did not give a timeframe.


(Reporting by TJ Strydom; Editing by James Macharia)

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Caixabank bid for Banco BPI hits new snag as vote on rights cap delayed

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters

PORTO, Portugal (Reuters) – A meeting of shareholders in Portugal’s Banco BPI, that started on Friday and was expected to lift a 20 percent limit on voting rights, was suspended until September due to a legal injunction, in a new snag for a takeover bid by Spain’s Caixabank.

The bid is opposed by the bank’s No. 2 shareholder, Angolan investor Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of Angola’s president. Caixabank has said its bid hinges on the scrapping of the voting rights limit, which has so far allowed dos Santos to fend off its attempts to control the country’s third-largest lender.

Chairman of the BPI board Artur Santos Silva said the injunction blocked the vote due to a minor procedural issue, which Santos Silva expected to be resolved by Tuesday.

He said Caixabank had then proposed to postpone the meeting for 45 days, which shareholders approved. Portugal’s market regulator CMVM had suspended trading in BPI shares on Friday awaiting the result of the vote.

“I am very sorry about this situation … which is hard to understand,” he said, adding the injunction was based on the fact that the minutes of the board meeting that set Friday’s vote had lacked a formal seal of approval. “On Tuesday this problem will disappear,” he said.

He did not name the shareholder who launched the injunction, but shareholders at the meeting said Portuguese shareholder Violas Ferreira, who has a 2.7 percent stake in BPI, had presented it.

Thanks to a government decree in April aimed at putting an end to voting right limits in the banking sector, Caixabank would have voted with its full 45 percent stake in BPI to lift the cap. The motion requires a two-thirds majority to pass.

In April, Caixabank launched a takeover bid for the lender, offering 1.113 euros per share, less than its initial offer of 1.329 euros, which dos Santos fended off last year.

Dos Santos has already said the price is too low and wants an independent auditor to fix a minimum price for BPI shares, above the current offer. She has also accused the government of making an “unprecedented and clearly partial” decision in changing the law on rights limits.

But BPI’s board has called the new offer “opportune and friendly”, if low. It said an eventual takeover should help resolve the problem of BPI’s excessive exposure to risky Angolan assets and better prepare the lender to meet growing capital requirements from regulators.

BPI, which draws most of its profit from Angola, has been affected by a change in European rules that classify all exposure to the African country as risky and to be fully provisioned for, significantly reducing BPI’s solvency ratios. It has to cut the exposure and comply soon or pay hefty fines.


(Reporting By Sergio Goncalves, writing by Andrei Khalip, editing by Axel Bugge and Susan Thomas)

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Kenya’s NIC Bank appointed to assess assets of closed Imperial Bank

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya’s NIC Bank has been appointed as a consultant to assess the assets and liabilities of Imperial Bank, which was put into receivership in October after fraud was uncovered, the central bank said on Tuesday.

The appointment of NIC Bank, a mid-tier bank, would ensure customers receive more of their deposits after the closed bank’s shareholders failed to support a proposal for swiftly reopening Imperial, the central bank said in a statement.

Three small or medium-sized banks in Kenya have been closed in less than a year, unnerving investors. The central bank has said financial issues were specific to the banks concerned and did not pose a systemic risk to the economy of the East African nation, which is a regional financial centre.

Earlier this year, the central bank said clients with deposits of up to 1 million shillings ($9,886.31) would receive funds in full, while those with larger deposits would have to wait for investigations to end to determine the fate of their funds.

NIC, appointed by state receiver Kenya Deposit Insurance Corporation (KDIC), would oversee disbursement of a maximum of 1.5 million shillings to remaining depositors once a court rules, likely on July 4, to lift the suspension of payments.

More deposit payments could be made after that following the completion of due diligence by NIC, which would assume a portion of the remaining deposits and other assets and liabilities, including a majority of Imperial’s staff and branches.

Central Bank of Kenya Governor Patrick Njoroge told a news conference that NIC was not acquiring Imperial Bank, and also said a moratorium on new bank licences remained in place.


($1 = 101.1500 Kenyan shillings)


(Reporting by George Obulutsa; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Louise Heavens)

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StanChart launches mobile banking push in Africa as rivals retreat

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) – Standard Chartered is to launch its mobile and online banking platform in eight African countries, its consumer banking chief for the region told Reuters, as the lender seeks to grow in Africa at a time when some European banks are retreating.

StanChart will launch the service for its 1 million customers in Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe in the first half of 2016, the bank’s regional head for retail banking Jaydeep Gupta said.

“Africa’s populations are moving quickly to embrace mobile banking and local banks have made material investments on the digital side, so to protect and grow our market share we are investing,” he said.

Gupta said StanChart hopes to grow long-term retail banking revenues in Africa by three to four times the pace of the region’s growth in economic output.

The bank’s strategy stands in contrast to European rivals who have beat a rapid retreat from Africa in recent years, stung by plunging commodities prices and weaknesses in African currencies.

Barclays said on March 1 it was seeking to sell its African business as part of a plan by new Chief Executive Jes Staley to simplify the bank’s structure.

The International Monetary Fund on May 3 cut its 2016 growth forecast for sub-Saharan Africa by 1 percentage point to 3 percent, the lowest level in 15 years and half the average over the last decade.

The tough environment has seen bank stocks in Africa plunge and lenders in countries such as Kenya and Zambia fail.

StanChart is nonetheless expanding its physical presence in the region, adding 10 branches in the Nigerian capital of Lagos as part of a strategy to focus on Africa’s capital and top-tier cities which Gupta said account for roughly 80 percent of consumer banking revenues.

Gupta declined to put a figure on the bank’s Africa investment. Africa accounts for 10 percent or around 8400 of the lender’s total employees, and StanChart made a net loss in the region of $32 million in 2015 on rising bad loans, according to company data.

Former Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond is also optimistic about the region and is bidding on his former employer’s African unit, even as his investment vehicle Atlas Mara reported a $2 million loss for the first quarter as its African banking investments struggled. [nL5N18N0XB]

StanChart’s Gupta, like Diamond, advocate looking beyond Africa’s short term economic woes.

“Africa is a multi-speed market with some countries such as Kenya bounding ahead while others like Zimbabwe and Nigeria remain challenging, but we see attractive long-term growth opportunities for the continent,” Gupta said.


(By Lawrence White. Editing by John O’Donnell, Greg Mahlich)


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African banks want share of growing e-money market

Comments (1) Africa, Business, Featured


A top East African bank competes with a major telecom in Kenya as mobile banking booms.

A top East African bank hopes to challenge a telecommunication company’s dominance in electronic mobile-payments service and gain a larger share of Kenya’s electronic banking trade.

Banks in Nigeria, Cameroon and Mali are making similar moves to tap into the continent’s mushrooming market in electronic payments.

In 2014, mobile money transactions generated $656 million in revenue in sub-Saharan Africa and that amount expected to double to $1.3 billion by 2019, according to the research firm Frost and Sullivan ICT.

In much of the world, banks are the leading providers of electronic payment services. But in Africa, where more people have mobile phones than have bank accounts, telecommunications companies have been able to dominate the market.

According to the World Bank, fewer than 25 percent of Africa’s 1.4 billion people have a bank account while 40 percent have a mobile phone.

Equity offers SIM card overlay

Now, Equity Bank, Kenya’s largest in the number of customers, and other banks want to tap into a growing market.

Equity, which also operates in Tanzania and Uganda, seeks to compete with M-Pesa, Safaricom’s popular mobile payments service.

Equity has begun providing its clients with a super thin SIM card overlay that enables them to access their accounts on their mobile phones.

The service, called Equitel, is powered by Safaricom’s rival telecom, Airtel Kenya.

Equity Bank contends that market should belong to the banking sector, not the telecoms.

“We have a major problem with the mobile provider also providing financial services,” John Staley, the bank’s chief of finance, innovation and technology said. “You cannot have the freight company controlling the tracks.”

M-Pesa enjoys popularity Kenya

Safaricom is the Kenya subsidiary of the global telecom colossus Vodafone Group, based in the United Kingdom.

Launched in 2007, M-Pesa has more than 12 million active users and processes more than $18 billion in transactions yearly.

The launch of Equitel follows a yearlong legal battle in which Safaricom raised questions about the security and privacy of Equity Bank’s SIM card plan. A Kenyan court ruled in favor of Equity, enabling the project to move forward.

Bank, telecom partner in Nigeria

Meanwhile, in Nigeria, GT Bank is partnering with Etisalat Nigeria, the nation’s third largest mobile operator to create GTEasySavers, a savings account that can be opened on a mobile phone.

Mobile banking is not as large a market in Nigeria as it is in Kenya. But with mobile penetration of 80 percent and only 57 percent of adults lacking bank accounts, it may be poised to take off.

The mobile market in West Africa is growing. It was valued at $17 billion in 2014 by the market research company Ovum. Mobile data revenue totaled $3 billion, up 30 percent from the year before.

Pan-African Ecobank is partnering with the telecom Orange Cameroon to enable Orange customers with Ecobank accounts to transfer money between the two services. The companies have launched the service in Cameroon and Mali and plan to extend it to Ivory Coast, Guinea Conakry and Niger.

Orange Money is currently available in more than a dozen countries in the Middle East and Africa. With over 16 million customers, the service transferred about $9 billion in 2015.

M-Pesa fails in South Africa

South Africa, where 75 percent of the adult population has banking services, provides a contrasting example of poor demand for a telecomm payment platform.

In May, Vodacom, a Vodafone subsidiary and the country’s largest mobile network, announced it was terminating its effort to attract South Africans to M-Pesa after the service failed to catch on in the continent’s most economically advanced nation.

The company had hoped to sign up 10 million South African users when it launched M-Pesa in 2010. However, by 2015, only one million people had signed up and only 76,000 were active on the platform.

“The success factors for M-Pesa in Kenya were not present in South Africa,” said Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of the technology research firm World Wide Worx.

Usage grows in other countries

Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub said the company saw “little prospect” of M-Pesa being successful in the near term. The service will end June 30.

Vodacom said it would continue to offer M-Pesa in markets where banking access is more limited and M-Pesa usage is growing, including Mozambique, Tanzania, Lesotho, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In Kenya and other countries where mobile transactions are popular, consumers likely will benefit from new competition in the e-money marketplace, according to a consultant with the World Bank.

“As long as pricing is low enough, mobile money services and healthy competition will benefit consumers and increase financial inclusion, tech consultant Martin Warioba said.

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Cyber threat looms over Africa

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured

africa cyber crime

As more people transact banking and business online, experts raise questions about security from hackers targeting the continent.

Amid global alarm about cyber theft, authorities warn that banks and other businesses and institutions in Africa are increasingly vulnerable to online fraud and theft.

African and international cyber security experts, including representatives of government and the United Nations, will gather in Nairobi in June to discuss online threats and how to fight them.

As more Africans use the internet, businesses and governments are providing more transactions and services online. But experts are raising questions about whether those sites are secure from cyber criminals.

Many small and mid-sized businesses cannot afford expensive security measures such as firewalls and malware protection while governments also use templates to build their websites, which cost less but may also be more vulnerable to attack.

Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa see attacks

Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa are among African countries that have already suffered millions of dollars in losses to cyber crime.

Nigerian officials estimated the country’s institutions lost $630 million annually to cyber attacks, theft and software piracy, nearly one percent of the country’s gross domestic product while online bank fraud more than doubled.

“Global tracking of cyber-attacks indicate that Nigeria is among the countries with high numbers of software piracy, intellectual property theft, and malware attacks,” Babagana Monguno, Nigerian national security advisor, said at the recent inauguration of a 31-member Cybercrime Advisory Council.

Monguno called the threat “a serious challenge to our resolve to take advantage of the enormous opportunities the internet brings.”

Nigeria’s new Cybercrime Advisory Council, established through 2015 legislation, is charged with promoting information sharing and making recommendations designed to improve cyber security. The country’s National Cybersecurity Policy and Strategy outlines the legal, technical and institutional systems that will be required to fight cyber-attacks in Nigeria.

Kenya loss put at $150 million

In Kenya, authorities said online thieves took about $150 million in 2014, as cyber crime in that nation tripled over 2013.

A 2015 report noted that 25 percent of Kenya’s internet users are unsupervised teens that may be exposed to cyber crime.

One expert said many businesses in Kenya lack the resources and access to IT expertise they need to protect their online platforms.

Rutendo Hwindingwi, division director for Sage East and West Africa, said businesses need to implement firewalls and use anti-malware tools and have access to IT specialists who can quickly respond when applications or operating systems are attacked.

The Communication Authority of Kenya in April put out a call for tenders a study of e-commerce and cyber crime detection and prevention in the country as the government attempts to develop a strategy to fight cyber crime.

The authority said it had set up a team to monitory cyber attacks, especially those that target government systems.

South African bank customers warned

South Africa has seen cyber crime losses totaling about $65 million, according to one estimate.

The South African Bank Risk Information Center recently warned bank customers to pay more attention to security, especially on mobile phones.

The center’s chief executive, Kalayani Pillay said protecting electronic devices is critical to reducing the risk of being victimized by cyber crime.

Phillay said malware and phishing attacks were on the increase in South Africa, including efforts to target accounts of corporate executives to move large sums of money.

The country’s wealth and particularly its relatively high gross domestic product per capita made it attractive to cyber criminals, she said.

Risk grows with mobile usage

Banks continuously update cyber security measures, but criminals come up with new ways to steal from customers, she said. The risk will grow as more bank customers migrate online, especially banking on their smart phones.

The warnings come against a backdrop of global concern following two large heists this year at Asian banks.

In February, hackers sent more than 30 fund transfer orders totaling $950 million from Bangladesh Bank using Swift, a global money transfer system. The thieves successfully transferred $81 million to accounts in the Philippines.

In May, Swift revealed another heist had taken place prior to the Bangladesh theft but had only been revealed by the second bank, which one researcher said was in Vietnam. The amount of the theft was not released.

Hackers breach bank security

Swift, with 11,000 member banks, processes 25 million messages each day to process billions of dollars in transfers.

In each case, Swift said the cyber thieves bypassed security controls at the local banks to request the transfers.

As concern grows on the continent, the African Expert Convention on Cyber Security, June 22-23 in Nairobi, will bring together experts from government agencies, the United Nations, corporations and investors to discuss strategies for fighting cyber crime.

Organizers hope the event will enable participants to share expertise from different sectors and create partnership frameworks for enhancing cyber security. Participants will also learn the latest technical tools available to protect against cyber threats.

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