An Interview with Bob Diamond

Bob Diamond
Bob Diamond

23rd September 2015

Bob Diamond worked at Barclays from 1996 to 2012, rising to become CEO in 2011. He then co-founded Atlas Mara, which is aiming to become sub-Saharan Africa’s leading financial institution.

Mr Diamond did not want to be quoted on the subject of UK banks, however when asked about ‘too big to fail’, he said he believes that there is still a worry about size and complexity, both politically and in some of the world’s biggest economies, and that politicians have taken ‘too big to fail’ off the agenda. He referenced the opinion piece he wrote in 2013 for the Financial Times (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/1d8921f4-1c8d-11e3-a8a3-00144feab7de.html#axzz3qY36qMs7), saying that much of it is still relevant.

Q: Which African country do you think is best for investing in at the moment?
A: It’s a difficult question, and I think that there’s no one answer. But if you think about our vision, which is to create the leading sub-Saharan African financial institution, one of the most important sectors for us is Nigeria. This is because it is underbanked, but also because of the very powerful demographics it has around population, growth in discretionary income, and the number of unbanked people in small businesses. So it’s hard to say there’s any one country more important than others, but there’s no question that Nigeria is critically important to our plan.

Q: What do you think about the Chinese ailing economy? How do you think about this will affect Africa?
A: Well, I think there are two answers to that. I am long-term bullish on China: I think it’s unsurprising that after a period of such strong above-trend growth, there would be a correction. I think that the depth of the correction will be very closely aligned with the quality of the policy responses. But I see this as a correction, not as China becoming less important and less relevant as an economy in the world. I think that China will continue to focus on the opportunity to invest in Africa for a host of reasons, one of which is they now have a competitive advantage, having been very focused on investing in Africa. They invested in infrastructure such as roads, hospitals, buildings, and not just the natural resources area for a number of years. And then I think the second answer would be that sub-Saharan African economies are not immune to the commodity cycle chain changing. They’re not immune from a correction in the Chinese economy, but I don’t see that changing the incredibly powerful story of Africa rising. I think in places like Nigeria, growth might go from 7 or 8% to 4 or 5%, and in Mozambique from 8 to 9% to 6 or 7%. I still think that a number of the world’s fastest growing economies will continue to be in sub-Saharan Africa, so while they will in no way be immune to the commodity cycle, or to the slowdown in China, it doesn’t change our medium and long-term very bullish look at the economies in sub-Saharan Africa.

Q: What life lessons have you learnt over the course of your distinguished career?
A: I’ve learnt a number of life lessons. I think that number one is to always work your hardest. I think the rewards that come to the people who are focused and apply themselves are tremendous. Another lesson I’ve learnt is that success doesn’t come without the willingness to take risks. I can’t think of an example of a successful career that didn’t have some ups and downs. I also think that the willingness to do the right thing in every situation is an important foundation.

Q: What advice would you give to people my age looking to enter a career in banking?
A: The financial sector is changing dramatically, but it represents 15 to 20% of developed economies. It’s critical to the growth of the less developed economies such as sub-Saharan Africa, and so while it will change and while there are corrections in place, the financial services industry and banking in general provide phenomenal opportunities for those willing to apply themselves. It will be different, but it will be critically important to the quality of life, the economic growth, and the job creation in both the developed and less developed economies.

Q: Who is the most interesting person you’ve met, and why?
A: That’s a great question. I had the opportunity about eight years ago to spend an hour with Lee Kuan Yew, the former prime minister of Singapore, and Henry Kissinger. And listening to their conversation about the growth of Singapore, and the development of Singapore as one of the world’s most successful economies during the 60s, 70, and 80s was remarkable. The respect I have for both Lee Kuan Yew and Henry Kissinger is immense.

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