6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
Government policies generally facilitate the free flow of financial resources to support the entry of resources in the product and factor market. Banking supervision and regulation by the Bank of Zambia (BoZ) has improved slightly over the past few years. Improvements include revoking licenses of some insolvent banks, denying bailouts, limiting deposit protection, strengthening loan recovery efforts, and upgrading the training of and incentives for bank supervisors. High domestic lending rates, a lack of dollar and foreign exchange liquidity, and the limited accessibility of domestic financing constrain business. High returns on government securities encourage commercial banks to invest heavily in government debt to the exclusion of financing productive private sector investments, particularly for SMEs.
The Lusaka Stock Exchange (LuSE), established in 1993, is structured to meet international recommendations for clearing and settlement system design and operations. There are no restrictions on foreign participation in the LuSE, and foreigners may invest in stocks on the same terms as Zambians. The LuSE has offered trading in equity securities since its inception and, in March 1998, the LuSE became the official market for selling Zambian government bonds. Investors intending to trade a listed security or government bond are now mandated to trade via the LuSE. The market is regulated by the Securities Act of 1993 and enforced by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of Zambia. Secondary trading of financial instruments in the market is very low or non-existent in some areas. As of the beginning of 2021, there were 25 companies listed on the LuSE with a portfolio worth about K24 billion (USD 1.2 billion).
Existing policies facilitate the free flow of financial resources into the product and factor markets. The government and the BoZ respect IMF Article VIII by refraining from restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions. Credit is allocated on market terms and foreign investors can get credit on the local market, although local credit is relatively expensive and most investors therefore prefer to obtain credit outside the country.
Money and Banking System
The financial sector is comprised of three sub-sectors according to financial sector supervisory authorities. The banking and financial institutions sub-sector is supervised by the BoZ, the securities sub-sector by the SEC, and the pensions and insurance sub-sector by the Pensions and Insurance Authority. The Banking and Financial Services Act, Chapter 387, and the Bank of Zambia Act, Chapter 360, govern the banking industry. Zambia’s banking sector is considered relatively well-developed in the African context, but the sector remains highly concentrated. There are currently 19 banks in Zambia with the largest four banks holding nearly two-thirds of total banking assets. The dominance of the four largest banks in deposits and total assets has been diluted by increased market capture of smaller banks and new industry entrants, an indication of growing competitive intensity in this segment of the banking market. Government policies generally facilitate the free flow of financial resources to support the entry of resources in the product and factor market. There continued to be a steady increase in electronic banking and related services over the last few years.
The BoZ’s current policy rate, as of February 2021, was 8.5 percent. Commercial lending rates range between 23 and 30 percent, among the highest in the region. The persistence of high interest rates led the government to urge commercial banks to reduce their lending rates in order to stimulate private sector growth and the economy as a whole. One factor inhibiting more affordable lending is a culture of tolerating loan default, which many borrowers view as a minor transgression. Non-performing loans (NPLs) remain elevated, with some estimates as high as 15 percent. The government contributes to this problem, as it has arrears of about USD 1.3 billion to government contractors who reportedly hold a high percentage of the NPLs.
Banking officials acknowledge the need to upgrade the risk assessment and credit management skills of their institutions to better serve borrowers, but note widespread financial illiteracy limits borrowers’ ability to access credit. Banks provide credit denominated in foreign currencies only for investments aimed at producing goods for export. Banks provide services on a fee-based model and banking charges are generally high. Home mortgages are available from several leading Zambian banks, although interest rates are still very high.
To operate a bank in Zambia, the bank must be licensed by the Registrar of Banks, Financial Institutions, and Financial Businesses (“the Registrar”) whose office is based at the BoZ. The decision to license banks lies with the Registrar. Foreign banks or branches are allowed to operate in country as long as they fulfill BoZ requirements and meet the minimum capital requirement of USD 100 million for foreign banks and USD 20 million for local banks. According to the BoZ, many banks in the country have correspondent banking relationships; it is difficult to assess how many there are or whether any bank has lost any correspondent banking relationships in the past three years. It is also difficult to analyze if any of those correspondent relationships are currently in jeopardy as the daily management of those relationships are carried out by the individual banks and not by the BoZ.
Generally, all regulatory agencies that issue operating licenses have statutory reporting requirements that businesses operating under their laws and regulations must meet. For example, the Banking and Financial Services Act has stringent reporting provisions that require all commercial banks to submit weekly returns indicating their liquidity position. Late submission of the weekly returns or failure to meet the minimum core liquidity and statutory reserves incur punitive penalty interest, and may lead to the placement of non-compliant commercial banks under direct supervision of BoZ, closure of the undertaking, or the prosecution of directors.
All companies listed under the Lusaka Stock Exchange (LuSE) are obliged to publish interim and annual financial statements within three months after the close of the financial year. Listed companies are also required to disclose in national print media any information that can affect the value of the price of their securities. According to the Companies Act, Chapter 388, company directors need to generate annual account reports after the end of each financial year. The annual account, auditor’s report or reports on the accounts, and directors’ report should be sent to each person entitled to receive notice of the annual general meeting and to each registered debenture holder of the company. A foreign company is required to submit annual accounts and an auditor’s report to the Registrar.
The Non-Bank Financial Institutions (NBFIs) are licensed and regulated in accordance with the provisions of the Banking and Financial Services Act of 1994 (BFSA) and related Regulations and Prudential Guidelines. As key players in the financial sector, NBFIs are subject to regulatory requirements governing their prudential position, consumer protection, and market conduct in order to safeguard the overall soundness and stability of the financial system. The NBFIs comprise eight leasing and finance companies, three building societies, one credit reference bureau, one savings and credit institution, one development finance institution, 80 bureaux de change, one credit reference bureau, and 34 micro-finance institutions.
Private firms are open to foreign investment through mergers and acquisitions. The CCPC reviews and handles big mergers and acquisitions. The High Court of Zambia may reverse decisions made by the Commission. Under the CCPA, foreign companies without a presence in Zambia and taking over local firms do not have to notify their transactions to the Commission, as it has not established disclosure requirements for foreign companies acquiring existing businesses in Zambia.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
There are currently no restrictions or limitations placed on foreign investors converting or transferring funds associated with an investment (including remittances of investment capital, earnings, loan repayments, and lease payments) into freely usable currency and at a legal market-clearing rate. Investors are free to repatriate capital investments, as well as dividends, management fees, interest, profit, technical fees, and royalties. Foreign nationals can also transfer and/or remit wages earned in Zambia. Funds associated with investments can be freely converted into internationally convertible currencies. The BoZ pursues a flexible exchange rate policy, which generally allows the currency to freely float, though it intervened heavily to support the local currency, the kwacha, in 2014 to 2016. Currency transfers are protected by IMF Article VII.
In March 2014, the government announced the revocation of SI Number 33 (mandating use of the kwacha for domestic transactions) and SI Number 55 (monitoring foreign exchange transactions). The government experienced challenges implementing these statutory instruments and – along with problems of fiscal management and weakening global copper prices – the SIs were perceived as undermining confidence in Zambia’s economy and currency, leading to sharp depreciation of the kwacha. The decision to revoke the SIs was widely praised in the business community. The kwacha, however, has remained weak in historical terms and continues to depreciate against the dollar. As of early April 2021, the kwacha was trading at more than 22 to the dollar.
Over-the-counter cash conversion of the kwacha into foreign currency is restricted to a USD 5,000 maximum per transaction for account holders and USD 1,000 for non-account holders. No exchange controls exist in Zambia for anyone doing business as either a resident or non-resident. There are no restrictions on non-cash transactions. The exchange rate of the Zambian national currency is mostly determined by market forces; because the volume and value of exports from Zambia are overwhelmingly related to the extractive industries sector, mining companies’ financial transactions play a major role in exchange rate determination.
There are no recent changes or plans to change investment remittance policies that tighten or relax access to foreign exchange for investment remittances. There are no restrictions on converting or transferring funds associated with an investment (including remittances of investment capital, earnings, loan repayments, or lease payments) into freely usable currency at the legal market clearing rate. Foreign investors can remit through a legal parallel market, including one utilizing convertible, negotiable instruments such as dollar-denominated government bonds issued in lieu of immediate payment in dollars. There are no limitations on the inflow or outflow of funds for remittances of profits or revenue and there is no evidence to show that Zambia manipulates the currency. Zambia is a member of the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group (ESAAMLG), which in 2018, conducted an on-site assessment of the implementation of anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing (AML/CTF) measures in Zambia. ESAAMLG coordinates with other international organizations concerned with combating money laundering, studying emerging regional typologies, developing institutional and human resource capacities to deal with these issues, and coordinating technical assistance where necessary. In June 2019, Zambia adopted the recommendations. Zambia has demonstrated commitment to establish an AML/CTF framework. The enactment of the Prohibition and Prevention of Money Laundering Act and the Anti-Terrorism Act, establishment of the Anti-Money Laundering Investigations Unit and the Financial Intelligence Center as the sole designated national agencies mandated to handle AML/CTF and other serious offences, and its September 2018 accession to the Egmont Group reflect this commitment.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
The GRZ had planned to launch a Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) following the 2015 reincorporation of the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) as the parastatal holding company, but has yet to establish the fund.