New competition may be launching – but South Africa’s Big 5 banks actually increased their dominance last year

Business Insider SA
SARB Prudential Authority
  • South Africa has a bunch of new challenger banks – but they find the incumbents in a strong position.
  • As of March the Big 5 banks in South Africa controlled 90.5% of total banking sector assets, new numbers from the Prudential Authority show. 
  • That's slightly more than the year before.
  • While debt numbers are not looking great, banks are still nicely profitable.
  • For more stories, go to

Discovery is launching what promised to be a major assault on consumer banking, the tech-heavy Bank Zero is in beta testing, and TymeBank now has a large national footprint thanks to its kiosks in Pick n Pay stores.

But those challenger banks will have to get up very early in the morning to challenge the dominant Big 5 South African banks, new numbers from a SA Reserve Bank regulator suggest.

At the end of March this year, the Prudential Authority says in its annual report published on Tuesday, SA's five largest banks (Standard, First National Bank, Absa, Nedbank, and Investec) held, between them, 90.5% of the total banking sector assets in South Africa.

See also: As politicians battle it out over SARB, Kganyago tells global leaders that central banks should have a narrow mandate

Despite new competition, the rise of cryptocurrencies, fintech innovation, and other pressures on the business models of the behemoth banks, that number is up slightly, from 90.2% at the end of March 2018.

The South African branches of foreign banks, of which SA now has 15, between them held 5.9% of banking sector assets. All other banks were left with just 3.8% of the pie. 

South Africa currently has 19 registered banks, not counting foreign banks with operations here, four more mutual banks, and four co-operative banks.

The Prudential Authority's overview numbers of the banking sector also show it remains profitable, despite significant pressure.

Across all banks impaired advances, loans that are not being repaid as they should be and may have to be written off, were up nearly a quarter compared to the year before. But banks collectively were only marginally less profitable than in the the previous year, with a 12-month moving average ratio for return on equity at 15.7%, compared to 15.8% in March 2018.

The return on assets across banks also weakened, but not by much, standing at 1.28% in March 2019 compared to 1.31% the year before.

Receive a single WhatsApp every morning with all our latest news: click here.

Also from Business Insider South Africa:

Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo