Uganda is one of the few African countries praised by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the international financial community for its reduction in the government’s economic role and its economic policies on privatization and currency reform. The Ugandan financial sector is based on commercial banks, credit institutions, deposit-taking microfinance organizations, and savings and credit cooperative organizations. Ugandan capital markets in Africa are among the more developed markets, but in global terms still relatively small. Due to the dominant role of the banking sector within the financial system, the main regulatory authority for the sector as a whole is the country’s central bank, the Bank of Uganda, while for investment funds the CMA (Capital Markets Authority). Regulatory directives, thanks to the British colonial past and the international background of local banks, more or less follow European directives.
Keywords: banking, investment funds, financial system, regulation, Uganda
JEL classification: E58, G24, N2,
As we are heading towards southern Europe on the map, not only the climate and the landscape change significantly, but also cultures and national economies. Market developments and economic regulations are followed by certain historical events and so creating exciting diversity in our world today, which wants to follow unified and common standards. In this article, we envisage the examination of a country and a business area where this type of standardization is only beginning to develop, so significant differences may be observed also within global systems. This is because globalization interweaves the entire investment and financial sector: it allows international access but at the institutional level with different regulations and financial literacy from country to country (Pásztor, 2019a).
In order to understand and to assess the financial system of Uganda, it is important to note that Uganda belonged to the British colony (protectorate) between 1894 and 1962 and became independent in 1962. Because of this historical relationship, Uganda’s legal system is closely integrated into the English legal structure and system. In Uganda, the supreme law is the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda adopted in 1995, as subsequently amended. However, the privileged position of the English common law and equity has remained in Uganda’s legal system to the present day recognising them as sources of law.
2. The Ugandan economy
Uganda is endowed with significant natural resources, including ample fertile land, regular and heavy rainfall, significant extractable oil reserves, and, to a lesser extent, copper, gold, and other mineral resources. Agriculture is one of the most important sector of the economy (Popp et al., 2019) since its employment rate is 72%. Uganda’s industrial sector is small and weak and highly dependent upon imports of refined oil, tools and machines necessary for production. Overall, productivity is limited by a number of supply-side factors, including inadequate infrastructure, lack of modern technology in agriculture, and corruption (Tarrósy, 2010; Lakner, 2012; Pásztor, 2019b)
Since 2016, Uganda’s economic growth has slowed down as a result of sudden increase in national debt and public expenditures. Its budget is dominated by expenditure on energy and road infrastructure, the biggest infrastructure projects are financed by preferential loans from abroad causing further increase in national debt. Oil revenues and taxes are expected to become an increasingly important source of public financing as oil production begins in the coming years.
The economy of Uganda developed rapidly in the 1990s and early 2000s and its economic stability and dynamics on high growth was recognised. It is one of the few African countries whose efforts for reduction in the government’s economic role and its economic policies on privatization and currency reform were acknowledged by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the international financial community. Uganda has been particularly successful in using international funds and drawing of loans. In 1997, Uganda was among the few countries receiving debt relief due to the successful implementation of rigorous economic reform projects. In January 2000, as a result of its efforts, Uganda was eligible and qualified for additional debt relief under the enhanced HIPC framework, thus ensuring a further reduction in external debt to USD 1.3 billion. Therefore, Uganda was able to focus on eradicating poverty and exploiting resources, as well as developing industry and tourism (Vida et al., 2020).
3. Caracteristics of the financial sector in Uganda
The financial system of Uganda is composed of banks, microfinance deposit-taking institutions (MDIs), savings and credit cooperative associations (SACCOs), commercial banks, credit institutions, insurance companies, MDIs and microfinance institutions. However, access to financial services remains a challenge, especially for the rural population.
In Uganda, the financial sector experienced more stricter supervision by the Central Bank, better regulated operating conditions and higher capital requirements with the adoption of the Financial Institutions Act in 2004 and the Implementing Regulations on Financial Institutions in 2005. However, after an uncertain period following the closing of domestic banks in 1998-1999, thus contributed to the quick recovery of the financial sector and to the market transparency.
The banking sector in Uganda is characterized by a large share of foreign ownership and high concentration with leading international financial institutions such as Stanbic, Citibank, Barclays and the Standard Chartered. However, a number of domestic banks have also been established, including DFCU Bank, Crane Bank and Cerudeb.
The revenue of the financial sector has increased due to the rise of lending to the public largely financed by a growing deposit base. The efforts to increase customer deposits were justified by the decision of the Bank of Uganda decision in 2005 whereby all government project funds were withdrawn from commercial banks. There is still a wide disparity between the lending and deposit rates, mainly due to the inefficiencies of the sector.
The insurance sector remains a small part of the financial services system. In 2005, it was composed of twenty licensed insurance companies under the supervision of the Uganda Insurance Commission. The National Insurance Company – which was former one of the largest insurance companies – was successfully privatized. The sector awaits the establishment of the first official reinsurance company by the Uganda Insurers’ Association, the Uganda-Re with high expectations. In 2004, the Bank of Uganda successfully issued 2-3-5 and 10-year government bonds on the assumption that they encourage private companies to access debt markets. The Standard Chartered Bank issued its first bonds and the DFCU Limited but also the Nile Bank are ready for it.
A large part of the microfinance institutions have also evolved in the past years from donor funded non-governmental organizations to financial institutions funded by members using governmental liquidity funds. The sector currently consists of over 1,000 microfinance institutions.
Commercial banks – as largest financial institutions and lenders of the country – are considered reliable and liquid. Together, they manage 95% of total private sector loans. The remainder is shared by other institutions, including SACCOs and mostly NGO-based microfinance institutions. Commercial banks realize adequate returns, with their non-performing loans around 4–5%, which is a fairly good value (BoU, 2017). Commercial banks have sufficient liquidity: UGX 9.9 billion (1 USD = 3,654 USh rate for 20/05/2020) with total liquid funds, representing 37% of the total assets.
In rural areas of Uganda, the presence of traditional branch-based financial institutions is rather limited, however, mobile banking agents offer a large number of access points. According to the IMF Financial Access Survey in 2016 (IMF 2016), there were 566 bank branches in Uganda, namely 2.77 branches per 100,000 adults, a value much lower than in Kenya (5.43) or Rwanda (6.16). Therefore, the rural population has limited access to bank branches in Uganda, in addition, 70% of these are urban-based. The coverage of the mobile banking agent network is far beyond traditional banks. Meanwhile only 16% of the population had access to a banking service point within a 1 km radius of it, 54% of the population had access to a mobile payment point in 2015 (Republic of Uganda, 2017). Agency banking was not allowed until recently, but the National Bank of Uganda – which is also the banking and insurance regulatory authority – finally approved an amendment to the Financial Institutions Act in July 2017 to proceed with it (Panturu, 2019). Since early 2018, as a result of changes in the banking regulatory framework, several banks have launched agency banking services with the professional support of the Uganda Bankers’ Association.
Nevertheless, the absence of financial services in rural areas is significant. Approximately 25% of the adults in rural areas have no access to financial services compared to only 14% in urban areas. In addition, only 10% of adults residing in urban areas rely entirely on informal services compared to those in rural areas (23%). As 76% of the adults in Uganda residing in rural areas, financial institutions that do not provide services in these regions are forfeit their largest market potential. Likewise, small agricultural households have limited access to financial services. According to the national survey by the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), only 10% of smallholder farmers in Uganda have a bank account and 73% of them used mobile funds (Anderson et al, 2016). 93% of the households interviewed say they use immediate cash transactions for the purchase of agricultural raw materials, while only 7% have access to some sort of credit which allows them to pay later.
In the early 1990s, the banking sector was comprised mainly of four foreign banks (Standard Chartered, Standard Bank, Barclays and Baroda), and the two large indigenous banks (UCB and Co-op) that controlled 70% of the banking assets and liabilities but were insolvent. By the end of 2005, the system had substantially grown and was made up of a formal and an informal sector. The formal sector encompassing the commercial banks (Tier 1), 8 credit institutions (Tier 2), and since 2004 microfinance deposit-taking institutions (Tier 3), National Social Security Fund (NSSF), a Postbank, insurance companies, Forex bureaus, and the stock exchange. The informal sector comprises of a wide range of moneylenders (SACCO), Rotating Savings and Credit Association (ROSCAs) and the microfinance institutions (MPIs). In terms of the informal financial institutions, there has been a considerable progress in expanding the outreach of these institutions and improving the access to financial services, in particular by the rural population.
Uganda has a developed and diversified microfinance sector, yet it suffers from low capitalization and a number of legal problems (Oláh–Molnár, 2001). These disadvantages limit the sector’s ability to meet the development financing needs of the rural and micro-enterprise sector representing a majority of manufacturing enterprises in Uganda and accounts for more than 50 % of GDP. Thus, microfinance is unable to overcome the chronic shortage of larger and longer-term loans to small businesses, especially in the commercial economy sector.
The expansion of SACCOs, ROSCAs and MPIs cause a concern regarding the safety of small-balance deposits. Some of these institutions use also subsidized funds from the government – partly for political reasons – supported Microfinance Support Centre for lending which might introduce distortions: lack of the development of the credit culture and thus undermine the viability of these institutions.
Overall, though financial literacy remains low, signs of recovery are unmistakable and encouraging. Financial intermediation dominated by commercial banks is low, playing a limited role in the provision of funds for development finance. Financial intermediaries are limited in number, small in size and relatively ineffective (Mallinguh–Zéman, 2018). Consequently, only a limited number of financial instruments are available for savings mobilisation, liquidity management and portfolio diversification.
At the end of December 2018, the total assets of the financial sector was 45.81 trillion USh which accounts for 44.3 % of GDP in Uganda. The financial sector is dominated by the banking sector which is regulated by the Bank of Uganda (see Table 2 below).
Table 2: Structure of the financial system in Uganda, 2019
Source: Bank of Uganda, 2019
The banking sector of Uganda includes commercial banks, credit institutions and microfinance deposit-taking institutions. At the end of June 2019, commercial banks accounted for 95.2 % of the banking sector total assets of USh 31.2 trillion.
Most commercial banks are majority-owned by foreigners, a fact that – given that most of them are prominent, internationally recognised banks – has a positive impact on the stability of the financial system because of both the resettlement of well-capitalised owners and the introduction of a world-class banking culture.
The Uganda Capital Markets along with several African markets – outside of South-Africa – belong to the more developed markets but are still relatively small markets. Since 1997, the country’s stock market is available on the Uganda Securities Exchange (USE). Currently, the Uganda Securities Exchange (USE) has 16 listed companies, whose shares can be subscribed by a securities central depository through eight brokers and four custodian banks with the permission of the Capital Markets Authority of Uganda (CMA). The stock market in Uganda generates relatively high turnover. The securities of listed companies have a monthly turnover of between USD 1 million and USD 9 million, with a total market capitalization of about USD 70 million.
The insurance and pension funds play a significant role on the capital markets. Meanwhile there are 64 registered pension savings funds, the National Social Security Fund of Uganda is the most dominant institutional investor in the local capital markets: it owns 86% of the financial assets of the National Pension Fund. The balance sheet accounted 6.5 trillion UGX (USD 1.9 billion), of which 70% was invested in government bonds, treasury bills and 29% in shares of stock.
4. Supervision of the financial sector
The Capital Markets Authority (CMA) – established for supervision of capital markets – implemenąts its tasks in Uganda since 1996; in cooperation with the National Bank of Uganda, they supervise 25 commercial banks and 12 investment funds in the country. Regulatory directives – thanks to the British colonial past and the international background of local banks, more or less follow the European directives. However, we cannot ignore the fact that it is a young capital market with its strengths and weaknesses. It made rapid progress thanks to the smooth and globalized development of the last decades, however, the financial culture evolved over the past few decades (Mallinguh–Zéman, 2019). There are financial services which are completely absent from the financial market or they were not established in the course of the market development, and there are services to be considered much more developed and innovative as financial products available on European markets. This meant, for example, that the fintech mobile money solution – which operates out of the banking networks – is widespread and used by more than 73% of the population. It makes possible to pay bills or even make transactions with each other using mobile phones without banking service providers. Due to its simplicity and low cost structure, the commercial banking services have to face intensified competition.
These transparent services, the rapid development of capital markets, and the deliberate improvement of regulatory authorities have all contributed to providing at least as clear picture of the costs of commercial banking to the public in Uganda as of other alternative services. The Bank of Uganda makes available to the public – on a quarterly basis, as an appendix to a local daily newspaper – the costs and investment interest of the personal accounts of the 25 commercial banks enumerating costs and investment interest for each account. This educational initiative also helps financial improvement.
The financial sector of Uganda dominated by the banking sector is fully liberalised and, mentioned beforehand, its legal system is based on English Common Law and customary law. Since 1987, ambitious reforms have been introduced to increase the competitiveness and efficiency of the sector. In addition to the growth of the banking sector, Uganda is also experiencing an intensification of capital market activities, which has brought new alternatives to the capital market but also to savings and investments in Uganda. Furthermore, insurance and pension funds become increasingly significant role in Uganda’s financial system. In terms of regulatory measures, due to the dominant role of the banking sector within the financial system, the main regulatory authority for the sector as a whole is the Central Bank of the country, the Bank of Uganda.
A number of acts, decrees and instruments regulates the operation and supervision of financial institutions of the Central Bank of Uganda. For example, the Act of 2000 on Bank of Uganda, which lays down the fundamental rules for regulation and supervision of financial institutions by the Bank of Uganda; the Act of 2004 on Financial Institutions, which provides a legal framework for regulation and supervision of commercial banks under the supervision of the Central Bank; the Act of 2003 on Micro Deposit Taking Institutions and the Act of 2004 on Foreign Exchange, which is to be considered as governing regulation for forex bureaus and for money remittance service providers.
The most important acts and regulations applied by BoU to regulate the banking sector in Uganda:
- Financial Institutions Licensing Regulations (2005)
- Financial Institutions Credit Reference Regulations (2005)
- Microfinance Deposit Taking Institutions Regulations (2004)
- Foreign Exchange (Forex Bureaux and Money Remitters) Regulations (2006)
- Financial Institutions (Revision of Minimum Capital Requirements) Instrument (2010)
- Financial Consumer Protection Guidelines (2011)
- Anti Money Laundering Regulations (2009)
- Provisions for External Auditors (2010)
- Regulation on mergers, acquisitions and takeovers (2008)
- Regulation on reporting requirements of internal auditors (2006)
In order to ensure effective supervision, financial institutions in Uganda are categorized from 1 to 4 as explained above. Tier 1 includes commercial banks, Tier 2 credit institutions and Tier 3 microfinance deposit-taking institutions. Operations of financial institutions from Tier 1-3 are governed by various regulations of the Central Bank, while institutions of Tier 4 – which includes other financial institutions such as Savings and Credit Cooperative Organizations (SACCOs) and the microfinance institutions (MPIs) – are not under the supervision of the Central Bank.
Thus, the Bank of Uganda – in its supervisory function – is the main regulator of the financial system. It is an autonomous body established to create a stable macroeconomic environment in order to boost investment and economic growth in the country. The central bank provides financial services to actors of private and public sector; participates in the development and implementation of monetary policy to enhance macroeconomic stability; manages the country’s public debt; supervises and regulates financial institutions and pension funds; issues banknotes, coins and secures its foreign reserves.
Furthermore, the Bank of Uganda as supervisory body applies a number of quality assurance measures. These include the criteria for risk management but also for the appointment of directors and management, moreover, corporate governance and disclosure requirements.
For commercial banks, the Central Bank as supervisory body uses regulatory instruments as detailed in Table 1 to ensuring stability in the banking sector.
regulatory instruments guidelines
required reserve ratio 10% of total receivables and
9% of fixed-term deposits at the Bank of Uganda
minimum capital requirement 2 billion USh from 1 January 2001
4 billion USh from 1 January 2003
10 billion USh from 1 March 2011
25 billion USh from 1 March 2013
capital adequacy ratio risk-weighted assets and risk-weighted off-balance sheet items shall not exceed 8% of share capital and 12% of total capital
credit conditions the maximum amount of risk to a borrower is 25% of the capital
the aggregate credit risk to insiders is 25% of capital; and the total loan amount is a maximum of 800% of the capital
liquidity requirements 20% of receivables and 15% of fixed-term deposits in liquid assets
foreign exchange exposure ratio 25% of the capital
Source: own data and based on data from BoU
In conclusion, the regulatory framework is structured as follows:
According to the Bank of Uganda Act (Chapter 51), the Bank of Uganda is established as the Central Bank of the country for the purpose of directing and implementing monetary policy and regulating financial institutions. The Central Bank publishes each year an annual supervisory report to inform the public about issues related to the prudential regulation and financial soundness of the financial sector in Uganda. The report provides information on the supervisory activities of the Central Bank during the year, the reforms undertaken in the regulatory framework, and the assessment of the performance of the financial system and the risks to financial stability.
The Act of 2004 on Financial Institutions, which had been subject to numerous amendments, provides for regulation, control and discipline of financial institutions by the Central Bank, as well as sanctions. The financial institutions concerned are: commercial banks, post office savings banks, investment banks, mortgage banks, credit institutions, international trade financier, discount houses and finance houses. A number of implementing regulations have been adopted under the Financial Institutions Act:
- the Act of 2003 on Micro Deposit Taking Institutions provides for licensing, regulation and supervision of the microfinance sector;
- Tier 4 Microfinance Institutions and Money Lenders Act of 2016 provides for licencing and control of Tier 4 microfinance institutions and money lenders. The regulatory function in this regard is performed by a separate agency, the Uganda Microfinance Regulatory Authority;
- the Foreign Exchange Act of 2004 provides for the exchange of foreign currencies in Uganda and the making of international payments and transfers of foreign exchange.
The best practices and standards recommended by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (in particular Basel I, Basel II and Basel III) have been transferred to the regulatory framework of the sector as part of the supervisory framework of the Central Bank of Uganda. The Basel Committee’s principles for effective banking supervision are enshrined in a number of additional regulations under the Financial Institutions Act, in particular licensing, capital requirements, credit rating and provisioning, credit concentration and large exposure limits, insider lending limits, liquidity, corporate governance issues, consolidated supervision, financial reporting and auditing requirements, consumer protection and money laundering.
The Bank of Uganda also uses the risk-based supervision framework (in addition to the rules-based framework) as a comprehensive, formally structured system, which assesses risk factors within each institution (operational, market, credit, related parts and liquidity) and the wider impacts of the financial system, with particular emphasis on minimizing risks in order to avoid the uncontrolled spread of risks for the stability of the financial system.
In terms of foreign exchange regime, Uganda is fully liberalized and there are no restrictions. The regulatory requirement of the Foreign Exchange Act of 2004 provides that all payments all payments in foreign currency, to or from Uganda, between residents and non-residents, or between non-residents, shall be made through a licensed commercial bank.
Conclusions and vision
The number of banks on the African continent is steadily declining. This is due to strict regulations, acquisitions and mergers, as well as liquidations and bankruptcies (Zéman et al., 2018). Based on figures from 2004, 27 of the 89 existing banks remained (Neszmélyi, 2016) in Nigeria. In Kenya, 2 banks have disappeared from the market since 2016 and 10 bank mergers have taken place. Nevertheless, or perhaps that is why there is a need for physical bank branches that strengthen confidence among the population. Based on what has been said so far, we can see that there is still a great mistrust and ignorance among the local population towards the banking systems.
Continuous innovation and development has been also followed by stricter capital and money market regulations. Close monitoring of banking operations can be observed across the continent. In Kenya, for example, lending rates were capped by law and eventually withdrawn according to the World Bank guidelines because the share of loans to the private sector declined from 25% of GDP in 2014 to 1.6% of GDP in 2019. The continent’s financial and capital markets are still characterized by seeking out their own way. Regional standards in the sector are now beginning to develop and emerge. Cyber security, consumer protection, the security of data processing in digital financial services, and the security provided by the GDPR systems already adopted in Europe for handling of consumer data, all these determine the direction of development. It is still up to the service providers to decide which standards will have priority. In this respect, the African continent is a very interesting crucible. Both European and Asian/Indian banks are present across the continent, even within a single country, so a diverse banking system is developing.
The banking system of sub-Saharan Africa is projected to have a great future. Institutions with the right strategy can gain a huge market advantage. With the revolution of mobile banking systems, digital banking services forecast 450 million users by 2022, which was only 300 million in 2017 and the number of users is increasing every year. According to the World Bank, the market currently serves only 21% of the adult population, well lower than global average for emerging markets. In terms of customer growth, Africa is surpassed only by the South American continent.
Most banks are trying to take advantage of this growth. The British Barclays, that has established the banking for small and medium-sized enterprises by its market presence on the continent, or even the Trust Merchant Bank (TMB), that has introduced innovative solutions and made improvements in the Democratic Republic of Congo since its foundation in 2004 not only in the capital, Kinshasa, but also in rural settlements, all these factors contributed to the result that every fifth Congolese has a TMB account, which is a significant market share in a country of nearly 100 million people.
Nevertheless, it is not an easy task for anyone trying to provide banking services on the African continent, because a wide range of sectors of the economy needs to be served. The difference between the sections of society is very large, as in the case of small and medium-sized enterprises. There are no uniform standards yet and in many cases official statistics are missing. This is offset by the high population and the potential size of the market.
The example of Uganda shows that in markets where certain stages of development have been missed, different products and services often develop. Mobile money systems can considerably replace the services of personal accounts of commercial banks. They provide non-cash payment that enables transactions between customers and payments of various costs and overhead expenses. However, savings are not yet available in the application. Some form of financial education is currently underway.
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research professor, Széchenyi István University, Hungary chief advisor and senior researcher, Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Hungary
researcher, Institute for World Economy, Romanian Academy of Sciences
PhD student, Doctoral School of Regional and Econoic Sciences, Hungarian University of Agrarian and Life Sciences CEO, Vestoq Ltd., Uganda