02 March 2012 Written by  Fasil Alemayehu and Merhatbeb Teklemedhin

The Birth and Development of Banking Services in Ethiopia


It was in 1905 that the first bank, the “Bank of Abyssinia”, was established based on the agreement signed between the Ethiopian Government and the National Bank of Egypt, which was owned by the British. Its capital was 1 million shillings. According to the agreement, the bank was allowed to engage in commercial banking (selling shares, accepting deposits and effecting payments in cheques) and to issue currency notes. The agreement prevented the establishment of any other bank in Ethiopia, thus giving monopoly right to the Bank of Abyssinia. The Bank, which started operation a year after its establishment agreement was signed, opened branches in Harar, Dire Dawa, Gore and Dembi- Dolo as well as an agency office in Gambela and a transit office in Djibouti. Apart from serving foreigners residing in Ethiopia, and holding government accounts, it could not attract deposits from Ethiopian nationals who were not familiar with banking services.

The Ethiopian Government, under Emperor Haile Sellassie, closed the Bank of Abysinia, paid compensation to its shareholders and established the Bank of Ethiopia which was fully owned by Ethiopians, with a capital of pound Sterling 750,000. The Bank started operation in 1932. The majority shareholders of the Bank of Ethiopia were the Emperor and the political elites of the time. The Bank was authorized to combine the functions of central banking (issuing currency notes and coins) and commercial banking. The Bank of Ethiopia opened branches in Dire Dawa, Gore, Dessie, Debre Tabor and Harrar.

With the Italian occupation (1936-1941), the operation of the Bank of Ethiopia came to a halt, but a number of Italian financial institutions were working in the country. These were Banco Di Roma, Banco Di Napoli and Banca Nazionale del Lavora. It should also be mentioned that Barclays Bank had opened a branch and operated in Ethiopia during 1942-43.

In 1946 Banque Del Indochine was opened and functioned until 1963. In 1945 the Agricultural Bank was established but was replaced by the Development Bank of Ethiopia in 1951, which changed in to the Agricultural and Industrial Development Bank in 1970. In 1963, the Imperial Savings and Home Ownership Public Association (ISHOPA) and the Investment Bank of Ethiopia were founded. The later was renamed Ethiopian Development Corporation S.C. in 1965. In the same year, the Savings and Mortgage Company of Ethiopia S.C. was also founded.

With the departure of the Italians and the restoration of Emperor Haile Selassie’s government, the State Bank of Ethiopia was established in 1943 with a capital of 1 million Maria Theresa Dollars by a charter published as General Notice No. 18/1993 (E.C). The Bank which, like its predecessor, combined the functions of central banking with those of commercial banking opened 21 branches, including one in Khartoum (the Sudan) and a transit office in Djibouti.

In 1963, the State Bank of Ethiopia split into the National Bank of Ethiopia and the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia S.C. with the purpose of segregating the functions of central banking from those of commercial banking. The new banks started operation in 1964.

The first privately owned company in banking business was the Addis Ababa Bank S.C., established in 1964. 51% of the shares of the bank were owned by Ethiopian shareholders, 9% by foreigners living in Ethiopia and 40% by the National and Grindlays Bank of London. The Bank carried our typical commercial banking business. Banco Di Roma and Banco Di Napoli also continued to operate.

Thus, until the end of 1974, there were state owned, foreign owned and Ethiopian owned banks in Ethiopia. The banks were established for different purposes: central banking, commercial banking, development banking and investment banking. Such diversification of functions, lack of widespread banking habit among the wider population, the uneven and thinly spread branch network, and the asymmetrical capacity of banks, made the issue of completion among banks almost irrelevant.

Following the 1974 Revolution, on January 1, 1975 all private banks and 13 insurance companies were nationalized and along with state owned banks, placed under the coordination, supervision and control of the National Bank of Ethiopia. The three private banks, Banco Di Roman, Banco Di Napoli and the Addis Ababa Bank S.C. were merged to form “Addis Bank.” Eventually in 1980 this bank was itself merged with the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia S.C. to form the “Commercial Bank of Ethiopia,” thereby creating a monopoly of commercial banking services in Ethiopia.

In 1976, the Ethiopian Investment and Savings S.C. was merged with the Ethiopian government Saving and Mortgage Company to form the Housing and Savings Bank .The Agricultural and Industrial Development Bank continued under the same name until 1994 when it was renamed as the Development Bank of Ethiopia.

Thus, from 1975 to 1994 there were four state owned banks and one state owned insurance company, i.e., the National Bank of Ethiopia (The Central Bank), the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, the Housing and Savings Bank, the Development Bank of Ethiopia and the Ethiopian Insurance Corporation.

After the overthrow of the Dergue regime by the EPRDF, the Transitional Government of Ethiopia was established and the New Economic Policy for the period of transition was issued. This new economic policy replaced centrally planned economic system with a market-oriented system and ushered in the private sector. Several private companies were formed during the early 1990s, one of which is Oda S.C. which conceived the idea of establishing a private bank and private insurance company in anticipation of a law which will open up the financial sector to private investors.

Last modified on Wednesday, 02 May 2012 13:05