JUBA, Oct 7 (Reuters) - Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) , the biggest bank in South Sudan, plans to grow by launching the first credit card service in the young African country and adding more branches, executives told Reuters.
KCB has won a licence from VISA Inc to launch credit cards in South Sudan, a war-torn country where few people have a bank account, the executives said.
KCB was one of the first foreign banks to set up shop in Juba after the end of civil war between south and north Sudan in 2005, which led six years later to the secession of South Sudan.
South Sudan has a large business potential with a population of nearly 12 million but has struggled to build up state institutions and an efficient legal system.
That has not deterred foreign banks from arriving. Apart from KCB, Qatar National Bank, Kenya's Co-Operative Bank and a bank funded by Dubai Islamic Bank are also active in South Sudan.
KCB now has a market share of 42 percent serving 138,000 customers, Rebecca Likami, deputy managing director of KCB in South Sudan, said in an interview.
"We have started VISA," Likami said. "Some KCB outlets accept VISA. By the end of this year we should (have) VISA in all the hotels."
She added customers should be able to use VISA cards at automated teller machines (ATMs) from next year.
The bank also plans to add more branches beyond the existing 20, said Harun Kibogong, KCB's managing director, without being more specific.
The bank has started offering mortgages as well, another novelty in one of the world's least developed countries.
"We have mortgages because there is a lot of construction taking place across the country. Housing is lacking in Juba," said Likami.
"We have developers financing, then we have the normal mortgage for people who want to buy the house," she said.
KCB was recently hit by a strike of some of its 380 staff over salaries but Likami said the issue was being worked out.
She also said the central bank had not yet resumed pumping dollars into commercial banks after the first oil revenues landed in its accounts in September with the restart of oil exports.
"They are ... waiting. I am not sure what they are doing but I believe they will be soon releasing funds to the market," she said.
South Sudan depends on oil exports, routed through Sudan, to fund its budget and get dollars to finance imports of food and consumer goods. A 16-month oil shutdown due to tensions with Sudan has posed huge liquidity problems for commercial banks.
KCB South Sudan boosted profit after tax to 41.5 million South Sudanese Pounds (SSP) (around $14 million) in 2012 from 25.4 million SSP the year before, according to its annual report.