Prior to Uganda’s independence in 1962, government-owned institutions dominated most banking in Uganda. In 1966 the Bank of Uganda, which controlled the issue of currency and managed foreign exchange reserves, became the central bank. Uganda Commercial Bank, which had fifty branches throughout the country, dominated commercial banking and was wholly owned by the government. The Uganda Development Bank was a state-owned development finance institution, which channeled loans from international sources into Ugandan enterprises and administered most of the development loans made to Uganda.
The East African Development Bank, established in 1967 was jointly owned by Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. It was also concerned with development finance. It survived the breakup of the East African Community in 1977 and received a new charter in 1980.
In the 1960s, other commercial banks included local operations of Bank of Baroda, Barclays Bank, Bank of India, Grindlays Bank, Standard Chartered Bank and Uganda Cooperative Bank.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, the number of commercial bank branches and services contracted significantly. Whereas Uganda had 290 commercial bank branches in 1970, by 1987 there were only 84, of which 58 branches were operated by government-owned banks. This number began to increase slowly the following year, and in 1989 the gradual increase in banking activity signaled growing confidence in Uganda’s economic recovery.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Ugandan banking industry underwent significant restructuring. Several indigenous commercial banks were declared insolvent, taken over by the central bank and eventually sold or liquidated. These included Uganda Cooperative Bank, Greenland Bank, International Credit Bank, Teefe Bank and Gold Trust Bank, which were closed or sold. Uganda Commercial Bank was initially privatized through a sale of its majority shares to a purported company from Malaysia. However it later came to light that the actual buyer was a partnership between Greenland Bank, which was insolvent at the time, and some politically connected individuals. A second privatization sale was conducted, with the Standard Bank of South Africa emerging as the winner.
The privatized Uganda Commercial Bank was merged with the former Grindlays Bank which Standard Bank of South Africa already owned and had renamed Stanbic Bank. The combined new bank is now known as Stanbic Bank (Uganda) Limited. As of 2008, Stanbic Uganda was the dominant commercial bank in Uganda, with about 27% of all bank assets and about 20% of all bank branches. Nile Bank Limited, an indigenous institution, was acquired by the British conglomerate, Barclays Plc., in January 2007 and merged with its existing Ugandan operations to form the current Barclays Bank (Uganda).
A moratorium on new commercial bank licences was declared in 2004, with the passage of a new banking bill in Parliament, which established new banking institution classification guidelines. There are four classes of lending financial institutions under the new regulations as outlined below.
During 2008 and 2009, several of the existing banks went on an accelerated branch expansion either through mergers and acquisitions or through new branch openings. As of December 2009, total commercial bank assets in Uganda were estimated at US$4.6 billion (UGX 8.73 trillion). (Official Exchange Rate in December 2009 was US$1=UGX:1,897) Rwanda joined the East African Development Bank in July 2008. Burundi is expected to join the bank in the near future. In April 2009, Bank PHB, Nigeria’s fifth largest bank, bought 80% ownership of Orient Bank, Uganda’s 8th largest commercial bank. This brought the number of Ugandan banks with major investments from Nigeria to three.
As of October 2010, there were 22 licensed commercial banks in Uganda, with nearly 400 bank branches and a total of almost 600 automated teller machines. At that time, the number of bank accounts in the country was over five million. This represented a 16% penetration, given Uganda’s population of 32,000,000, at that time.
In November 2010, Bank of Uganda, the national banking regulator, directed that all commercial banks in Uganda, must raise their minimum capital to Ugx:10 billion (approximately US$4.34 million) by March 2011, and to Ugx:25 billion (approximately US$11 million) by March 2013. Any new commercial bank entering the Ugandan market effective November 2010, has to have a minimum capitalization of Ugx:25 billion. (Official Exchange Rate in December 2010 was US$1=UGX:2,300).
However most of the banking activity is concentrated around Kampala, the country’s capital and other large towns, leaving 42% of Ugandans at the mercy of the informal financial sector, and another 30%, totally excluded from the financial services sector, according to a study in 201
By April 2011, the number of commercial banks had increased to 23. The bank branches in the country numbered over 400. The banking sector employed over 8,700 people. Total commercial bank assets in the country were valued at US$4.78 billion (UGX:11 trillion).
During 2012, Bank of Uganda, closed down National Bank of Commerce (Uganda) (NBCU), a small indigenous operation with wealthy investors, some of whom held high-ranking government positions. The deposits of the liquidated (NBCU), were sold to Crane Bank, the fastest growing commercial bank in the country at that time. In November 2012, the total number of commercial bank branches in the country reached 500.
As of June 2012, the Bank of Uganda estimated the total banking assets in the country at Shillings 15.1 trillion (US$6.08 billion). In June 2013, the Central Bank estimated the total of all commercial bank assets in the country at Shs:15.7 trillion (US$6.32 billion). Those assets had increased to Sh18.6 trillion (US$6.695 billion), by 30 June 2014.