Battle of the banks: how SA’s big five banks compare

Looking at the latest full-year data from South Africa’s biggest retail banks, there is a clear battle to be the biggest – but it all depends on how you want to measure the title.

At first glance, it seems pretty clear that Standard Bank is the biggest bank in South Africa – it has the most clients, the most branches and employs the most people – but it has a smaller market cap than FirstRand, and also slips behind the FNB owner in terms of headline earnings.

Looking beyond the ‘top two’ vying for number one, almost all of the big five banks in South Africa is leading by some metric.

Absa has the widest ATM network and lowest P/E ratio – while Capitec has the highest headline earnings per share, and the highest share price.

We delved into the big banks’ most recent financial reports (from 2016/17) and compared the banks on 10 key metrics – from financial performance to network and reach.

Market capitalisation and P/E ratio

In terms of market cap, FirstRand is South Africa’s biggest bank with a capitalisation of just under R266 billion – followed by Standard Bank at R231 billion.

Both banks carry fair value with a price/earnings ratio that is relatively low – unlike Capitec, which carries a P/E of 25.

Bank Market Cap Share price P/E Ratio
FirstRand (FNB) R265.89 billion R47.50 11.15
Standard Bank R231.36 billion R142.89 9.84
Absa Bank R121.65 billion R142.31 8.07
Nedbank R103.86 billion R207.30 8.63
Capitec R94.16 billion R826.49 24.82


In terms of pure income, Standard Bank again takes the top prize, having pulled in just under R100 billion, above Absa’s R72.4 billion in its 2016 financial year, and FirstRand, which earned R71.8 billion in its financial year.

But the picture changes once again when looking at headline earnings, where FirstRand again takes the top spot, earning R22.4 billion. Standard Bank drew in the second highest at R2.1 billion.

Despite Capitec’s ‘last place’ position on income and headline earnings, when it comes to headline earnings per share it takes the top spot.

Bank Income Headline Earnings HEPS (cents)
Standard Bank R99.9 billion R22.1 billion 1 440
FirstRand (FNB) R71.8 billion R22.4 billion 399
Absa Bank R72.4 billion R15.0 billion 1 769
Nedbank R26.4 billion R11.5 billion 2 400
Capitec R10.7 billion R3.8 billion 3 281

Reach and network

Standard Bank far outstrips the other banks in terms of its footprint, with over 1,200 branches (in all countries it operates in), employing well over 50,000 people. Absa has the most ATMs – 8,885 –

Bank Employees Branches ATMs
Standard Bank 54 767 1 211  7 410
Absa Bank 30 739 774 8 885
FirstRand (FNB) 38 216 676 4 641
Nedbank 32 401 786 4 052
Capitec 13 069 796 4 024

Banking clients

As previously covered, Standard Bank rules the roost when it comes to client numbers – currently far outpacing the other retail banks with around 11.8 million customers as at December 2016.

A battle for second place is currently underway, with Capitec – which is still considered to be the smallest of the big five – creeping up on Absa to take silver. As at December 2016, Absa reported a drop to 8.8 million customers in South Africa; at the same time Capitec was at 8.3 million.

By the end of Capitec’s financial year (February 2017), this had increased to 8.6 million customers, continuing the massive reach the bank has gained over the past few years.

Bank December 2015 June 2016 December 2016
Standard Bank 11.6 million 11.8 million
Absa Bank 9.4 million 8.9 million 8.8 million
Capitec 7.3 million 7.9 million 8.3 million
FirstRand (FNB) 7.2 million 7.4 million 7.7 million
Nedbank 7.4 million 7.7 million 7.4 million

Read: South Africa’s 2017 banking fees compared

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Battle of the banks: how SA’s big five banks compare