These days, when we talk about emerging market growth in wealth management the conversation tends to focus on Asia, or possibly the Middle East and Latin America. Africa, meanwhile, remains largely forgotten.

But there is mounting evidence that global banks and asset managers are turning their attention towards Africa in a drive to harness investment opportunities, as well as the chance to connect with the region’s emerging wealthy.

Bank of China (BoC) last month announced a strategic business partnership with South Africa’s fourth biggest lender, Nedbank, to increase business between China and Africa.

The agreement will enable BoC clients to invest in the continent via Nedbank’s regional network and may be symptomatic of a wider re-focus to investment opportunities in the southern continent.    

Earlier this year, a representative of JP Morgan Asset Management commented that Africa was experiencing the largest growth in sovereign wealth funds globally, with over 15 having been set up or considered in the past two years.

Nigeria, Africa’s largest producer of oil, inaugurated its $1 billion fund at the end of 2012, while Angola set up a $5 billion fund in October last year and Uganda has released plans to do the same.

Additionally, last year Mark Mobius, executive chairman of Franklin Templeton’s emerging markets group, suggested there may be as many as 200 African billionaires, who will be seeking to grow their wealth strategically in a similar way to the sovereign funds.

These individuals have often built private conglomerates that they will seek to list to authenticate their holdings and access capital for further expansion.

Sophisticated private investors are also increasingly deploying capital into the continent. For example, Investec Asset Management gained seed capital for its Africa fixed income opportunities fund from UK-based multi-family office Fleming Family & Partners, which says it was attracted by the “high growth relative to other emerging markets, improving governance and fiscal and monetary reforms”.

In addition to the asset management community, global wealth managers are also turning their attention to servicing the region’s emerging wealthy.

According to the RBC-Capgemini World Wealth Report, published earlier this year, Africa outperformed the global growth rate and the Asia Pacific growth rate for high-net-worth (HNW) population and wealth last year. The HNW population for Africa grew 9.9%, compared with 9.2% globally and 9.4% for Asia.

Other research, by South Africa-based consultancy New World Wealth, indicates that urban areas on the continent will be the hub for new wealth over the next decade. Interestingly, Africa’s fastest growing city for millionaires is Accra, capital of Ghana. 

The pace of change in Africa has sparked interest among global banking firms. UBS, for example, has already revealed it will be seeking to expand its African wealth management unit and will be targeting African entrepreneurs who have at least $3 million to invest, believing that Africa’s entrepreneurs are underserved.

Société Générale (SocGen) also recently introduced private banking services to the region. A SocGen spokesman said the firm would target entrepreneurs who need to structure their businesses and create a holding in Europe.

At the same time, SocGen is rumoured to be selling its Asian private banking business, although a spokesperson says only that the firm does not comment on market rumours. Could it be that Africa is becoming the new Asia?