Olivier Santi, managing director of Dakar's Outarde Bank, says there is no doubt that Swiss experience is a“label of quality” within the banking world. ©SWI/Pauline Turuban
After working in finance in Geneva for 15 years, Olivier Santi emigrated to Dakar in 2017 to head a new bank founded by one of Senegal's richest businessmen. His career to date demonstrates both the central role Switzerland plays in the finance and raw materials sectors, and the vitality of West Africa's banking sector
This content was published on January 23, 2022 - 10:00 January 23, 2022 - 10:00
My specialty is telling stories, and decoding what happens in Switzerland and the world from accumulated data and statistics. An expatriate in Switzerland for several years, I have also worked as a multimedia journalist for the Swiss national broadcaster.
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Senegal's new Outarde BankExternal link (LBO) takes its name and logo from the bustard (outarde in French), a bird that is on the verge of extinction.
“The bustard is a very rare bird,” explains Olivier Santi, managing director of Outarde Bank.“Legend has it that if you see one in flight, you will become rich.”
The metaphor was not a random choice. Founded four years ago in Dakar's bustling Plateau business district, the bank was the dream of Senegalese businessman Abdoulaye Diao — a man renowned for his discretion. Educated in France, Diao made his fortune in commodities. Today he acts as special counsel to Senegal's president, Macky Sall, with Outarde Bank's head office located a stone's throw from the presidential palace.
Diao had long aspired to creating Senegal's first national private capital bank. Prior to Outarde Bank's founding, Senegal's banking landscape consisted almost exclusively of public institutions and foreign banks hailing mostly from the northwest region of Africa or France.
Today Santi, a 44 year-old Paris native and naturalised Swiss citizen, describes himself as“Senegalese by adoption”, and clearly takes pleasure in saying that he runs“one of the rare Senegalese banks in Senegal”.
Oliver Santi's office is decorated with a statue of the bustard, several photographs with Abdoulaye Diao and a Mondaine clock, the Swiss brand which also makes clocks for the Swiss Federal Railways. The banker continues to hold strong ties to Switzerland. ©SWI/Pauline Turuban
Starting out in Geneva
As a young man, Santi studied economics and finance at the prestigious Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) and the ESCP Business School, also in Paris. After his studies, a“thirst for independence” took him to Geneva where his grandfather, Paul Santi, was French consul. Santi also had an uncle who managed a large hedge fund in Geneva, and that is where he obtained his first professional experience in finance.
Santi's French education and linguistic abilities — especially in Arabic which he studied in Paris — quickly caught the attention of the Swiss branch of international banking behemoth BNP Paribas, which he joined in 2004 as director for the Middle East and Africa regions, based in Geneva.
“My clients were the heads of business, wealthy families, and I also managed the accounts of businesses and investment funds active in the region,” says Santi.
A“pure product of Genevan finance”, Santi spent nine years at BNP Paribas, during which time he encountered Abdoulaye Diao.
Diao, founder of the Senegalese oil, gas and jet fuel trading company International Trading Oil and Commodities Corporation (ITOC), is close to certain large Swiss companies, top traders and other international firms. That is where the destinies of the two men meet.
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