Digital Roadmap launched in Nairobi

The Pathways for Prosperity Commission launched a new Digital Roadmap report in Nairobi outlining steps that developing countries, especially in Africa, can follow to prepare for a future that will be vastly different thanks to rapid digital developments.

The Report outlines broad recommendations on issues like digital identity and payments while ensuring all citizens are included and have their rights protected. It emphasizes how physical infrastructure and connectivity are essential and how they are combined with continual educational processes to build flexible skills that young people can adapt to different careers of the future.

It encourages developing countries to come up with their own localized digital governance structures and not import these wholesale from developed countries. Collaboration should see all participants in government work with the private sector and civil society. Governments should break down silos, and also make rules that allow for technological innovation by not being too rigid. Also, of some relevance to Kenya, is the need to consider county governments in planning for a digital future.

“We have seen the impact of mobile money on Kenya, but in the digital ocean coming to hit Africa, mobile money is a toe in the water,” said Strive Masiyiwa (Econet) who, along with Melinda Gates (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), serves as a Co-Chair of the Pathway’s Commission

He added that the world was at another moment like it was at the start of the internet era, around 1995, and with artificial intelligence poised to add $16 trillion to the world economy, African countries should aim for a tenth of that and grow their continent’s GDP from its current $2.5 trillion. 

The Commission also launched a Digital Manifesto with 10 steps to transform economies. Some of the measures proposed include empowering all citizens, securing their data, developing digital identity & digital financial systems, providing social safety nets, and enabling investment environments suitable for different countries. New ways of finance include deploying pension funds as local venture capital, and nurturing patient angel capital groups such as the ones in Nigeria and South Africa that have sprung up to finance other young entrepreneurs. 

Countries also need to use technology to build resilience. One potential roadblock cited was the possibility that incumbent giants in different countries would use their governments to seek protection from new technologies.

Double 11 (Singles’ Day) Festival in China

November 11 marks a huge shopping festival by Alibaba in China. Known as “Singles’ Day” or “11.11”, it is now acknowledged as the largest e-commerce day in the world. It is mainly on Alibaba platforms like Tmall and Taobao. Rival commerce sites such as JD.com and Lazada also run their own festival days during China’s long shopping season.

Singles’ Day 2019 saw another record year of sales reaching $23 billion (158 billion yuan) in nine hours. Sales hit $1 billion in the first minute and 500 million shoppers were expected to participate. This was achieved despite a slowdown in China’s economy and the ongoing trade spat with the US. Singles’ Day is three times bigger than the largest US largest shopping day – Cyber Monday which had $8 billion of sales in 2018.

Some numbers about Singles’ Day from Jing Daily.

  • On 11.11, Alibaba sells more on one day than many countries do in a year.
  • Alibaba founder Jack Ma has a plan for the company to attain $1 trillion of gross merchandise volumes in 2020 and create 100 million jobs, and serve 2 billion customers. As such the company is expanding in other countries. In 2017, Russia, Hong Kong and the US were the main markets.
  • International brands are signing on with discounts and specials, and in 2018, 237 brands, including Apple, Estée Lauder, L’Oréal, Nestlé, Gap, Nike, and Adidas has sales of 100 million Yuan ($14 million) on Singles’ Day.
  • The holiday was originally aimed at young men (bachelors), but has now evolved such that key targets for brands include China’s 400 million millennials, the “aspirational class” and women, the “she economy.” 
  • Over 80% of the Singles’ Day sales are made on a mobile device .. so retailers need to enhance the whole shopping experience by employing unique mobile features like live streaming, interactive games, virtual reality, video marketing, and digital storytelling.
  • On Singles’ Day in 2017, 1.5 billion transactions were processed by Alibaba’s Alipay.

Other Notes:

Kenya’s Safaricom, which has a partnership with AliExpress, also had some Singles’ Day promotions. They signed a deal in March this year enabling Kenyans to shop on ALiExpress and pay with M-Pesa.

The Jack MA Foundation runs an annual Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative (ANPI) that awards a total of $1 million in prize money to ten African entrepreneurs each year.

Read more about 11.11 from Jing Daily here.

EDIT: Alibaba reported that Singles’ Day 2019 generated US $38.4 billion of gross merchandise volumes. It featured 200,000 brands and resulted in 1.3 billion delivery orders.

Banking Week: Interest caps go and Stawi starts

Interest-Caps: This week saw the end of the era of capping of interest rates, that was seen as a populist three-year experiment to reign in large banking-sector profits.

The Government had tried to repeal this, without success, several times over the last few years, and bankers and the IMF have also been vocal about the unintended, and detrimental effects of the caps, on the economy.

Parliament stuck to its guns to the last minute, making farcical attempts to keep the caps in place. But as only 161 MP’s were present to vote, they could not proceed to over-ride the President, as they needed 2/3 of Parliament to be present. While some lawmakers have in the past argued that this high constitutional threshold (of requiring a vote of 233 MP’s) gives the President power to make laws, this has been upheld by the Courts.

The caps did not stop the “super profits” at large banks, but they did weaken smaller banks by limiting their interest-income growth. In the interest capped era, large banks found shifted their lending lend to a national government with an insatiable borrowing appetite, as opposed to small businesses, and when these credit lines shut off, small banks were hit with a rise of non-performing loans.

Stawi: This week also saw the formal launch of Stawi after a pilot phase in which that 80,000 had signed up for this banking industry response to the mushrooming of unregulated loan apps.

Stawi aims to promote savings and lending for small businesses. It is a bank account, opened and operated on phone, and owners can move money through M-pesa (for a flat fee of Kshs 42) and Pesalink. Stawi is hosted by the Commercial Bank of Africa, and, like with its M-shwari product, banking services are only rendered on the app, not at branches.

Users of Stawi have to be registered and in business for six months. New users are encouraged to make Stawi their primary account and to channel transactions through it to get a borrowing limit.

On downloading the app, one is assigned a loan limit based on credit their credit history. Stawi offers unsecured loans of between (~$292) KSh30,000 to (~$2,432) KSh250,000 that can be repaid between one to twelve months at rates of 9% per year.


AfDB’s record capital call of $115 billion

The shareholders of the African Development Bank (AfDB) have approved an increase of its capital to support its future development finance and impact across the continent over the next decade.

Meeting in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, in October 2019, the shareholders, representing 80 countries, approved an increase in the AfDB’s authorised capital, from $93 billion to $208 billion. At the end of 2018, the Bank had assets of $47 billion and $58 million of net income.

The voting power of shareholders includes Nigeria (9.3%), Egypt (5.6%), South Africa (5%), Algeria (4.2%), Morocco (3.6%), Côte d’Ivoire (3.7%) and Kenya (1.4%). African nations have a total of 59% of the voting powers, while other nations, including the USA (6.6%), Japan (5.5%), Germany (4.1%) and Canada (3.8%), have total votes of 41%.

The path to the seventh capital increase began back in January 2018 and has gone through several steps including interactions and progress review updates with shareholders and partners that were summarized at the 2019 AfDB annual meetings in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.

The last capital increase was in 2010. Some of the highlights of the funding during the sixth period include the establishment of agro-industrial zones across Ethiopia and arranging $1 billion in finance for South Africa’s Eskom to expand its generation and transmission capacity. There was also the Sene-Gambia bridge, which was the realization of a 40-year dream to connect two countries, the 895-kilometers Addis-Mombasa highway and the expansion of Namibia’s Walvis Bay port to become a regional logistics hub.

A bank study of the impact of its $1.4 billion investments in East Africa region, between 2013 and 2015, found that this had resulted in the addition of $1.2 billion to the economies of the different countries and created over 380,000 jobs

The new funding, which will be called up from shareholders between 2020 and 2025, is intended to finance the Bank’s High 5 priorities and maintain its AAA rating with the top rating agencies. Over the next decade, the AfDB plans to double the funding efforts towards energy and agriculture, with targets to allocate 25% and 20% respectively, to the two sectors by 2031.

The Bank has lined up a three-year pipeline of projects to lend to, including $15 billion in 2020 and $13.6 billion in 2021. Some of the planned projects are targeted at improving continental transport networks, supporting climate change initiatives, and increasing access to electricity and water. One of them is a “Desert-to-Power” initiative that aims to transform the climate-fragile Sahel region into the largest solar zone in the world that will generate 10-gigawatts and impact 250 million people.

Kenya remains the third most attractive financial market in Africa

The third edition of the Africa Financial Markets Index report that was released in October 2019, found that Kenya had retained its third position thanks to industry efforts to improve opportunities for investors.

The AFM index by the Absa Bank Group and the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum (OMFIF) is a useful tool designed to gauge Africa’s readiness to fund itself and its growth plans. It reviews 20 African countries across six pillars of market depth, access to foreign exchange, market transparency, tax & regulatory environment, the capacity of local investors and macroeconomic opportunity and the legality & enforceability financial agreements.

Overall, South Africa remained in first place, topping four of the six pillars, while Mauritius topped the legal agreements measure and Egypt topped the macro-economic opportunity one.

Speaking on trends across Africa observed in the 2019 AFM Index, Jeff Gable, the Head Of Research at the Absa Group, said there were several exciting financial markets events across the continent this year. These included the first-ever sovereign blue bond by Seychelles to support marine projects, Nigeria selling a 30-year government bond that was four times over-subscribed, Uganda halving the withholding tax on government bonds from 20% to 10%, Zambia launching a primary dealer system and Ethiopia announcing plans to launch a stock exchange in 2020.

On the AFM Index 2019, Kenya, along with Botswana and Namibia, increased to above 50 in the first pillar of market depth. The value of bonds listed in Nairobi doubled from $8.8 billion to $17.5 billion, mostly due to sovereign issues. However there remained a need to have more active trading of bonds and equities, and Kenya has rolled out an M-Akiba infrastructure bond targeted at retail investors that they can access for just over $30.

Kenya came second behind Mauritius on the pillar of enforceability of market agreements. It also scored well for its new insolvency law which encourages rehabilitation of distressed firms, and its endorsement of standard financial master agreements (ISDA GMRA, GMSLA).

However, it lost the lead on the foreign exchange pillar to South Africa. While the country has built up high foreign exchange reserves, up from 4 months to 5.8 months of import cover, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had reclassified Kenya’s exchange rate regime from ‘floating’ to ‘other managed arrangement.’  The AFM Index has continued to highlight the risk of rigid management of foreign exchange by some African countries and pushed for more flexible regimes.

On the third pillar of market transparency, Kenya’s tax code was found to be supportive, but the country had raised taxation on mobile cash transactions creating some uncertainty. There has also been some recent progress as, in the last few weeks, capital markets stakeholders have convinced the Government to retain the country’s capital gains tax at 5%, and set aside an amendment in the 2019 Finance Bill that had proposed to change it to 12.5%.

The country was also flagged for its capping of interest rates which had shrunk credit availability and weakened companies profitability.

Kenya’s Treasury Cabinet Secretary, Ukur Yatani, in a speech read on his behalf at a Nairobi launch of the report, spoke of the need for Kenyans to save and invest to fund economic growth. Even with the country attaining formal financial inclusion of 82%, up from 26% in 2006, more could be achieved through financial markets.

He said that the country had established a Nairobi International Financial Centre authority to attract capital to Kenya and with the movable property security rights in place, the government was now supporting the setup a Kenya Mortgage Refinance Company that would make it easier for banks to advance funding towards affordable home ownership.

He noted that President Kenyatta had declined to assent to the Finance Bill until Parliament reviewed the cap on interest rates which, evidence showed, had resulted in a negative impact on the economy. Kenya was one of the few countries on the index which saw bank non-performing loans go up, from 10 to 11.7%, last year. He hoped that Members of Parliament would now view the President’s determination as an opportunity to give a stimulus to the economy.

Jeremy Awori, CEO of Barclays Bank of Kenya said that the country had ranked favourably, rising from 5th, when the first AFM Index report was published in 2017, to 3rd in 2018, a position it retained this year. This was due to efforts by industry stakeholders and regulators who had also worked with the Capital Markets Authority to launch a 10-year master plan for the industry. He added that, after Kenya had come up with new regulations for exchange-traded funds, Barclays Kenya had launched the first ETF in the region – New Gold which had performed well since its introduction.

He said that, as Barclays transitions into the Absa brand in Kenya and across Africa, customers will not feel any change in products or services and that they were working to upgrade systems to ensure they remain accessible from anywhere in the world. He added that strong domestic financial markets were a cushion to economic headwinds and that Barclays would soon launch a new wealth and asset offering in Kenya.

Charles Muchene, Chairman of Barclays Bank of Kenya, saluted Paul Muthaura, the outgoing CEO of the Capital Markets Authority, who has led the organization to be recognized as the most innovative capital markets regulator in Africa for four years in a row.  He said that a new ATS platform,  introduced at the Nairobi Securities Exchanges, had broadened the capacity of traders, enabling them to do multiple transactions on the same day, while also supporting securities lending and derivatives trading.

Later, in speaking about the capacity of local investors, the CMA CEO spoke of the need to educate, and shift, more retail investors towards long-term gains from managed funds. This would cushion them from the tendency to speculate on quick returns from land, gambling, and pyramid schemes.

Geoffrey Odundo, CEO of Nairobi Securities Exchange, said they had held some positive engagements with the National Treasury to get more big government listings to the NSE. He also said that they now have an Ibuka program to nurture small companies to be more attractive for investments, adding that this was part of a plan to increase its equities turnover from 6% of the total market to 15% in a few years. The NSE now had 12 asset classes including equity and index futures launched earlier this year and had been voted the second most innovative exchange in Africa.

The 2019 AFM Index report can be downloaded here along with a databank summary of the different country rankings under each of the six pillars.