The End of Social Conventions?

For weeks, investors and the business community have been rattled by massive  disruptions to global supply chains, as factories shut down in China. Everyone from BMW and Mercedes to Apple is feeling the squeeze on account of the coronavirus.

But economies and businesses are not the only ones dealing with disruption. 

Social conventions are adjusting in unprecedented ways.

Yesterday, Italy shut down ALL schools and contemplated banning kissing in an attempt to thwart the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.  The kissing ban may not be necessary. Italians are already voting with their feet and keeping their cheeks at a very safe distance from friends, family members and others.

But Italy is not alone.

In France, where “La bise” is an age-old ritual, kissing friends has always been a rather complicated affair, especially for uninitiated foreigners. Rather than shaking hands, waving hello or hugging, you simply  lean forward, touch cheeks and kiss the air while making a sound with your lips. 

Friends in France tell me that ‘La bise’ could soon go the way of the dodo if the virus known as “COVID19” remains unrelenting.

Here in Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire, as in many other parts of the world, social conventions are rapidly changing. Unlike the French double blise, Ivorienes, conduct a rapid triple kiss. But they too have become extremely economical with their cheek and air kisses. 

At the African Development Bank, where we have rapidly put a coronavirus contingency plan in place, kisses and handshakes are quickly giving way to fist and elbow bumps, or to no contact at all. Many understandably  prefer an adoring “keep your hands to yourself” stance.

Across town, it is not uncommon to see men and women now tap their feet rather than touch cheeks or shake hands. What first started out a few weeks ago as a  comedic viral video in Asia, has since mushroomed into a full-blown practice in some communities. 

I’ve already been offered the foot of friendship’ several times, so I can testify.

Last night, I was having dinner with a colleague at Indian By Nature, a lovely restaurant off of Boulevard de Marseille in the Marcory district that is a favourite hangout for many in the expatriate community.

Three things struck me. 

One, very visible neon yellow alcoholic hand sanitizers were on full display all around the restaurant. You couldn’t miss them.

Second, everyone … waiters, chefs, and owners kept their hands and cheeks to themselves. 

And third, it would seem that the hand-clasped Hindi ‘Namaste’ greeting could soon become a globally preferred and much safer social norm, in a world battling with a pandemic that has already spooked the media and business world for good reason.

Social conventions have always been arcane arbitrary rules and norms that govern behaviours from kissing, hugging, shaking hands, to bowing. In the age of increasing pandemics, it would seem that old conventions are quickly giving way to the new and the not so new.

For now, stay safe and Namaste!

Dr. Victor Oladokun, is the Director of Communication and External Relations, African Development Bank.

KPMG on Geopolitical Risks and Opportunities

KPMG’s Audit Committee Institute series organized a breakfast session in Nairobi today that assessed the risks posed by global events & trends and the potential opportunities that could emerge. The session took place at a time when countries and industries around the world are gripped by concerns and efforts to contain the spread and impact of the Coronavirus.

Sophie Heading, KPMG Global’s Head of Geopolitics, who is on a tour to speak in different capitals around East Africa mentioned that geopolitics now affects the developed world as much as it does for developing countries. She said that US domestic governance is the number one political risk across the world, and that while there has been a shift in leadership away from the US & Europe (G-7 nation) towards China, currently we are in a G-Zero world in which there is no clear leader.

She referenced three distinct areas of technology, trade and trust in which geopolitics could be traced along, and the opportunities they presented for different African countries.

Excerpts

  • Technology: Advances bring geopolitical power and this is likely to spread to other markets – as seen in the battle between the US and China over spectrum (5G), data, and platforms. China is looking to reshape the Sub-Saharan Africa technological space while the US wants to protect its security interests and intellectual property.
  • Trade: The US and China have decided to decouple and go separate ways and other countries will have to choose who to align with. Both are seeking new alliances, investors, partners, suppliers, staff etc. but this is also at a time that other key markets are increasing their regulations in terms of capital, policies, taxes and data, etc. Foreign aid used to be a tool that Western states used to influence economic events in Africa, but with the Chinese model of financing infrastructure being so successful, she expected that there will be a drop in aid from the West as it is no longer seen as being effective.
  • Trust: There is social discontent across the world as young populations feel that government systems are not meeting their needs. This is different in developed nations versus it is in developing ones. But because of their debt levels, most nations now have less policy flexibility to address their internal issues. Also with global growth having slowed down to about 3%, and which may reduce further to as low as 1.5% with the Coronavirus outbreak, any such interventions may widen the social wealth divides within countries.

She said that there is more need to pay more attention to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. This is something that Europe, and the private sector, have championed, but which other governments have not, while the US, China and India have all stepped back on the environmental front.

She cautioned that Nairobi, which is the second-biggest hub in the region for impact investing, but without the Kenya government signalling its interest in championing of ESG issues, may lose out on future investment and client opportunities.

Barclays Kenya changes to Absa at the NSE

Barclays Bank of Kenya completed its transition journey to Absa this week with a confirmation of approval from the Central Bank of Kenya and the change over of its share ticker at the Nairobi Securities Exchange from BBK to Absa. 

This was the conclusion of a three-year journey that has seen Absa rebrand all Barclays operations across Africa under one name after Barclays had reduced its shareholding to under 15% and seen Barclays Africa renamed as the Absa Group.

Geoffrey Odundo the CEO of the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) said that Barclays was one of their key listed banking stocks and its shareholders had seen good returns with Barclays being the best performing bank share last year. The bank had also been a key partner that has helped the NSE with product development and  market development. 

James Ndegwa, Chairman of Kenya’s Capital Markets Authority, said Barclays, which traced its history in the Country to 1916 when the National Bank of South Africa opened a branch in Mombasa, had become the first commercial bank to offer shares to the public in a 1986. He called on the bank to float more shares as he said the NSE had struggled to attract new listings, with daily trading dominated by a few companies.

Jeremy Awori CEO of Absa Bank Kenya said that, as part of one of Africa largest financial groups, they aimed to connect the dreams and aspirations of Kenyans with the financial resources to achieve these. Aside from enhancing financing for SME’s and offering the country’s lowest mortgage rate of 11.75%, he said that Absa which had recently launched the first vertical (debit & credit) cards in Kenya and received a new license for asset management, would soon launch a chatbot, and an online toolkit for small business owners.

Other guests at the event that was held at the Nairobi Securities Exchange included Daniel Mminele, the new CEO of Absa Group, Peter Matlare, the Deputy CEO of Absa Group, and Charles Muchene, the Board Chairman of Absa Bank Kenya PLC.

On it’s debut, Absa Bank Kenya traded 126,800 shares to close at Kshs 13.25.

Antler Nairobi Demo Day

VC funder and startup accelerator Antler Global held a demonstration day yesterday in Nairobi where founders of four companies got to explain their practical solutions to existing challenges in the sectors of health, fintech, advertising and e-commerce.

The Singapore-founded Antler has offices in London, New York, Amsterdam and now Nairobi, among others. Antler aims to turn exceptional individuals into great company founders through networks of advisors and by providing funding to enable the building of strong teams to launch and scale ideas. They currently have a portfolio of 120 investee companies.

The four new ones in Nairobi are among fifteen companies that have received pre-seed funding of $100,000 from the Antler East Africa Fund. They are drawn from 1,250 individuals who applied to join the Nairobi program which started in August 2019. The Demo day talks were by:

  • AIfluence: an Artificial Intelligence-based platform that connects influencers with brands and measures the impact and ROI of their campaigns. The company has lined up additional funding and advertising deals with Tik Tok.
  • Anyi Health: Enable patients to apply for credit right at hospitals.
  • ChapChapGo: Aims to fix the broken supply chain of fast-moving consumer goods, in which 70% of trades are still informal – with these purchases happening in a 19thcentury system where people queue to buy, queue to pay and arrange their own delivery. The company aims to leverage on wholesalers through an app, and by using WhatsApp for customer service and sales, to deliver goods at prices that are up to 25% cheaper for consumers.
  • Digiduka: Enables kiosks and shops receiving cash from low-income buyers to also process digital payment on. Many kiosk merchants find mobile money payments too costly and make many trips a week to purchase goods and permits in cash. The company aims to have kiosks double their income by offering digital services that will see them earn 75% of the commission, with Digiduka keeping the 25%. The founders say that pilot has been viable, with a payback period for kiosk owners of one month.

Barclays Kenya now officially Absa Bank

Barclays, which has been in Kenya for 103 years has officially now transformed to Absa Group the culmination of a three-year journey of transition following the divestiture of Barclays PLC majority shareholding in the Barclays Africa Group.

Barclays remains as the largest shareholder in Absa which is present in 12 African countries, has 40,000 employees, and listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. The transition to Absa across Africa has seen the migration of hundreds of Barclays technology systems that were run from the UK to the continent, mainly in South Africa and Kenya. Absa Group now had a reprobative office in London with another soon in New York.

Absa owns 68.5% of Absa Bank Kenya PLC which is currently the fourth-largest bank in the country by assets. Absa Kenya, which is listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange, has 63,000 shareholders who approved the name change to Absa at their AGM in May 2018.

The one-off cost of the Absa Kenya rebranding is being spread out over two years and through September 2019, had cost the bank Kshs 910 million. All 86 branches in 38 counties across Kenya are being rebranded in the new Absa bold red colours. This past weekend, the bank transitioned several customer channels, including internet banking, social media, mobile banking, SMS, and point of sale systems to reflect the Absa brand.

Barclays Life Assurance has also officially changed to Absa Life Assurance Kenya. It is ranked third, with a 10% share of the group life insurance market in the country.