Absa and the Spirit of Highway Africa

My first trip to South Africa was back in 2006 to attend the combination of Highway Africa, and the inaugural Digital Citizen Indaba which was Africa’s first-ever major blogging conference.  Highway Africa, billed as the largest gathering of African journalists, was run by the Rhodes University’s School of Journalism and Media Studies. It was supported by the South African Broadcasting Corporation, South Africa’s Department of Communication, Absa bank, Multichoice, MTN, South African Airways, Sunday Times, among others.

So it was a pleasant surprise this month to encounter the spirit of Highway Africa and reconnect with those  pioneer conferences. This was at a data journalism masterclass, at Enashipai Resort, in Naivasha, Kenya. Absa has been sponsoring the data class that aims to assist financial journalists to report on complex financial matters since it was a part of the two-decades-long Highway Africa that is now on hiatus.

In 2019, the classes have been held in Uganda, Kenya, Zambia and  Tanzania. Four more countries will be covered in November. The program is done in conjunction with Rhodes University and is led by Peter Verweij.

The masterclass had themes of finding and scraping data, and also analyzing, mapping, and visualizing data for presentations that enrich stories. This was done using free tools and diverse data sets to infer correlations on subjects such as sub-Saharan African debt, sovereign ratings and financial inclusion.

There were also sessions about the ongoing plans at Barclays Africa which is rebranding to Absa in twelve African countries. Barclays has been operating in Kenya for 103 years, and the bank which is listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange, remains one of the top-performing banks this year in terms of capital efficiency and returns to investors.

Top 200 Banks in Africa in 2018

For 2018, Africa Report ranked the top 200 banks in Africa by assets and revenue in a special issue of the magazine.

The list was topped by the Standard Bank Group South Africa (Stanbic) with $163 billion of assets. They were followed by First Rand and then the Barclays Africa Group with $94 billion of assets, that is rebranding to Absa. Others in the top ten were the National Bank of Egypt, Nedbank Group, Attijariwafa Bank of Morocco, Banque Misr of Egypt, Banque Centrale Populaire Morocco and the Rand Merchant Bank of South Africa.

Other notable banks in the list and their ranks are Ecobank Transnational (at number 17), the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (number 19 with $17 billion of assets), the African Export-Import Bank (27), United Bank for Africa Group (30) and Guaranty Trust Bank (37). Also, Mauritius Commercial Bank (38), BGFI Bank Group (55) and PTA Bank, a Southern African development finance institution that is nominally based Burundi (at 57). Others were Diamond Bank (63), the Arab Bank for Economic. Development in Africa – BADEA (67), the Commercial Bank of Eritrea (86 with $3.3 billion of assets), CRDB Bank of Tanzania (105), and Stanbic Bank of Uganda (157).

Kenya banks that made the list were led by KCB Group at number 46, with $6.2 billion of assets. Others that feature were Equity Bank Group (59), Co-operative Bank (76), Diamond Trust (78) , Standard Chartered Kenya (100), and Stanbic Kenya (formerly known as CFC Stanbic) (115). Commercial Bank of Africa and NIC Bank who are merging were ranked at 123 and 131 respectively, while and I&M Bank is at number 132.

The report also has some general and country-specific reports that look at opportunities and challenges that banks in different countries face. These include Nigerian banks that were hit by oil price collapses and the rise in non-performing loans. Banks there like Diamond and UBA then restructured operations and invested in digital platforms like artificial intelligence assistants to enable customers to transact.

Ethiopia is profiled as an emerging economic opportunity after its political transformation under Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed Ali with its banking sector is described as one giant cat – the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia – with many kittens (seventeen private banks including Awash and Dashen)

Also while African governments want banks to offer cheap finance to citizens, many of them are themselves competing with private sectors in their countries  for funding from banks (e.g. risk-free loans to the Ghana government earn 17% for banks) while other interventions like interest rate caps in Kenya has driven millions of borrowers to turn to micro-lending apps using their phones.

You can order the 2019 ranking report here.

Kenya Political Party Financing in 2019

What’s to be learnt about the state of political party finance in Kenya? Some parties have published their unofficial financial results for the year 2019.

Jubilee: The ruling party has income of  Kshs 339 million, that includes 240 million from the Political Parties Fund (PPF) and 98 million from members. They spent 80 million on rent, down from 90 million, 173M on general  expenses and 81 million on secretariat staff and executives.  They have 16 million of property

ODM: The main opposition party received Kshs 112 million from the Political Parties Fund, same as last year, and donations of 78M. They have also booked an astronomical accrued amount from the government of Kshs 6.47 billion. They spent 170 million on administrative expenses, 19M on campaigns, 11M on party policy, 10M on conferences, 3M on branch coordination and just 712,000 on civic education. The amount they are claiming for the government is also listed as a current asset and bumps up their balance sheet from 119 million last year, to 6.5 billion.

Other Parties: Meanwhile other parties have been silent on their finances, but are active in other areas. These include the former ruling party – Party of National Unity, which has changed its officials. New parties have been formed this year  include  Transformation National Alliance Party of Kenya (TNAP) with “money bills” as its party symbol, the Democratic Action Party Kenya and the National Ordinary People Empowerment Union (NOPEU).

Summary of results:

1. Party coalitions are dead:  The party coalitions put together for elections appear to have fallen apart. ODM has stopped making payments to its coalition partners and no longer provides for them as they did in their earlier accounts.

2 Expensive secretariats: The amount at Jubilee of 81M  is down from 141M last year and which was a sharp rise from 28M in the previous year. That may coincide with hiring for the 2017 election period. Usually, party activities go into a lull after elections, until the next election cycle. In Kenya, this is set for 2022 unless another constitutional referendum is engineered to happen before that by political leaders.  At ODM, their property assets went up from 8M to 185M. in September 2019 they relocated their headquarters from Orange house to Chungwa House ay Loiyangalani  Drive in Lavington.

Old Pic from the State House FB page

3. Parties IPO: ODM has sued the government for not paying it the amount of Kshs 6.4 billion which it says dates back to when parliament came up with the  political parties act.   

But the National Treasury has been saying it cannot afford  to fund the political parties to the tune of 0.3% of the budget as parliamentarians had their parties, without impeding their constitutional requirement  to also fund the county governments.  Treasury has been allocating Kshs 300 million instead of 3.6 billion a year to the Political Parties Fund.

4. If that payment ever materializes, ODM’s coalition partners, have stated that they will stake a claim for a slice of that windfall. 

Private Equity investment guide for East Africa

This week in Nairobi saw the launch by  EAVCA, FSD Africa and IFC Africa of a new private equity (PE) investment guide for East Africa.

The PE investing guide is a tool to enable pension funds across East Africa to assess and invest in private equity assets by raising knowledge among pension fund managers who are primarily invested in stocks and bonds.

It is a simple guide that can be read in just thirty minutes to gain an understanding of private equity assets. It has a checklist of useful information to look for before investing in PE, and after to manage portfolios, and roles for general and limited partners.

Also, EAVCA released a market report on n the current status of private equity investments in the region following a survey of pension schemes and PE general partners. It found that, while five Eastern African countries have generous provisions for pension funds to invest in private equity, led by Rwanda at 20%, Uganda at 15% and Kenya at 10%, the uptake has been low with Uganda attaining 2.2% investments in PE funds followed by Kenya at 0.08%.

Nzomo Mutuku of Kenya’s Retirement Benefits Authority (RBA), who officiated the launch,  said that while pushed for pension schemes to diversify and explore alternative investments to grow returns for members, many still had huge investments in one company (i.e Safaricom) and stocks and bonds of banks in which they held their deposit funds. (Later it came up the concentration in a few NSE stocks is not unusual among sub-Saharan markets- Nigeria’s largest firm commands 35% of the market while in Ghana, the top three firms have an 80% share).

Other Insights from the Q & A after the launch:

• Excluding South Africa, there is about $100 billion of funds held by pension and insurance funds and collective investment schemes (CIS). Of that East Africa, has about $30 billion with  Kenya at $20 billion.

• The IFC has been in private equity for over 20 years and is invested in 300 funds globally, with 50 of them active in this region.

• One pension manager cited their investments in I&M bank before it listed at the NSE, UAP, and invested in an energy IPP that gave attractive returns of 13% on a Euro investment.

• Another mentioned that they had participated in 40 bonds offers in 17 African countries with decent returns and no defaults.

• Speakers cautioned about Kenya’s move to raise the capital gains tax on private equity from 5% to 12%, a move that the country’s parliament has since set aside thanks to concerted lobbying.

The teams will next move to market the assets class to trustees in Botswana and Nigeria.

Online currency trading with FXPesa in Kenya

With the recent attention on exchange rates and online forex (foreign exchange) trading in Kenya, this month we got to engage with one of the pioneers in the space – EGM Securities.

Their parent company is Equity Global Markets Capital, with seven locations across the world, They launched in Kenya in 2017 after they got a non-dealing online foreign exchange broker license from the Capital Markets Authority (CMA). This means that they don’t set the prices locally, they just enable the trades and make money from the spreads.

They then spent their first few months tweaking and develop their offering in Kenya where the mobile phone is prevalent for payment transactions. They then came up with FXPesa, a simple tool for retail traders to use.

FXPesa was launched in May 2019 and also has a web version. Within six months, FXPesa had registered over 25,000 users. They have integrated with local payment methods such as M-pesa, Equitel, cards, and bank transfers for traders to get money out and in easily. People can trade as little as $100, right from an uber or matatu. Prices change in nano-seconds, but traders on FXPesa can set “stop-loss” and “take profit” triggers and also earn trading bonuses.

After downloading the FXPesa from an app store, users can register and get on to a demonstration portal. The demo account comes with some virtual money, and prices the same as real the trading side, for new potential investors to get started. 

Meanwhile, EGM does some vetting and extensive know-your-customer (KYC) checks to ensure the accounts are legitimate and not being used for money laundering. They also offer beginner, intermediate, or advanced training classes. They also aim not to be used for dangerous speculation and cap trading amounts based on people’s income.

FXPesa offers clients over 100 instruments such as currency pairs, commodities, indices and shares. Some of the most popular ones are currency pairs like Euro/US dollar, US dollar/ Japanese Yen and Great Britain pound/US dollar as well as commodities like gold and crude oil, and Apple and Google shares. The South African Rand is the third most traded currency.