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Pension provision in Africa remains low

26.09.2017Gerald Gondo, Business Development Executive, RisCura Africa

This post was originally published on the Financial Nigeria Website.

With 72% of sub-Saharan Africans employed in the informal sector, the traditional pension system is being called into question.

The traditional pension system of course works on the premise that members are formally employed, work for 40 years and contribute regularly during this period, resulting in suitable retirement savings. As more people enter the labour force and become formally employed, they are in essence able to contribute towards their future savings.

If we juxtapose the traditional model to the current African landscape, where most people are employed in the informal sector, consistent employment for one year - let alone 40 years - is a stretch. While permanent or continuous employment may not be a reality for many in Africa, these members of African society (where possible), remain economically active in the informal economy during periods of unemployment.

Pension coverage

The large numbers employed by the informal economy have historically limited the size of traditional pension funds and partially resulted in the continent’s low level of pension coverage. According to the International Labour Organisation, in sub Saharan Africa, only 8% of the labour force contributes to pension insurance and earns rights to a contributory pension, compared to 47% in North Africa.  As in most low-income countries, the low level of contributor coverage ratio can be explained by the small share of formally employed wage and salary earners, and the pervasiveness of informality, evasion, and inadequate law enforcement.

Despite higher levels of informality in labour markets, the provision of pension coverage and pay-out should remain an imperative if Africa is to make progress on its developmental agenda.

Providing pension access via African-based financial services and distribution channels such as M-Pesa, EcoCash, Leap Frog Investments and Equity Bank, which are innovative and disruptive, are natural and obvious choices.

Importantly, informing the thinking and messaging surrounding the provision of pension to potential members should be driven by simplicity.

Nigeria leads the way

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, is leading the charge in making advances towards an alternative pension model for the informal sector. Its National Pension Commission (PenCom) has adapted their existing pension scheme for formally employed workers - the Contributory Pension Scheme - by making it the backbone for the rollout of the Micro Pension Plan of Nigeria.

The Micro Pension Plan is designed to cover small-to-medium enterprises, self-employed Nigerians and the broader informal sector. It is estimated that the informal sector constitutes 70% of Nigeria’s total workforce. In the absence of the Micro Pension Plan, these economically active citizens would not be covered by any form of structured pension scheme. Out of a total 59 million adults in Nigeria, there are 38 million potential contributors that will come from the informal sector by activating the micro pension scheme. As at the end of 2016, total pension scheme membership for the formal sector alone in Nigeria was almost eight million members.

Target-Dated Investing

At RisCura, we strongly advocate for pension fund fiduciaries to spend more time on objectives or goal setting. But, we are mindful that this must also take into account the nuances of Africa’s developing savings base and the differences between micro and traditional pension plans.

There may be merit for pensions and savings practitioners to look to Target-Dated Investing (TDI) for micro pension products. Under TDI, the member has a clear view of the investment strategy being undertaken on their contributions based on a set term to retirement that they have selected. TDI offers informal savers the benefit of a simplified savings programme and the goal is to ensure that the investment starts paying out at a pre-set date.

The combination of micro pension provision and TDI presents itself as an acceptable compromise for the possibility of an erratic contribution from some members. This dynamic may not offer the most elegant solution, but may serve as an important initiator of further improvements.

Echoing the sentiments of former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, “Emphasis must be placed on the urgent need for pension arrangement for the informal sector, given that it constitutes at least 61% of urban employment across the continent and will be on the rise due to population growth. We advocate for micro pensions, especially as the proportion of Sub-Saharan Africans in vulnerable employment has attained an alarming rate of 85% for women and 70% men”.

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About the Author

Gerald Gondo serves as an Executive within RisCura Africa and is responsible for Business Development. Prior to joining RisCura, Gerald was also a founding partner of a specialist investment advisory and investment management business (Atria Africa) based in Mauritius. Gerald's passion to have first-hand experience in investing in Africa led him to join a leading pan-African asset manager (Imara Asset Management) where he had dual responsibility of being lead analyst on listed equities in Egypt, Morocco, Zambia and Mauritius whilst also building the fixed income capability of Imara Asset Management in Zimbabwe. He started his career in private equity investment in Sub-Saharan Africa (Business Partners) and has also worked as a credit analyst for a highly-rated specialist institutional fixed income boutique (Futuregrowth Asset Management), where he was responsible for credit analysis for corporate credit and securitisation issuances within South Africa.

Pension funds can play a pivotal role in African aspirations for 2063

19.06.2017Gerald Gondo, Business Development Executive, RisCura Africa

African equities have recently faced strong headwinds, despite the positive fundamental growth prospects presented by the continent, writes RisCura Africa's Business Development Executive, Gerald Gondo.

If one considers the negative return profiles of a number of the African equity indices over the last two years, it would not be surprising if investors questioned the much-vaunted tag-lines of "Africa rising" and "demographic dividend". Should they retain their confidence that Africa will master its short-term challenges and look to the long-term prospects?

An important element of the African investment case is the oft-cited demographic dividend - referring to a period where a country's workforce is young, willing and able to be integrated into the economy and thus continue its economic growth. But, other elements such as rising disposable income, urbanisation, untapped resources and agriculture also reinforce the need to look beyond short-term challenges and rather to calibrate one's expectations towards the long-term. These drivers are set to continue to develop and arguably present the prospect of compelling organic growth waiting to be unlocked.

The questions investors should be asking are who and how will Africa unlock this growth?

African governments and policy-makers appear quite clear and resolute in their outlook. Evidence of this is the 28th African Union (AU) Summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in January 2017 whose theme was, "Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through Investments in Youth".

This was perhaps a clarion call by Africa's leadership to revisit its investment case by focussing on possibly its most durable and resilient growth proponent - its youth.

Turning to the AU's "African Aspirations for 2063" - six aspirations aimed at realising the continent's potential by 2063 - Aspiration 1 reads as follows:"A prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development. We are determined to eradicate poverty in one generation and build shared prosperity through social and economic transformation of the continent."

Critical to making in-roads in achieving this aspiration requires African governments, policy-makers, and regulators to undertake a critical review of inhibitors to effective inclusive growth and sustainable development. Deepening, integrating and developing African capital markets is an obvious and immediate area to target.

According to a Milken Institute - Centre for Financial Markets study, "Capital Markets in the East African Community - Developing the Buyside", these markets are fundamental to economic growth because they help to channel domestic savings in a more productive way. Thereby enabling the private sector to invest, produce and create jobs. African pension funds have been cited as a growing pool of assets that can and should be channelled towards deepening capital markets.

At RisCura, we continue to observe and record the growing asset bases of African pension funds due to rising incomes, with emphasis on the need for these funds to look to diversify their investments away from traditional investments. Particular focus is given to the continued elevated levels of exposure that many African pension funds still have to government fixed income securities, which could largely be attributed to static regulation.

A separate Milken institute study in East African pension funds found that "preferential treatment generally given to government securities through regulatory approaches - specifically, relatively high portfolio ceilings - may induce funds to over allocate to this asset class at the expense of others."

If Africa is to progress towards achieving Aspiration 1, alongside the remaining six and equally important Aspirations, the pace of capital market reforms needs to be accelerated. RisCura has previously noted several major African countries have revised pension regulations in recent years, with many either considering or actually revising rules around investments such as allowing investments into private equity and non-traditional asset classes. However, the pace of revision remains slow.

Deepening of capital markets may take time, but the channelling of savings towards productive sectors of the economy is not limited only to listed capital markets. Allocations to private equity and infrastructure as alternative assets classes through the burgeoning African private equity and infrastructure funds, will serve as critical interventions to accelerating economic development in Africa.

Regulatory reform will serve as a powerful driver for increased investment that deepen and develop African capital markets. African pension funds and institutional investors have an important and critical role to play in assisting Africa (through prudent channelling of savings) with projects and initiatives that can accelerate the fulfilment of Aspiration 1.

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About the Author

Gerald Gondo serves as an Executive within RisCura Africa and is responsible for Business Development. Prior to joining RisCura, Gerald was also a founding partner of a specialist investment advisory and investment management business (Atria Africa) based in Mauritius. Gerald's passion to have first-hand experience in investing in Africa led him to join a leading pan-African asset manager (Imara Asset Management) where he had dual responsibility of being lead analyst on listed equities in Egypt, Morocco, Zambia and Mauritius whilst also building the fixed income capability of Imara Asset Management in Zimbabwe. He started his career in private equity investment in Sub-Saharan Africa (Business Partners) and has also worked as a credit analyst for a highly-rated specialist institutional fixed income boutique (Futuregrowth Asset Management), where he was responsible for credit analysis for corporate credit and securitisation issuances within South Africa.

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