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Local Capital in African Private Equity: An Interview with Sev Vettivetpillai, Partner, The Abraaj Group

13.10.2014Sev Vettivetpillai

You have been investing in Africa for two decades and pride yourself on being local as opposed to GPs who manage their funds out of London or New York. How much local capital financing have you mobilised for your African funds to date?

Over the years, we have raised about US$150 million from local institutional investors, representing a mix of banks, pension funds, social security funds and corporates. We raised some local capital in the 1990s with the CDC Group plc, and, in the last ten years, we have secured commitments from the likes of the National Pension Fund of Mauritius, South Suez, which has several of the local pension funds in southern Africa in their investor base, and Nigerian banks, which came into our funds under the Central Bank initiative.

How significant is the unlocking of huge amounts of local capital across Africa to your strategy, particularly with your funds going forward?

Local capital is an important part of the overall story in Africa. If Africans and African institutions are not investing in their own markets, why should somebody from outside the region think there is an opportunity here? To give credibility to the story they must invest, otherwise the story doesn't hold together.

The markets in Africa are all at different stages of development in terms of regulation and knowledge about this asset class. For example, in Nigeria, the regulatory framework has changed considerably and pension funds are increasingly able to invest in different asset classes. South Africa and Botswana may be a bit ahead of the game; however, Botswana's internal markets lack depth, so the investment strategy is oriented more externally. Then you have the South African pension funds, which have a lot of capital and are now starting to look beyond South Africa. As you can imagine, South Africa combined with the rest of Africa is a great story. So for them, understanding the challenges and the characteristics of investing outside of South Africa is their learning curve.

Limited partners in these markets face different issues, but I can see them all converging to form a very big investor group in the next five years. They are starting from virtually zero in terms of exposure to private equity, so allocations are going to go up from 0-5 per cent to maybe 10 per cent or 15 per cent of their portfolio. On the other hand, pension fund assets under management are increasing at exponential rates because their markets are growing, and more people are coming into the workforce. The importance of African pension funds as a source of capital is not to be underestimated.

What are some of the key challenges in raising local capital in Africa?

Getting the pension fund managers to understand how to build their private equity portfolios is the biggest challenge. I was at the Private Equity Master Class for Pension Funds at the African Venture Capital Association Annual Conference in Cape Town in 2013, which was organised in conjunction with the International Limited Partners Association. There were about 30 pension fund analysts in the room and the question was asked: how many have a private equity programme already? Only one put a hand up. How many have started to invest? Three more hands went up. How many are yet to start? The balance of the hands went up. So imagine the J-curve effect of investing in a private equity programme - these funds are going to have to commit capital based on their own risk/reward profile, and there's going to be a net cash outflow for a period of time until the cash flow starts to mature. That learning curve is going to be a challenge for many of them.

African pension funds often have concerns around liquidity, transparency and lack of benchmarks when it comes to private equity. How do you respond to them?

Pension funds should be looking at fund managers that have raised their third fund or beyond, because a first-time fund manager is a high-risk strategy. For pension funds, the loss of capital is a much bigger issue than the need for liquidity in the short term, relatively speaking. Each private equity fund is illiquid; you are tied in for 8-10 years. But the returns and the cash multiples should compensate for that illiquidity. If they don't, you are choosing the wrong private equity fund managers. One way to manage illiquidity is to have a co-investment program, and invest alongside the GP in larger deals. This gives you the ability to adjust the cost and liquidity because you're not tied up for ten years; you can sell your stake and get cash back.

You need to invest in GPs that provide you with the level of transparency that you need. If they don't, then you shouldn't invest with them. Look at the reports that they give on their fund, and understand how much of that information is transparent and can give you visibility of the underlying portfolio. This should be a key part of the due diligence process.

On lack of benchmarks, the first AVCA/Cambridge Associates benchmark study has been presented, and while it does not yet cover all the private equity funds in the region, what we saw was that performance is in line with Asia and Latin America. African funds are not doing any worse. The average returns, over the last ten years, of the industry are 10-12 per cent. As more information becomes available, this benchmark point will be further addressed. In addition, data from RisCura in South Africa show that the growth in the public equities market is not as strong as it is in the private markets. Pension funds have to get into this asset class or they will lose out on this significant growth.

What advice would you offer pension funds about risk and risk mitigation?

It is important to be aware of all risks - from financial to reputational. Please remember that the higher your returns, the more risk one assumes, and risk does change. Look to get back your capital and protect your downside on each investment. Look at the structures and the terms. Make sure they are applicable to you based on your risk/return profile. Don't partner with the wrong people; test the intent of your sponsors through negotiations to ensure that they are aligned with you and share the same values. And don't follow a herd mentality because LPs have done so in the past and burnt themselves badly.

Markets by their very nature tend to be volatile. We can expect one, maybe two, cycles minimum in a 7-10 year period. So building a portfolio to weather those cycles is key to ensuring that this volatility does not significantly affect your pension fund. I would encourage every fund manager to look at diversifying by country and sector, and to also look at splitting invested capital to receive returns in the form of income contractually built into the structure and capital gains. This allows you to de-risk your investment as quickly as possible, because you are not waiting for a single liquidity event to get your original invested capital back. It also helps deal with exchange risk because of currency devaluation in these markets.

How well aligned is private equity with the long-term obligations of African pension funds?

The average pension contributor in Africa today is very young, so pension fund liabilities are going to increase further down the road. The pension funds, therefore, have to invest in assets that will build long-term value, like private equity. At the same time, GPs need to understand the pension funds' level of experience and not take advantage of them. For instance, I know of managers in other markets that have gotten away with deal-by-deal carry as opposed to a full fund pay-out carry, because the pension funds were not aware of the consequences of this misalignment. Of course, this may be to the managers' advantage initially, but it will eventually be a disadvantage to everybody.

Do you think that GPs are doing enough to encourage pension funds to look at private equity, or can they do more?

GPs can and need to invest more in educating local pension funds. We at Abraaj are prepared to do so - we travel to every pension fund event to which we are invited and provide any information that we can. These investors may not commit immediately, or even invest in an Abraaj fund, but that's fine. This is bigger than that - it's about increasing the pool of capital available to the whole industry. If we as managers do not get on board now, in five years it will be a much harder job.

This interview is an extract from the newly released publication "Pension Funds and Private Equity: Unlocking Africa's Potential", a joint-publication by the Commonwealth, MFW4A, and EMPEA with the support of The Abraaj Group.

The full report is available for download in pdf format.

Sev Vettivetpillai is a Partner at The Abraaj Group and a member of its executive and investment committees, with over 20 years of direct private equity investing experience. Mr Vettivetpillai previously held the positions of Chief Executive Officer of Aureos Advisers Ltd. and Chief Investment Officer for the Aureos Group. Prior to joining Aureos, Mr. Vettivetpillai was a senior investment executive at CDC Group plc. His other appointments were at Vanik Incorporation (Sri Lanka) as a Portfolio Manager and Mott Macdonald Group (United Kingdom) as an Engineer. 

Revolutionizing access to finance for African SMEs

12.09.2014Jean-Michel Severino

Over the past decade Africa has experienced a 5% growth across the continent. This surprising and spectacular growth attracts investors from around the world. They are both forced to change their perception about what contains profound upheaval, and seduced by what is now considered as the emerging new frontier. Among the ten countries in the world where economic growth was the fastest between 2000 and 2010, five were located in sub-Saharan Africa: Equatorial Guinea (12.3% per year), Angola (9.3% per year), Chad (8.8% per year), Nigeria (7.4% per year) and Ethiopia (6.9% per year).

But this growth remains fragile, uneven and carries huge challenges: how to ensure that it benefits to the greatest number of people and allow millions to get out of the poverty trap?

In 2050, Africa will not only account for 4% of the global economy, it will also make up 23% of the world's population. This new world pole will be facing major issues such as the employment of a young and dynamic population that will be increasingly numerous in the labour markets. In this context, African small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are best positioned to create jobs and local added value, as well as develop the local economic fabric. They stand for essential drivers for social and political stability by spreading the wealth created and structuring local economies.

Nevertheless, SMEs appear as missing links in most African economies. They desperately need to find ways to meet their needs for growth despite a latent lack of access to finance. Too small and too costly to manage for large banking institutions, they are also too large to meet the investment criteria of microfinance institutions. They often are in a deadlock and do not fully benefit from the growth of the continent.

In this context, what solution one could bring to these key actors for responsible and sustainable growth in Africa in order to enable them start their business or scale up?

The solution lies in the emergence of new financing capacities that will offer entrepreneurs the opportunity to strengthen their capital stock under conditions compatible with certain constraints in terms of management fees, transaction costs, etc. It consists of developing a new industry of capital investment, 100% African, which can rely on a network of local investment funds, promoted by African investors and managed by locally recruited teams. This new device will revolutionize the access to finance for small African entrepreneurs through new sustainable funding solution.

But this capital will not be sufficient for African entrepreneurs to reach their growth potential and maximize their economic, social and environmental impacts. It should be complemented by strategic guidance for establishing solid fundamentals and ensuring sustainable development in due respect of all stakeholders. Finally, technical assistance missions will be essential to build and strengthen the financing capacities, through the transfer of know-hows, methodologies and the development of local skills.

The creation of this network of African investment funds will draw lessons from successes and failures of microfinance and will bring to private equity the same kind of revolution as the one microfinance has brought to the debt. It will require a real education for not only existing African finance players: banks, development agencies, private institutions, so that everyone contributes to the success of this new funding; but also with entrepreneurs as private equity is sometimes looked at with distrust and its benefits are not fully appreciated today!

Jean-Michel Severino is Chairman of the private finance company Investisseur & Partenaire pour le Développement (I&P). He is the former Director of France's international development agency, AFD. Jean-Michel Severino is General Inspector of Finances at the French Finance Ministry and served as Director in charge of international development at the French Ministry of Cooperation. He has also worked at the World Bank, first as Director for Central Europe and then as Vice President for Asia.

Pension Funds and Private Equity: Unlocking Africa’s Potential

21.07.2014Stefan Nalletamby

Dear Readers,

A resounding thank you to everyone who joined us in Dakar, Senegal, last month for our Partnership Forum. I hope you found the event as engaging and stimulating as we did. One of the lessons for the Secretariat that emerged from the Forum discussions is the need to deepen our engagement with key stakeholders in support of financial sector development in Africa. This means that we will be doing things differently, rather than doing different things. Our emerging work programme with pension funds is an example of this.

Pension funds play a critical role in finance through the mobilisation and allocation of stable long-term savings to support investment. Recent reforms in many African countries have created private pension systems, which are rapidly accumulating assets under management (AUM). The Nigerian pension industry, for example, grew from US$7 billion in December 2008 to US$25 billion in December 2013[1]. Similarly, Ghana's pension industry is expected to expand by up to 400 per cent in the four years from 2014 to 2018[2]. Pension assets now equate to some 80 per cent of GDP in Namibia [3] and 40 per cent in Botswana[4]. How can Africa mobilise these domestic resources to support private sector development, as well as the investment in infrastructure and social services that need to drive continued growth and transformation? How can these long-term savings support the development of capital markets on the continent?

In the coming days, we will be releasing a joint publication, "Pension Funds and Private Equity: Unlocking Africa's Potential" with the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Emerging Markets Private Equity Association (EMPEA). The report provides information that is crucial to a better understanding and appreciation of the pensions industry in Africa. In addition to outlining the latest data and regulatory profiles for 10 African countries, the report estimates how much capital could be available to support private equity in these countries as well as how much has already been mobilised to date. We chose to focus on private equity in particular because in the context of underdeveloped capital markets and a lack of long-term financing, private equity is an attractive option for African companies in search of capital and can be a catalyst for job creation and economic growth.

The report profiles the pension industries of Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, in addition to providing expert insights from practitioners in the industry. The aim of this comparative analysis is to advance the dialogue among African pension fund managers, pensioners, regulators and other industry stakeholders about private equity and further the exchange of best practices across the region and with other emerging and developed markets. Whilst this publication focuses on private equity, the lessons learned are applicable to other sectors such as infrastructure and housing, as well as how these long term savings can be used to support the development of capital markets.

In that vein, and based on the publication, we are engaging with pension fund managers, through our recently launched Africa Pension Funds Network (APFN), to explore how the various barriers to unlocking domestic capital can be addressed. APFN was inaugurated during the Partnership Forum in Dakar in June, and membership currently includes industry associations and pension fund managers from Botswana, East Africa (covering Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia), Namibia, Nigeria, and South Africa, with more countries expected to join in the coming months. The network will provide a platform for exchange of knowledge and expertise amongst industry participants across the continent. The network will also facilitate cross-country collaboration through co-investments, peer-to-peer learning and provide a forum for engagement with other financial sector stakeholders at the pan-African level. We are already in discussions with the International Organisation of Pension Supervisors (IOPS) about the possibility of organising a meeting between African Pension Supervisors and APFN at the IOPS Global Forum in Namibia in October.

We will be building on these foundations over the summer using new tools such as our Online Collaborative Platform, an interactive and secured social networking platform aimed at supporting and catalysing MFW4A networks and working groups, the African Partners Directory, a database repository of key stakeholders active in Africa's financial sectors, and the more traditional tools like the bi-weekly newsletter.

To conclude, I would like to extend special thanks to all our partners for the constructive and stimulating collaboration that is driving us towards our common goal of promoting Africa's financial sectors. I would also like to thank the Secretariat team for their sterling efforts and achievements so far.

To all our readers, sincere and best wishes for an enjoyable and restful summer/winter break.

Stefan Nalletamby
MFW4A Partnership Coordinator

 

 

[1] National Pension Commission Nigeria (PenCom).

[2] According to National Pensions Regulatory Authority officials, pension industry assets could grow from ¢1.06 billion to ¢5.5 billion in this period.

[3] Namibia Financial Institutions Supervisory Authority Annual Report, 2013.

[4] Based on Non-Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority (NBFRIA) and World Bank figures.

Why ESG is here to stay in African investments

14.04.2014James Brice and Markus Reichardt

Africa is still touted as the next investment frontier and the figures bear it out: with over $50 billion foreign investments in 2012 according to UN figures it is the recipient of more foreign direct investment (FDI) than any other continent. Investors appear to view the developed world as over-regulated, and regions such as North Africa or parts of the Middle East too unstable. Africa's economic resurgence has its roots in small but real improvements in governance and transparency, more open societies empowered by social media, and economies leapfrogging directly to new technologies such as the mobile phone as a business tool. More than 720 million Africans have mobile phones and 167 million have access to the internet.

However, due to its low domestic savings rates Africa has to rely on foreign investments to fuel its growth and here two models have presented themselves:

  1. The Chinese 'ask no questions approach' which trades infrastructure investments for access to natural resources; and
  2. The conditional model espoused by the 'West' where investments seem to come with a range of conditions, especially in respect of environmental, social and governance performance.

While some observers have mistakenly framed the two options as a choice between two new forms of colonialism, it is worth looking dispassionately at some of these conditions - particularly those set out in 'global standards' developed by organisations such as the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) - the largest source of development assistance in the world and the leading facilitators of infrastructure development funding globally. The most widely accepted of these standards - the 8 IFC Performance Standards and the sector-specific environmental health and safety guidelines supporting them - are remarkably simple in what they seek. In the case of their direct investments (including project and corporate finance provided through financial intermediaries), investors are required to identify and manage business risks and impacts so that development opportunities are enhanced.

Globally more than 500 asset & investment managers managing more than $30 trillion are signatories of investment codes such as Equator Principles which are based upon the IFC Performance standards and require disclosure of environmental & social risks and management responses to such risks. Together these institutions account for nearly 80% of global project finance and they include banks from Nigeria, South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Togo and China's Industrial Bank.

The traditional Chinese investment model has over the years encountered sufficient and widespread opposition from African civil society in countries such as Namibia, Botswana and Zambia. This has led to social issues being approached more openly with more space given to opportunities for local labour and suppliers. Several surveys are underway by various Chinese-based institutions to measure and understand Africa's opinion of Chinese FDI. Chinese Banks now have to adopt a recently launched Green Credit Policy, and a draft CSR Policy for Outbound Investments in the Extractive Sector is due out in May.

So while it appears that Chinese investors in Africa are starting their ESG journey, this does not imply that 'First World' investors who placed an earlier emphasis on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues have been more successful. Rather their approach to ESG issues has more often than not resulted in a compliance, "tick the box" approach, resulting in a "do the minimum" level of ESG interest.

This is why it is critical that as Africa continues to grow that project developers and foreign investors are guided by ESG standards towards achieving holistic risk management approaches. All these ESG guidelines are by their very nature generic and encourage interpretation in terms in terms of local context and sectoral expertise. Thus even Africa's biggest development finance institution - the African Development Bank (AfDB) approaches wildlife protection and anti-poaching measures not as measures to appease western sources of capital, but as its head, Donald Kaberuka explains, as part of its basis for sustainable economic growth. The issue, according to Kaberuka, concerns the survival of the ecosystems on which African economies and communities depend for tourism revenues. This makes wildlife protection a key issue for Africa's largest development bank and the projects it considers in pursuit of its mandate.

A project's failure to consider stormwater flow paths in built-up areas during extreme weather events can lead to catastrophic structural failures affecting projects such as shopping centers. Alternatively failure to openly engage with and compensate informal land users of areas being converted to formal farming can lead to consistent community conflict, road blockages and crop sabotage. Failure to explore the use of slightly more expensive but more eco-friendly inputs in a production process can lead to later impacts on cash costs when waste disposal charges or penalties mount. The list of issues to consider is potentially endless and such global ESG standards offer a widely accepted methodology deemed not only as reasonable for risk management purposes but also structurally encourage project proponents to explore more efficient, more sustainable alternatives.

In its search for sustainable economic growth, African communities and institutions must set aside fears of externally-imposed standards. Rather they should take advantage of the proven methodologies such standards, when diligently applied with local context and sectorial expertise, can make on project timelines, project risk profiles and improved economic returns for the investments fuelling Africa's economic resurgence.

James Brice, CEO, & Markus Reichardt, Principal, Environmental Business Strategies Pty Ltd: www.envirobiz.co.za.

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