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Solving the Puzzle of Responsible Exists in Impact Investing

26.03.2018Hannah Dithrich, Research Associate, The Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN)

This blog was originally published on the Center for Financial Inclusion (CFI) website.

A responsible exit lays the foundation for long-term impact, and requires considerations as early as due diligence

Impact investors are motivated by two primary objectives: to generate a financial return and to create positive social or environmental impact. But how do they balance these dual goals throughout the investment process, and specifically at exit? It’s no easy feat.

Investors must consider what happens to impact when they exit an investment. For example, if a company received critical capital and resources from an investor, will it still be equipped to succeed and continue its mission when that investor exits? What if an investor sells her shares to a more commercially-minded buyer who deprioritizes the company’s impactful or sustainable practices?

In financial inclusion investments, the possibility of mission drift after exit can have real implications for impact. For example, if a microfinance institution is acquired by a firm with little experience with underbanked customers, it could increase loan sizes beyond what clients are able to pay back, ultimately leading them into cycles of debt. Impact investors seek to mitigate such risks by exiting their investments responsibly.

A 2014 paper called The Art of the Responsible Exit in Microfinance Equity Sales, by CFI and the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), explored the topic, outlining four decisions that microfinance equity investors can consider: i) the timing of their equity sale; (ii) buyer selection; (iii) governance and the use of shareholder agreements; and (iv) how to balance social and financial factors across multiple bids for their equity. Later this spring, the authors will publish a follow-on paper with guidance for all financial inclusion investors, beyond just those of microfinance institutions.

This year, the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) published Lasting Impact: The Need for Responsible Exits, a study that draws insights across sectors and asset classes that can be applied to financial inclusion investments. To produce this report, my colleagues and I interviewed over 30 leading practitioners, and found that investors plan for a responsible exit even before the investment is made. They lay the foundations for long-term impact throughout all stages of the investment process, from due diligence and capital structuring to exit.

During pre-investment due diligence, investors seek out companies or projects that present few risks to mission drift down the line – such as those with inherently impactful business models and those whose founders have a strong commitment to impact. They note that companies with impact ‘baked in’ to their business models face few tradeoffs between financial and impact objectives, so are unlikely to deviate from their mission. The question of ‘whom to exit to’ is key – echoed in CGAP and CFI’s paper – and investors note that they consider this during due-diligence, looking at likely exit options, which often depend on companies’ plans for growth. Annie Roberts of Open Capital Advisors noted that “if the planned exit for a given business is to a large strategic [buyer] that might not share the same impact motives, the investor takes this into account when deciding whether to make the investment in the first place.” CGAP and CFI’s paper also notes that investors typically “plan their exits before they enter”.

Once ready to deploy capital, investors can structure investments to help the company grow sustainably, without jeopardizing impact. Return expectations and structuring aspects like repayment timelines or holding periods and ownership stake in the company can all form part of a responsible exit strategy. For example, while equity investments can allow for more active involvement, they also tend to have relatively short time horizons (a 3-4 year holding period for a typical 10-year fund, for example) and growth expectations that could lead companies to prioritize expansion over sustainable practices. Debt investments, on the other hand, can be structured with flexible repayment schedules that avoid the pressure for rapid growth. Tying some portion of payments to revenue can free up needed cash for companies with variable cashflows, while also enabling investors to participate in a company’s success.

Investors can also use shareholder agreements and other structuring documents to solidify the company’s mission. Grassroots Capital’s concept note on “’Hardwiring’ Social Mission in MFIs” shows how anti-dilution clauses, dual share structures, and golden shares can help preserve a company’s integrity or keep key decisions in the hands of mission-aligned founders. CGAP and CFI’s paper echoes this, with the example of Aavishkaar-Goodwell’s exit from Equitas. Equitas had a majority independent board (which could reject share sales resulting in over 24 percent ownership), shareholder agreements that set a cap on ROE, and commitments to donate 5 percent of its profits to charity. These governance clauses helped create a “self-selecting pool of potential investors”.

During investment, investors can instill positive practices and corporate governance policies that will last through changes in ownership. For example, investors can work with company management to improve governance policies like adhering to SPI4 standards, which assess an institution’s social performance, in the hopes that sound practices will continue through changes in ownership.

The exit itself, of course, is also key. Whether exiting through a strategic sale, to a financial buyer, or through an IPO, investors can seek to exit at a time when the company is at a stable stage in its growth, and can benefit from another investor’s capital or resources. For example, the GIIN’s paper profiles LeapFrog Investments, which felt it was time to exit its investment in a Ghanaian life insurance company called Express Life once it saw the company growing steadily and in need of growth capital beyond what LeapFrog could provide.

When it comes time to exit, though, how do investors know if they’re selling to a follow-on investor that might later take the company in a different direction? CFI and CGAP’s paper highlights the importance of buyer selection, and the GIIN report shows how investors identify buyers that are aligned with the company’s business model or mission. For example, LeapFrog seeks buyers that recognize the commercial value in serving low-income consumers, as well as the impact inherent in these business models. It sold its stake in Express Life to Prudential Plc, which sought to establish a presence in Africa and understood both the value proposition and the impact created by providing critical financial services to low-income consumers.

This research can guide investors – those focused on financial inclusion and those targeting other themes – in sourcing, structuring, managing, and exiting investments to optimize for long-term positive outcomes. As the industry continues to mature, investors will further develop strategies for responsible investments and responsible exits that result in lasting impact.

To read more on the GIIN studies about Africa, you can download the landscape of impact investing in Southern Africa, East Africa and West Africa.

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About the Author

Hannah Dithrich conducts research at the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) to fill critical knowledge gaps in the industry and improve practitioners’ approaches. Hannah is a former Fulbright Scholar to Malta where she worked with the United Nations Refugee Agency, and has extensive background in microfinance at Grameen America and in research at a boutique fund of funds focused on emerging markets. She holds a Bachelors of Arts degree in International Relations from Pitzer College.

SMEs provide opportunity for Africa to grow its debt market

13.02.2018Kelsey Tanner, Senior Private Equity Analyst, RisCura

Investments into private firms in Africa are funded by a relatively low proportion of debt compared to equity, especially in contrast to developed markets, where debt is more readily available and affordable. This is according to RisCura’s latest private equity update of its Bright Africa report, released in October 2017.

With a relatively small value of assets under management, there is capacity for the development of the private debt market in Africa. The undercapitalisation of traditional lenders, such as banks, and the current uncertain economic environment have led to the development of alternative sources of capital. One such alternative is the private debt market where fund managers provide finance to private businesses seeking credit. These businesses, such as small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which do not fit into the traditional financing paradigm, provide a pool for private debt funds to tap into. A funding supply gap exists because SMEs are not able to access finance through traditional channels and private debt fund managers have limited investment opportunities.

This gap is fast being closed by private debt funds that have taken on the role to provide the necessary capital to SMEs. African funds that are already targeting SMEs with this type of finance include Vantage Capital’s third mezzanine fund with a $280m commitment from investors in 2017, and the Investec Africa Credit Opportunity Fund 1 with a 2015 investor commitment of $226.5m. 

SME owners are largely unaware of private debt as a funding option, how to access it, and its benefits and risks. This problem is compounded as fund managers cannot easily identify businesses that require funding, and therefore rely on potential borrowers to approach them.

Private debt can be accessed through a number of strategies. Private debt funds such as mezzanine and credit opportunity funds are frontrunners in meeting demand from SMEs seeking growth capital and debt refinancing. Advantageous to SMEs is that private debt funds may offer them finance and management support, but often do not pursue a direct ownership interest. Credit opportunity funds have a broad mandate and may involve a range of debt instruments, allowing fund managers to provide solutions that are suited to each individual company. This is critical when deploying capital effectively in diverse business environments.

Research has shown that mezzanine and credit opportunity funds perform well during the contraction and early expansion phases of the business cycle. After two consecutive quarters of GDP contraction, South Africa emerged from recession in the second quarter of 2017. Renewed business confidence, albeit amidst low forecast growth of around 1% in 2018, could make this the opportune time for investment. South Africa’s over two million SMEs could thrive with an improvement to cash flow, working capital and management, thereby helping to realise the National Development Plan’s forecast that the sector will create 90% of jobs by 2030. Funds with dry powder – cash available for investment – can therefore provide liquidity in the early stages of economic recovery when traditional lenders are unprepared and uninterested. This market also offers investors the opportunity to diversify their fixed income exposure away from government bonds and listed credit, to high-yield investments. Mezzanine and credit opportunity funds typically have positively skewed returns, with more unexpected gains than losses.

Due to the broad range of strategies that mezzanine and credit opportunity funds may follow, investors can earn interest income and equity-like returns through convertible debt strategies.  Funds can gain exposure to assets that should predictably recoup principal and generate alpha (excess return relative to a benchmark). Another advantage is that private debt funds can incorporate diversification of investments by country, sector, or rating. Thus, lowering volatility of returns.

The pursuit of high returns, however, is not without risk, as these private debt strategies take a bet that returns exceed losses in the case of SMEs defaulting on payments. Mezzanine and credit opportunity funds often carry a higher premium to compensate for this.

As can be seen from developed markets, a flood of funding into the debt market could lead to private debt funds hastily pursuing even riskier options, such as “distressed debt” (lending to companies on the verge of bankruptcy), resulting in eroding industry returns. This has sparked fears of a “private debt bubble”.

In Africa, however, the debt market is a long way from reaching capacity. Private debt in Africa is expected to have potential over the long-term as an established part of investors’ portfolios. Investors into Africa willing to accept the risk could create real value for SMEs, the key drivers of economic growth. The development of the private debt market is essential to unlocking this potential.

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About the Author

Kelsey Tanner completes independent valuations of private companies across Africa. In her role as senior private equity analyst, she prepares investment valuation reports for private equity industry clients. Kelsey also conducts industry research and compiles reports such as the Bright Africa (Private Equity) and the RisCura SAVCA Private Equity Performance reports, which provide insight into industry returns. Kelsey qualified as a Chartered Accountant (SA) in 2017 after completing her articles in KPMG’s financial services division, where she gained experience in valuation modelling and unlisted instrument valuation. She joined RisCura in February 2017.

Financing African SMEs: can more of the same help bridge the gap?

24.10.2017Rodrigo Deiana, Junior Policy Analyst & Arthur Minsat, Head of Unit, OCDE

This post was originally published on the OECD Development Matters website.

African firms don’t have it easy. Among the many constraints faced by formal companies, access to finance consistently ranks as a top issue. Almost 20% of formal African companies cite access to finance as a constraint to their business.[i] Overall, African micro, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) face a financing shortfall of about USD 190 billion from the traditional banking sector.[ii] African firms are 19% less likely to have a bank loan, compared to other regions of the world. Within Africa, small enterprises are 30% less likely to obtain bank loans than large ones and medium-sized enterprises are 13% less likely.[iii]

To bridge this gap, governments and market players need to strengthen existing credit channels as well as expand new financing mechanisms.

Various innovative financing instruments are currently expanding or present strong growth potential across Africa. Private equity funds invested a total of USD 22.7 billion in Africa across 919 deals between 2011 and 2016, although less transactions took place in the last months. Most took place in capital-intensive sectors such as telecommunications and energy.[iv] Asset-based lending can ease some stringent conditions associated with traditional credit. Experiences in Burkina Faso (with Burkina Bail) and South Africa suggest that commercial banks and other financial operators can engage in factoring and leasing services, without the need for additional legislation.[v]

At the same time, many entrepreneurs can directly harness new financing mechanisms such as crowd-funding or venture capital within and outside Africa. Togolese entrepreneur Afate Gnikou successfully used crowdfunding to raise the capital for a prototype 3D printer from recycled electronic waste selling at an affordable price of less than USD 100. Nigeria’s online movie entrepreneur Jason Njoku, for one, raised USD 8 million in venture capital from African and global investors. Andela, a pan-African start-up launched in 2014 that pairs coders with global companies, recently obtained USD 40 million in funding from an African venture capital fund.[vi] This opens the door for African entrepreneurs to look for funding within the continent rather than in Europe or North America. Return migrants are using remittances, expatriate savings or loans to fund their businesses. More international equity funds are providing seed or venture capital to African SMEs, often by specialising in African markets with a mix of private and public funds.[vii]

Many other instruments can help fill SMEs’ financing gap: microfinance for SMEs, direct support from development partners (e.g. the African Development Bank’s Souk At-Tanmia initiative, providing financing and mentoring services to entrepreneurs), and philanthropic finance (the Tony Elumelu Foundation’s support to start-ups in Africa regularly makes the headlines; other initiatives are also growing such as the think tank Land of African Business).

However, these innovative financing solutions are out of reach for the majority of small businesses operating in the informal economy. To bridge the financing gap, we must also improve traditional credit channels by expanding best practices in the financial sector.

Some emphasise the role of traditional instruments, such as credit guarantee schemes (CGSs). CGSs are guarantees by third parties -- governments or development partners -- that can cover a portion of the lenders’ losses from loans to SMEs, significantly reducing default risk for banks. CGSs can benefit small businesses that have little collateral, no credit history or are perceived as too risky. Policy experiences outside Africa (from Turkey and Malaysia) have shown that CGSs can avoid creating market distortions.[viii] A set of key principles can guide the design of effective guarantee schemes without incentivising lending to high-risk borrowers. They can also contribute to reducing poverty. In Tanzania, for instance, several of these guarantees effectively channelled funds to the more vulnerable groups otherwise unable to access credit, such as smallholder farmers as well as micro and small entrepreneurs.[ix] CGSs can also work on a larger scale, as shown by the African Guarantee Fund’s experience. Commercial banks leveraged the Fund’s USD 230 million in guarantees to lend out double that amount to 1 300 SMEs, generating 11 000 jobs. The Fund reached break-even point and started turning profits in just three years, quadrupling its revenue.[x] 

Many solutions exist to bridge the financing gap faced by Africa’s SMEs. Finding a balance between traditional and innovative financing depends on each country’s context. While the 54 African countries are very diverse, three main issues stand out. First: developing regulations and policies (e.g. on tax compliance, contract enforcement) that are flexible enough for innovation by African entrepreneurs. Second, broadening and widening financial solutions that are accessible to the most vulnerable groups. For example, Rwanda’s financial sector has been able to diversify despite its small size, with banks, savings cooperatives, microfinance institutions all tailoring their products to different target social groups. Finally, governments must aim to ensure macro-economic stability by avoiding market distortions and excessive risk taking. In this sense, the establishment of SME Authorities may help reduce information asymmetries and reduce lending risks. To achieve these objectives and increase the financial sources available to small African businesses expanded co-operation between governments, development partners and the private sector will remain vital.


[i] AfDB/OECD/UNDP (2017) African Economic Outlook 2017: Entrepreneurship and Industrialisation: 210, calculations based on The World Bank Enterprise Surveys. World Bank Enterprise Surveys cover firms in the formal sector with at least 5 employees.

[ii] Based on data from IFC’s Enterprise Finance Gap Database

[iii] AfDB/OECD/UNDP (2017): 225, based on Beck and Cull (2014), “SME finance in Africa”, Journal of African Economies, Vol. 23 (5), pp. 583-613

[iv] AVCA (2017), 2016 Annual African Private Equity Data Tracker

[v] Based on evidence from factoring and leasing services in Burkina Faso (through the financial company Burkina Bail) and South Africa (through the commercial banking sector), the Bank of Namibia argued for the possibility of successfully replicating such services in Namibia. See AfDB/OECD/UNDP (2017): 226 for further information.

[vii] Severino, J.-M. and J. Hajdenberg (2016), Entreprenante Afrique, Odile Jacob, Paris.

[viii] IFC (2010), Scaling-Up SME Access to Financial Services in the Developing World

[x] AfDB/OECD/UNDP (2017): 226, based on African Guarantee Fund, 2015 Annual Report

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About the Authors

Rodrigo Deiana is a Junior Policy Analyst in the OECD Development Centre's Africa Unit as part of the UN's JPO Programme financed by Italy. He contributed to the 2017 edition of the African Economic Outlook (AEO), and among other topics works on policy aspects of international trade and financial sector development in Africa. Before joining the OECD, Rodrigo was an economist in the Government of Rwanda as part of the ODI Fellowship, advising on regional integration, trade policy, and private sector development. He also worked as consultant to the World Bank Group in Kigali on matters of agricultural policy. Prior to that, he worked at the European Central bank in Frankfurt and at the World Trade Organization in Geneva. Rodrigo holds a Master's degree from the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics and a BA in International Economics from the University of Nottingham.

Arthur Minsat leads the OECD Development Centre's Africa Unit. He is responsible for the African Economic Outlook (AEO), a partnership with the African Development Bank and UNDP, and the Revenue Statistics in Africa, a joint publication by OECD, the African Union Commission and the African Tax Administration Forum. As lead economist, Arthur drafted the thematic chapters of the AEO 2017 on Entrepreneurship and Industrialisation, AEO 2016 on Sustainable Cities, AEO 2015 on Regional Development. Before joining the OECD, Arthur contributed to the UNDP's flagship Human Development Reports. He worked in Abidjan during the electoral crisis in 2010 and 2011, monitoring West Africa's economic outlook for the United Nations Operations in Côte d'Ivoire (ONUCI). Prior to that, he taught economics and international relations in several British universities and gained private sector experience with Wolters Kluwer Transport Services. Arthur holds a PhD from the London School of Economics (LSE) and a Franco-German double diploma from Sciences-Po Lille and the University of Münster.

Message from the MFW4A Partnership Coordinator

30.01.2017David Ashiagbor

Dear Readers,

Let me begin by wishing you all a very happy and prosperous 2017, on behalf of all of us at the MFW4A Secretariat.

2016 was a rewarding year for MFW4A. We were proud to host the first Regional Conference on Financial Sector Development in African States Facing Fragile Situations (FCAS) in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, jointly with the African Development Bank, FSD Africa, and FIRST Initiative. The conference attracted some 140 policy makers, business leaders, academics and development partners from over 30 countries, to discuss the role of the financial sector in addressing fragility. The conference has already led to several initiatives by MFW4A and our partners in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Somalia. We expect to build on this work in 2017.

Our support to the Conférence Interafricaine des Marchés d'Assurances (CIMA), the insurance regulator for francophone Africa, helped them to secure financing of EUR 2.5 million from the Agence Française de Développement. The funding will help to expand access to insurance in a region where penetration rates are less than 2% - well below the average for the continent. We worked closely with a number of our funding partners to help define their strategies in Digital Finance and Long Term Finance. These results are a clear demonstration of how the Partnership can directly support the operations of its membership.

With the support of our Supervisory Committee, we took steps to ensure the long term sustainability of the Partnership. The approval of a revised governance structure which fully integrates African financial sector stakeholders, public and private, was a first critical step. The ultimate objective is to expand membership and build a true partnership of all stakeholders in Africa's financial sector.

2017 will be a year of transition for the Partnership. It marks the end of MFW4A's third phase, and the beginning of its transformation into a new, more inclusive partnership, with an expanded membership. We will focus on revamping our value proposition to provide more focused, needs based services with the potential to directly impact our current and potential membership. In so doing, we hope to consolidate MFW4A's position as the leading platform for knowledge, advocacy and networking on financial sector development in Africa.

In closing, I must, on behalf of all of us at the MFW4A Secretariat, thank all our funding partners, stakeholders and supporters, for your constant support and encouragement over the years. We look forward to working together to strengthen our Partnership.

With our best wishes for a happy and prosperous 2017,

David Ashiagbor
MFW4A Partnership Coordinator

Private Equity for Africa’s Transformation: What Governments Can Do

07.09.2015Excerpt from Innovative Financing for the Economic Transformation of Africa*

African Governments have a key role to play in promoting private equity as one of the major potential sources of investments for enhancing growth and development in their countries. Areas for government intervention include the following:

Improving the legal and regulatory environment: The private-equity industry needs policies and regulatory frameworks that foster its growth. Policymakers need to have deeper understanding of the industry in order to develop these policies. Most private-equity funds on the continent are registered in countries with good regulations, and flexibility in the free flow of funds. No player wants to set up a holding company in a country with fund transfer restrictions.

Building the talent pool: Private equity is effective only when managers are prudent in using capital to grow businesses in a sustainable manner. In Africa, however, the industry is still new and the continent lacks adequate skilled and experienced fund managers. Governments should create the enabling environment for Africa to attract and retain more talent in the form of skilled and experienced managers, specifically with operational experience, in order to make the industry grow.

Creating awareness among key private-equity players: There is limited knowledge about the industry in a number of countries, as well as very little or no engagement between private equity industry players and regulators, resulting in communication gaps between them. Policymakers need to understand the issues affecting the industry, including political risk. There is, therefore, a need for greater engagement between policymakers and private-equity actors.

Improving availability of funds for the private equity industry: Finding adequate financial resources for the private-equity industry remains one of the major challenges in many African countries. This calls for an urgent need to explore how Governments could facilitate the flow of capital into private equity. Normally pension funds are restricted in what they can invest in for reasons of prudence, including even restrictions in investing in companies that are listed on stock markets. African Governments should find a way to ensure that these pension funds are invested in private equity, albeit wisely and responsibly. They are also encouraged to explore co-financing and co-sharing opportunities with other private-equity investors, in sectors such as infrastructure financing (for example energy, telecommunications and water). The Ghana Venture Capital Trust Fund is a good example of such a public-private partnership initiative, partly financed by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning.

Encouraging investment of local African capital into private equity: Building up private equity in Africa entails accelerating development of the ecosystem and sourcing investments from local capital markets and funds. There is a need to improve the knowledge of local African investors through education, better understanding of the asset class, incentives and the regulatory framework. Significant sources of local capital (pension funds, family offices, sovereign funds, high net worth individuals, diaspora) can be tapped both for investing and exiting private equity assets.

Encouraging more impact investments: Adequate consideration should be given to investing in sectors that could positively change the lives of many people, while making decent returns for the investors. In this regard, Governments should provide special incentives for private equity firms to put their money into sectors such as agriculture, where the majority of the poor are actively involved.

Other enabling measures to enhance the role of Governments

Enabling measures need to be specific to each country. Private equity is not exclusively driven by the size of an economy or opportunity. Some countries have policies that are friendlier to private equity-friendly than other countries. Governments need to maintain policies that allow them to foster growth. The macro, political and socioeconomic situations are the driver for an enabling environment.

Governments should therefore make the effort to implement and sustain strong macroeconomic reforms. Governments should strengthen the bond and equity markets by introducing securities-lending, encouraging new listing requirements and supporting companies for listing and post-listing, especially as there are not many companies listed in sectors such as agriculture and oil and gas. Governments are also urged to open sectors such as telecommunications, banking and insurance services for investment, as these provide key opportunities for private equity investors.

African investors cannot move around as easily as foreign investors. This deters local investment. Governments should enact policies that encourage local investors and foreign investors alike. In this regard, implementing protocols on the free movement of people and capital across the continent will be very beneficial.

Furthermore, efforts to accelerate the achievement of the objectives of Africa's regional integration in areas such as trade facilitation and infrastructure networks can greatly boost the ecosystem for private equity and for investments in general.

 

*If you find value in this excerpt, you may enjoy reading the full book, Innovative Financing for the Economic Transformation of Africa, a publication of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

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