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Banking On The Financial Freedom Of African Women

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4G Capital’s Chief of Staff, Genevieve Hennessy-Barrett discusses how inclusion, female mentorship and shared knowledge can cross borders and heal Africa’s displaced and most vulnerable women.


Access to financial services and the freedom to open a bank account remains unattainable for many women around the world, and even more so in frontier markets. 

Some progress has been made; the number of bank accounts owned by women now equals men in South Africa.  But, elsewhere on our continent, the situation is not so encouraging.  According to a 2017 Global Findex report, the gender gap remains, on average, just over 9% across Sub-Saharan Africa, unchanged since 2011.  

We are all too familiar with the numerous reasons why women all over the world find it difficult to gain financial independence.  In ‘emerging’ markets there exists an even greater lack of opportunity in terms of education and work, and in some cases a cultural expectation that can prevent women from investing in their own future. 

But no matter the challenge, women have always adapted and overcome through the creation of their own opportunities, and have worked together to protect and support their families and communities.

Female entrepreneurs make significant contributions to local and national economies. The SME Finance Forum’s research indicates that almost one third of the world’s small businesses are owned by women and account for 32% of the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME)  finance gap, estimated to be worth be $5.2 trillion.

4G Capital’s Chief of Staff, Genevieve Hennessy-Barrett. Picture: Supplied

Lack of collateral, official identification and correct paperwork, are the primary reasons for financial exclusion.  Access to credit is often extremely difficult for MSMEs, and even more so for small businesses owned by women who are often given less favourable terms than their male peers. 

As a fintech credit company working with MSMEs who are typically excluded from traditional financial institutions, 4G Capital has sought to bridge not only the finance gap, but also address the gap in financial literacy.  By combining these offerings we can alleviate poverty sustainably and unlock vital human potential.  We are on target to positively impact more than 1 million people by 2020. 

We believe it is our blend of finance and education delivered via ‘touch-tech’ that is responsible for our appeal to many female business owners. Although we did not focus our marketing strategy on gender, 81% of our customers are female. 

We are able to support their development through a bespoke programme of business training to help them use our micro-loans to achieve much higher take-home earnings.  

According to recent research by one of our partners, Technoserve, this combination of training combined with working capital credit resulted in an 82% increase in revenue year-on-year.

But imagine the challenges faced by women who have had to flee their own countries, seeking refuge and safety for themselves and often for their children. Determined to build a sustainable future, their plight has gained the attention of RefuSHE, a charity set to provide support to refugee women in Kenya.

4G Capital has initiated a program to deliver business training and mentorship to RefuSHE’s Girls’ Empowerment Project (GEP), designed to give access to education and livelihood opportunities, while learning about human rights and cultivating leadership skills.

We kick started this partnership by welcoming the girls at one of our 4G Capital branches.  They were given training on basic business principles such as book keeping and responsible management of business credit.

Based on what they learnt, RefuSHE’s girls have now taken part in our Business Plan Competition.  

Successful participants have been taken forward to internships and matched with successful female entrepreneurs who are customers of 4G Capital.  

They will be supported, mentored and trained. The hope is that with this initiative, these girls who were once so vulnerable will now gain the necessary skills to run a successful business, be part of a community and build a new life.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we’d like to honour all the women of Africa striving to build a future for themselves and their communities by saluting their determination, knowledge, wisdom, humour and humanity in the face of the challenges which affect us all.

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FOCUS ON CAMEROON: The Heart Of Africa Unleashing Its Potential From Within

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“As a source of creativity and vitality, our diversity blends harmoniously with our desire to live together, to lay the groundwork for our constant quest for the consolidation of our country’s unity.” – President Paul Biya

Many consider Cameroon to be a source of life for Africa due to its size, connectivity, advantageous position and accessible coastline. It serves as an entryway for other landlocked countries and its ports position Cameroon’s economy in a rising trend, registering 4.2% annual growth, with estimations that it will reach 5% in 2020. Much of Cameroon’s economic growth is due to its diversity, and under the guidance of President Paul Biya and PM Joseph Dion Ngute, Cameroon is dedicated to solidifying its role as a major economic player by improving its infrastructure, finance, energy, and ICT sectors, among others. These positive changes are set to create new opportunities for investment and improve the country’s rating in the ease of doing business index. 

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In the infrastructure sector, Cameroon is working towards improving its foundations on which they can build the future. The port sector is building new and modernising its ports to enhance trade, exports and transportation. For example, the Kribi port is a new port that is designed to ease the flow of traffic from the current ports that experience high volume. As the younger port in Cameroon, the port is also well located in the centre of Africa, making it a prime location for new investment opportunities. “It is one of the deepest [ports] in the area of the Gulf of Guinea, and our infrastructure and equipment are very modern,” says Patrice Melom, General Manager of the Port Authority of Kribi.

Additionally, the infrastructure and tourism sectors are combining forces with the establishment of new routes for Cameroon’s airline, Camair-Co. As the airline expands from domestic to inter-regional and intercontinental flights, the economy of Cameroon will enjoy a large influx of Forex to boost the economy. Not to mention, Cameroon’s new Japoma Sports Complex project, will aid Cameroon greatly as they host the 2021 African Cup of Nations, an event that is destined to show visitors from all over the world just what Cameroon has to offer. Additionally, this stadium will continue to help the country prosper, boosting other sectors.Tufan Sercan, Regional Director of Yenigün Construction Company, says, “Japoma will re- ally be a nice complex, it should certainly attract real estate.”

As the country advances in infrastructure and tourism, the energy sector is ready to handle the influx of persons visiting. To begin, Cameroon is investing in clean energy as a means to eliminate reliance on imported fuels. Universal access to energy is at the top of the Cameroonian government’s agenda. Not only is the sector working towards enhancing its electricity sector, they are also exploring natural gas options that will make the country more self-sufficient. Not to mention, the country has a wealth of renewable sources of energy, such as hydro, solar, geothermal, biomass and wind energy. The successful implementation of Lom Pangar dam has allowed Cameroon to decrease its dependence on thermal power plants. The plant guarantees less cost and pollution, not to mention an additional 700 GWh of hydroelectric generation, almost twice that of a thermal power station that runs on heavy fuel oil. Dr Theodore Nsangou states, “These efforts are why the World Bank cites the Lom Pangar Project as a successful model of hydropower development.”

In today’s world, finance and ICT are closely related. As the coverage of internet access throughout the country has exploded from 4.3% in 2013 to 43.6% in 2018, more Cameroonians are connected now than ever. Taking that into consideration, the financial sector is digitising its services to make sure that financial inclusion is a thing of the past. Ecobank, for example, recognises that digitalisation is one of the biggest changes the Cameroonian financial sector is experiencing today, and they see it as an opportunity to strengthen its role as the digital leader of the market. “With our services, clients can send money to anybody anywhere there is an Ecobank,” says Gwendoline Nzo-Nguty Abunaw, Managing Director of Ecobank.

There is an old proverb that states, “There lies a lion in every heart.” As Cameroon is one of the hearts of Africa, we can see that this proverb holds true for the potential of the country and its unique place in Africa. Through preparations of infrastructure, which lead directly into aiding the tourism sector and motivate other sectors such as energy, ICT and finance, it is clear that Cameroon is preparing for a prosperous future that will allow the lion’s roar to be heard from all over the world.

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The Laws Of Impactful Banking

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Human rights icons such as Albie Sachs and Dulla Omar shaped the early career choices of Yasmin Masithela, the Managing Executive of Transactional Banking at Absa Corporate and Investment Banking. These human rights lawyers inspired her to pursue a career in law spurred by hope to have impact on the South African society.

Masithela chose Corporate Law and after graduating and went into private practice with Webber Wentzel Attorneys and later an Associate at Siemens in the Project and Export Finance Division. The lure of being able to self-determine would soon become great, and Masithela joined forces with professional friends to form their own law practice.

She became a founding partner at Phukubje Pierce & Masithela Attorneys, where among other roles, Masithela was Head of Mergers, Acquisitions and Project Finance.  The young and aspiring firm was idyllic and passionate about making a difference, but collectively they had little experience as entrepreneurs at the time.

READ MORE | The Evolution Of Compliance In The Banking Sector

The fine balance between survival and aspiration that most entrepreneurs struggle with quickly became their reality, topped off with the common start-up challenge of having to wear multiple hats and struggling to break through in a traditional professional services industry.

“At the time we were idealistic – all we wanted to do was support our clients to protect their businesses and to grow,” she says, “only to find ourselves bogged down in multiple other mundane tasks and responsibilities necessary to keep the lights on. It was a constant roller coaster of highs and lows, feast and famine. I learned a lot that is permanently emblazoned in my mind – small business owners need a more supportive tax regime and help with managing cash flow and establishing structure that allows them to be viable.”

Masithela took the difficult decision to leave the partnership and go back into the corporate space. Some of her partners chose to stay in the business and they have fared very well.

Masithela’s stint as a free agent was short lived – she subsequently entered the corporate sector again and joined Absa in 2011. At Absa, she rose through the executive ranks, occupying various key roles as General Counsel and Head of Compliance for the Wealth, Investment Management and Insurance business before her appointment to the Absa’s Group Executive Committee as the Chief Compliance Officer in 2014.

READ MORE | People And Culture In The Workplace

In 2018 she took on an expanded role as the Chief Executive for Group Strategic Services – a portfolio that drove the group’s strategy including digital strategy, as well as the Human Resources and Culture agenda of the enterprise. The role allowed Masithela to play a key role in embedding the group’s new strategy and a renewed focus on its corporate culture under the new brand.

In March 2019 she took on a new challenge to run a substantial P&L as the Managing Executive for Transactional Banking within Absa’s Corporate and Investment Bank (CIB) business.

Masithela admits the transition from a specialist lawyer to a “generalist leader” is never an easy one, but emphasizes that this is what enterprise leadership requires – specialists who turn into generalists, with the ability to translate the vision of the group and lead many colleagues and other specialists into executing and delivering the vision. That said, generalists still must know enough about all facets of their business in order to run the business.

“I think analytical skills and system thinking is a natural by-product of being trained in Law, and in a large way eased my journey. There is also a lot to be said about leaning into opportunity, owning your seat at the table and being very deliberate about it,” she says.

She relishes the opportunity to provide strategic input and support to the overall Absa CIB business under the leadership of Chief Executive Charles Russon. “CIB’s strategy is grounded on growing primacy, which has a large dependency on the business I am responsible for,” Masithela explains.

“Transformation and Innovation are also critical for the bank as both our corporate and retail customers rapidly adopt digital technology. I am fascinated by and focused on our digital strategy, and with keeping up with global trends in corporate banking. We see a big transition for our industry to being customer-led and I am excited about the role I can play in this space within the CIB footprint and across the continent,” she says.

Like many in the industry, Masithela is concerned about the current tough economic environment in South Africa which is the bank’s largest market. There are strong economic headwinds across the African continent in the markets where Absa operates, but she sees opportunities even in this uncertain environment, by focusing on customer centricity using what she describes as “a clear pragmatic, service oriented approach” to drive growth in Transactional Banking.

 “Transactional banking is about transforming our client’s business through products and platforms of the bank that interact seamlessly with their business in order to help them operate with flexibility across their value chains, and to grow. That is Absa’s strength. Our strong presence across the continent helps facilitate the growth ambition of many of our clients, and indeed we often even help ignite those ambitions in some cases,” Masithela says.

Outside of work, the proud mother of three says time spent with her children grounds her and is a deep sense of comfort. Masithela enjoys other personal pursuits such as long-distance running, swimming and reading.

“When we were growing up, my parents kept the entire series of Encyclopaedia Britannica proudly displayed in the living room – that was our google back then. We were not allowed to say you didn’t know how to find the answer to anything – you go look it up!

This probably explains how I ended up going to law school where before the advent of digital research, we spent hundreds of hours scouring over journals and precedents. Today my reading tastes vary from cook books to autobiographies and science fiction.”

Travel is a passion she has grown to enjoy, and which gives her the opportunity to sample cuisines around the world, meet new people and experience new cultures. “I especially enjoy travel within the African continent where our history and heritage are truly rich and vibrant,” she says. Exploring new restaurants feeds her cooking passion and “guilty pleasure” of experimenting with new flavours.

“Good food need not be complex or high end … it’s the little things that make for a fantastic culinary experience: quality ingredients, technique, creativity, ambiance and value… and isn’t that a euphemism for life in general?”

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The Evolution Of Compliance In The Banking Sector

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Lindelwe Zwane, the Managing Executive: Compliance at Absa Corporate and Investment Banking says the role of compliance in the financial services sector has changed significantly over the years. Compliance has and continues to evolve to meet the ever increasing demands and complexity of financial regulation, she says.

“Compliance has to evolve from traditional methods of managing compliance towards integrated risk management using automation to leapfrog compliance from gatekeeper to game changer.

“To meet the demands of a rapidly changing financial services industry, the compliance function has to shift its focus by using data insights to inform decision making and creating value for the business,” she says.

READ MORE | People And Culture In The Workplace

She says there has been an increase in the use of robotics process automation and predictive analytics for risk assessment, monitoring and testing, complaints management, surveillance and regulatory reporting.  “This creates efficiency and saves costs in the long run,” Zwane says.

Zwane, who assumed her position in 2017 has a big task ahead of her.

“As the CIB Chief Compliance Officer, I am primarily responsible for overseeing the Compliance Programme for CIB globally to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements and policies of the bank. I am also responsible for safeguarding the reputation of the bank and driving culture change within the organisation,” she explains.

READ MORE | The Laws Of Impactful Banking

A qualified lawyer with 18 years post qualification experience, Zwane has worked in various roles in the industry including as a Legal Manager at Deloitte and as Senior Legal Counsel for Deutsche Bank in South Africa. She joined Absa in 2015.

She describes her rise in the corporate world as a journey of self-discovery and reinventing herself through learning. “This has helped me shift my mind-set and opened up new growth opportunities and challenges,” says Zwane, who leads a team of 30 professionals in her division.

She agrees that finding a perfect balance between work, personal and family life is always important, and this she achieves by being 100% present.

“Wendy Tan in her book Wholeness in a Disruptive World (2017) says balancing is not a 50:50 compromise. Its 100:100 over time. We need to be, think and act whole to do our best at work. This means that work life balance does not have to be a zero sum game,” Zwane says.

She handles pressure by staying focused on the goals to be accomplished and asking for help if she needs it.

Scanning the future, Zwane says in the next five to 10 years, she would like to be in a role where she can continually deepen and diversify her skills to become an enterprise leader. What is her advice to young, upcoming women professionals?  “Lift as you rise. We need women to invest in women,” she says.

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