11r the past few years, Kenya has witnessed considerable growth in Shariah-compliant products, a sign of the vast potential of Islamic finance in Kenya. The country now boasts two fully fledged Islamic banks, one fully fledged insurance provider (Takaful), one Islamic fund manager and one approved Collective Investment Scheme (CIS). For all this, as at December 2014, the Global Islamic Finance Report (GIFR), the developers and publishers of the Islamic Finance Country Index (IFCI), an indicator of developments in Islamic financial services, ranked Kenya 22nd globally and third in Africa behind Sudan and Egypt, but ahead of South Africa, Tunisia, Algeria, Nigeria, Senegal and the Gambia.
According to the IMF’s Islamic Finance: Opportunities, Challenges and Policy Options, Kenya is poised to see further contributions in at least three dimensions: greater financial inclusion, especially of large underserved Muslim populations; greater support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME), due to its risk-sharing features; and the lowering of systemic risk, owing to its prohibition of speculation – a major risk for conventional finance. Clearly, the decision to amend the Central Bank Act, allowing the monetary authority to recognize the payment of profits based on income from underlying assets rather than interest on government securities, thereby opening up the spectrum of Sharia-compliant investments, was a sound one.
Kenya is now gearing up to issue its eagerly-awaited Sukuk (Islamic bond) in the 2016/2017 fiscal year, hoping to limit domestic borrowing and increase funding for mega infrastructure projects. The government appears to be following in the footsteps of Senegal and South Africa, both of which managed to raise $200 million and $500 million respectively through Sukuks. Countries and companies raise $100 billion globally every year through Sukuks, with African countries accounting for just 1% of the issues. The planned sovereign issue is also set to pave the way for the private sector and further development of Kenya’s capital markets.
From a sovereign perspective, through Islamic bonds, the Kenyan government will able to access a new investor base. According to a report by Standard & Poor’s (S&P), the Islamic Sukuk investor base is estimated to be over $500 billion, excluding sovereign wealth funds, official investors (central banks and multilateral organizations), and other conventional investors. Essentially, the move will tap into a vast pool of Persian wealth.
Sukuk bonds are known to offer more favorable repayment terms than conventional bonds and therefore attract infrastructure financing. It’s also worth noting that investors from the Middle East accounted for only 2% of Kenya’s debut Eurobond. The planned Shariah-compliant bond should see a ramp up in participation.
Individual investors in the country are also set to benefit immensely as Shariah-compliant products are not restricted to Muslims. What is also vital, perhaps due to its unique qualities, is that Islamic finance has become a good vehicle to diversify risk away from traditional asset classes. It is noted that Sukuk bonds and other financial instruments avoided many of the most severe consequences of the recent financial crisis because they were underpinned by equity, as opposed to debt. For instance, while the S&P 500 dropped 64%, Shariah-compliant indices lost no more than 53% and showed lower volatility, according to KPMG’s report, Islamic finance: From niche to mainstream.
Although Islamic finance has already taken off, there are some challenges facing the niche market. In January, the first International Islamic Finance Conference of Africa was held in Nairobi. It highlighted issues around regulations, investor education, compliance, and the limited range of available products and services. Kenya needs to deal with these challenges to see a smooth increase in Islamic financial products in its financial markets.
As the country positions itself as a financial and investment hub to tap into the growing capital inflows into Africa, it is important to celebrate the milestones achieved so far while working to improve further. With Islamic finance set to grow to $3 trillion within the next decade, according to S&P’s report: Islamic Finance To Still Grow In 2016 But With A Sag, rising popularity of Shariah-compliant products in Kenya will surely contribute to the country’s growth story.
Cryptocurrency for Africans
George Gordon is on a quest to revolutionize the financial system. The director of Africa Master Blockchain Company talks digital currencies, blind risks and board games.
What is this new African cryptocurrency you are offering?
Where the majority of current digital currencies are based on speculative models, AfriUnion Coin (AUC) and the AfriNational Tokens (ANT)are designed for a transactional purpose allowing international payments, remittances, foreign direct investment as well as day-to-day transactions at local retail stores and other outlets. While the option for speculative trade is available with AUC, the focus is not around that.
Each African country will have a specially-designed ANT which will allow users to pay for goods and services and bills easily through completely digital means without requiring any bank account. AUC and ANT will be fully interchangeable to one another and there will be no fees for the user.
It’s the natural next step for digital finance from mobile banking which most Africans are accustomed to. The ability to freely have the power to send and receive money locally and internationally will allow the freedom of choice and spending power many Africans don’t have currently.
What is your own investment philosophy?
I am a gambler! I believe in taking risks and putting things on the line. That being said, blind risk or whimsical guesses don’t get you very far. Always acquire enough information to understand to a reasonable level what the thing you are planning on investing is or how it works and then trust your instinct and gut feel.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs wanting to invest in blockchain?
First, do some research in terms of what the blockchain technology is being applied for or created in terms of its application to an industry or project. Thereafter, check the white paper for the design of the platform as well as its functionality and applicability to what it is trying to achieve. If it aligns with your personal investment rules, then go for it,however, remember that blockchain is continuously evolving and thus you need to explore outside the usual and standard.
First cash-less, now card-less. What is the future of online banking?
If we are looking into what is currently science fiction, I would say the future is digital contact lenses that will be able to connect you to all your social media accounts, internet, news as well as make payments by just looking at QR codes or specialized barcodes to approve and accept payments.
Now, realistically we are not far off from such innovation and technology, but for the time being, I think the next step is scanning of QR codes at retailers and having the transaction automated from your wallet to the retailers digitally.
What is your most prized investment and why?
My mind. I believe that the work I have put into developing my mind, and continue to do so every day, is the number one investment that I have ever done. It allows me to look at things in a unique perspective as well as provides me with the tools to push boundaries and create new opportunities.
Money, success, fame? Which is most important to you?
I would have to say success… because it is most likely going to bring the other two as well, right? But success in the form of starting something and letting it grow and succeed and knowing that something new exists because of your efforts.
What do you spend your money on mostly?
Board games. I love board games and believe it’s a fantastic way to expand your mind as well as have fun with friends.
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King Price Insurance’s CEO Gideon Galloway, who built an insurance company in South Africa worth over $226 million in six years, talks investments, industry trends and how self-driving cars will change the entire car insurance landscape.
Offering The American Dream
Gar Lippincott and Daniel Ryan of Atlantic American Partners were in South Africa recently looking for high-net-worth individuals wanting to invest in the US.
It’s a warm spring day in September, and Gar Lippincott and Daniel Ryan have just arrived in South Africa. It is Lippincott’s first time in the country, and he is jet-lagged.
A little over two months ago, he was booked to fly here from the United States (US) but was turned back at immigration.
“At Atlanta airport, the lady looked at Daniel’s visa and let him through and she looked at my visa and she said ‘I am afraid you can’t get on the plane because you have to have a blank page on your passport’. I said ‘I have three blank pages’ and she said ‘no, it’s supposed to be the one that says visa on it’. She said it’s the rules in South Africa so I had to sadly go back home… now when I was coming, I was told that’s not an issue anymore so I am happy they have made traveling into the country easier,” says Lippincott.
With a brand-new passport, he’s here with Ryan looking for people who want to invest in the US in exchange for a green card.
Lippincott, the Managing Partner of Atlantic American Partners, says he has always been keen on South Africa for its growth opportunities and prospects.
“From what I understand, the things that are causing short-term decline in the economy in South Africa are set up to provide long-term growth and hopefully people will understand this,” he says. Ryan, the company’s Managing Director of Emerging Markets – Africa, agrees: “I lived in Malawi for 12 years and South Africa is still considered the shining one throughout the continent. Even with all the problems, everyone still wants to come here because of the opportunities.”
According to an AfrAsia Bank report, South Africa comes second to Mauritius in boasting the highest number of high-net-worth individuals.
These are the kind of people Ryan and Lippincott target through their work at Atlantic American Partners. The company has real estate investors and professional private equity fund managers that manage money for banks, insurance companies, and pension funds. In addition, they help people get US green cards and ultimately US citizenship through the US government’s EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program.
“Basically we look for people who want to move to the United States and we help them do so legally by investing and the nice thing is, with our program, they are also able to get a nice return on investment,” he says.
According to Lippincott, for a $500,000 investment that creates 10 jobs for American workers, you could get a green card in about two years and be a US citizen in about six or seven years. “Twenty seven countries have an investor visa program but with most of them, it’s essentially a fee you pay, or you need to be actively engaged in the day-to-day operation of a business. For example, you invest $1.5 million in Australia, but you need to hire employees and generate a certain amount of revenue. One of the biggest advantages with our program is you actually invest the $500,000 into a fund. We act as a trustee of that money and within five to seven years, they get that money back with a bit of return on investment and you are a permanent citizen in the US.”
Atlantic American Partners invests the money in real estate developments like hotels, apartments and student accommodation.
“What’s nice about the program is it doesn’t only cover the investor; it covers the spouse and children under 21. Our biggest family was a Hungarian family with seven children so they got nine green cards for $500,000,” says Lippincott.
The company says it has had positive response in South Africa. “Two months ago, we were here and we had scheduled six presentations for 100 people and we ended up speaking to 450 people. Most were business people, people worried about the economy, people worried about the political future of South Africa and people concerned about the education future of their children,” says Ryan.
According to Lippincott, despite the news of the clampdown on immigration, the US economy is booming and will perish without immigration. In the era of Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant views, that’s heartening news indeed.
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