Retail and consumer markets are buoyant in developing countries throughout the globe. Personal incomes in many of these regions have increased steadily over the years, prompting the emergence of a growing middle class. Africa is no different. According to World Bank estimates, our continent is home to more than a billion people, a figure expected to increase to more than 2.5 billion by 2050. Perhaps, more crucially Africa has one of the fastest growing youth populations in the world.
PwC recently released a report, So Much in Store, which is an in-depth study into sub-Saharan Africa retail and consumer goods industries. The findings are compelling. The report provides a five-year outlook by focusing on 10 African economies that PwC believes offer substantial opportunities for retail and consumer businesses looking to expand into African markets. These countries include: Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Zambia and Côte d’Ivoire. Despite a slowing Chinese economy, and subsequent lower commodity prices, having a knock-on effect on real GDP growth in a number of African economies, there appears to be a silver lining. African economies predominantly reliant on commodities are beginning to diversify.
The growing consumption of the middle class in Africa has been driven by several key factors, such as: an increase in internet usage and accessibility; ubiquitous use of social media; private healthcare; and budding retail property developments (malls). Consumers in sub-Saharan Africa in particular are becoming more brand conscious and aspirational; they are willing to satisfy their needs and wants at a whim provided they can afford it.
“Africans are becoming more connected to global trends than ever before as a result of growth in internet penetration and travel,” says Anton Hugo, PwC Africa Retail and Consumer Industry Leader.
There’s been a spike in the level of consumer discernment when it comes to their purchasing decisions, thereby stimulating retailers to create new products to meet this demand.
One issue highlighted by PwC is that there are several misconceptions about doing business in Africa. Like going into any new business venture, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach. Firstly, Africa is home to more than 50 countries, with even more languages, including indigenous dialects. It’s integral that companies seeking to enter African markets get their hands dirty, on the ground, to gain an understanding of the region. A business can ill-afford going into any part of Africa with preconceived notions. Instead, firms should take the approach of immersing themselves into the culture of the local people to understand the dynamics of business in that country.
In addition, having the right strategy cannot be over-emphasized. Strategy can strengthen or decimate a business in an instant. Some firms fail to recognize a strategy that has been successful in South Africa, for example, does not necessarily translate to success in other African countries. Firms must formulate a unique and well-thought strategy for the different markets it aims to enter to avoid becoming another casualty, similar to Woolworths in Nigeria.
Despite the varying challenges that are slowing growth in the retail and consumer businesses in Africa, the PwC report assures companies that the opportunities far outweigh the impediments. There are enormous opportunities yet to be realized: retail trade in Africa is still largely concentrated in informal markets; the online retail industry is still in its infancy and intra-African trade is incredibly low.
“Each country in Africa has its own value proposition. Smart investing in Africa means investors need to understand key regions and local markets. Furthermore, investors need to note that there are specific risk factors underlying the development of Africa. Despite these risks, investors and retailers will continue to see the African market as a huge opportunity,” says Hugo.
When opportunities aren’t realized, they remain idle. Development in Africa and expanding African retail and consumer businesses in Africa will require collective action from business and governments. Governments need to invest in infrastructure, such as transport networks, in order to open more markets.
It will be interesting to witness the progress of the African retail and consumer business sector in the next five years. The odds are in its favor; now let’s see whether it can thrive.
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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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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