Ask someone for a large donation and the person is likely to balk. If considerate, a polite plea to mull it for a while might be made. Ask for something smaller, akin to pocket change, and there probably would not be much resistance to it. That is the underlying wisdom behind crowdfunding.
The network effect of the internet means small donations from a vast number of people can amount to a lot. Now imagine if, instead of a charitable course, the proposition is one of profit, naturally with some risk. It has the potential to attract many takers.
But how is that any different from the normal stock or bond issuance process? Do interested investors not similarly take as many units of a share or bond sale as they want or can afford? Well, crowdfunding avoids the regulators and transcends borders. Of course, these supposed advantages also come with risks. Even so, they provide an opportunity for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to secure alternative sources of financing in difficult environments; especially in African countries where SMEs constitute more than 90% of businesses, according to the International Finance Corporation (IFC). SMEs also account for about 80% of employment in Africa. Top among their challenges is access to credit; which even when they are able to secure, is usually at exorbitant interest rates.
Crowdfunding, a form of so-called “alternative debt”, is just one of a few new approaches to financing SMEs. Asset-based finance is already widely used. Approaches other than the typical bank debt are beginning to be used, with fancy titles like hybrid instruments and equity instruments, albeit limitedly, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Crowdfunding is different in that it is mostly project-focused, as opposed to financing the entire business. Although still mostly debt financing, equity type financing is beginning to evolve. Whether it is via donations, reward or sponsorship, pre-selling or pre-ordering, lending or equity, not needing an intermediary other than the platform through which the financing is facilitated is a key attraction. And potential returns to backers need not be financial. For the reward or sponshorship type, an acknowledgement, service or token of appreciation suffices.
As the name implies, investors who back a venture in the pre-selling or pre-ordering format sometimes expect no more than the product they backed before it gets to the mass market; and may be at a much lower price. In the lending format, it is the typical payment of interest and principal that one finds in other credit environments that prevails. Alternatively, the parties could agree to share revenue and thus partake in the risk of the venture. And the equity form is no more than the investors buying into the venture via shares.
Global crowdfunding financing was $34.4 billion in 2015 and more than 70% of it was through lending, according to a 2016 report by research firm Massolution. How much of this went to Africa? A paltry $24.2 million, which is less than 1%. Most crowdfunding financing still takes place in North America ($17.25 billion) and Europe ($6.48 billion); about 70% of the global total.
Since crowdfunding has so far been limited in Africa, what is the potential for indigenous platforms? A sense of this potential would first have to be inferred from current savings in African countries of about 15% of GDP, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This is not ideal. What funds could potentially be put into such ventures are increasingly destined for ponzi-type schemes that offer ridiculously high returns. That is not to say there is no potential. In Nigeria recently, funds were successfully raised for the family of a deceased policeman via crowdfunding. But if the object is a business venture, without the sentimentality of a supposed noble cause, how easy would it be to similarly mobilize funds?
It seems the potential is limited – for now at least. – Written by Victor Mamora
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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