Monthly Archives: November 2014

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Will Peer-to-peer lending or Equity Crowd funding take off in Africa?

beaufort 3

There are many articles written, including a few of mine, about the new funding craze – Crowdfunding.
For those new to this, crowdfunding is based on the concept where individuals – friends, family, the rich and the poor – have equal opportunity of investing in a project. The original model was started by American platform Kickstarter (http://www.kickstarter.com) and varied by others such as Indiegogo, Rockethub, Pozible (Australia), etc. During this period and up until early this year, Equity based platform were being restricted due to laws that did not allow it; however, since the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS Act) was signed into law in April 2012 by President Obama, American platforms have jumped onto the bandwagon and are applying the concept to practically all spheres of industry and business. One such area is the real estate industry.
Easy Financing
Since easing the rules regarding equity funding in the US, the real estate sector has benefited more than any other industry area, when it comes to sheer number of funds raised. In terms of numbers alone, there are more than 20 real estate crowdfunding platforms in the US. The notable ones include Fundrise, Realty Mogul, iFunding, CrowdStreet, Crowdbaron, Collarperty, Groundbreaker and Realtyshares. These are all American. Realty Mogul alone has raised in excess of $39million since 2013, funding assets in excess of $313million. IFunding has raised funds to finance real estate assets to the tune of $328million in value. The numbers keep getting exciting.
In the UK, which has become the defacto market after the US, because of its Silicon Roundabout (where our offices are), there are a few real estate platforms springing up, with less imaginative names such as Propertycrowd, Crowdfundproperty and Propertypartner. Indeed there are a few springing up in many other parts of Asia and Australia. iFunding, the US platform now has branches in Asia (iFundingAsia).

Africa’s Development Funding Crisis.
Question is: will peer-to-peer lending or equity based crowdfunding work for African projects? Apart from a scanty number of crowdfunding sites springing up in Africa, which is nothing really to write home about, I sincerely think that Africa is where this concept can really take off big time. In the real estate sector, it is easy for investors/lenders to advance monies to projects whose longevity is a maximum of 36 months. With returns ranging between 20-30% on average, this is a no brainer for investors.
There are many property developers with good business models in Africa, who just require short term funding. Unable to borrow from local banks due to the high interest costs, sometimes up to 31% on the local currency or 20% on the dollar rate, Property developers in Africa are now looking for alternative, cheaper ways of borrowing money to advance their objectives. With the huge funding gap in the real estate sector, any platform that will help raise development funding for developers will be a welcome relief to the industry in Africa.

Step Up…Property Investor Africa!
As I said, Property Investor Africa started from our offices near where they call “Silicon Roundabout” in the UK. We cannot therefore be left out in this innovative funding craze. We are about to launch Africa’s first real estate crowdfunding platform via our original website http://www.propertyinvestorafrica.com. While we prepare to launch, we are aware that being an African platform, lots of investors will be more probing of our objectives and methods than usual. But we are determined to break this glass ceiling and make it work for our teeming developers in need of funding in Africa.
Issues such as: security of payment, regulatory issues, how will we ensure that funds raised are applied to the projects, and how investors will be paid back their capital and interest, are all being addressed.
However, we will welcome your feedback, comments and suggestions on what you will like to see being incorporated into our real estate crowdfunding platform, before we launch. Please address all emails to us at: info@propertyinvestorafrica.com

Quote of the day:
“…we are aware that being an African platform, lots of investors will be more probing of our objectives and methods than usual. But we are determined to break this glass ceiling and make it work for our teeming developers in need of funding in Africa”

Douglas Oppong is Founder and CEO of Property Investor Africa. He consults on finance, infrastructure and
real estate projects for governments and companies doing business in Africa’s.

Crowd-funding: the quiet revolution for financing projects in Africa

real-estate

“Praise the Lord!” blurted the preacher. “Hallelujah!” was the loud response from the congregation. “As the Lord says, give and it shall be given unto you, equal measure, pressed down, shaken together…” With that, the collection bowl was whipped out and the entire congregation filed one past the other to put in their “collection” for the day. The congregation (crowd) had just succeeded in funding a church project or, to play devil’s advocate, succeeded in funding the preacher’s family lifestyle for a month. The congregation came from far and wide – doctors, lawyers, cleaners, peasants – all had to give to feel that they had done something spiritually worthy.
Flip this scenario on its head and place a District Commissioner in place of the pastor. This time he asks the same crowd to contribute money to upgrade the community hospital that needs fixing or expanding. You will be lucky if you have one soul there! All will be waiting for government to do that one. As if “government” was one individual tasked with the responsibility of financing every public project. The idea of the crowd contributing in any small measure to finance a project is called crowd-funding.
Crowd-funding
Crowd-funding is the latest craze of seed funding for social projects, businesses, and now, property developments. I have been a student of this alternative form of raising finance for some years now. In fact, I started the world’s first crowd-funding platform for football and sports funding (http://www.footiefunder.com; http://www.sportyfunder.com) but had to put those on hold to pursue my passion of driving investments into Africa’s real estate sector by starting Property Investor Africa.
Why am I passionate about crowd-funding? Because I have always thought about how I can help change the system whereby only high-net-worth individuals have the opportunity to make more money from investments because of their connections or network, and because of their ability to borrow from traditional banks. Banks, as we know, will only lend you more money when you do not need it; banks do not like struggling businesses or start-ups even though they may see the potential. They will not help until you have found a way to help yourself. I know this because I have been there, done it, got the burn marks!
Crowd-funding and real estate
Crowd-funding completely opens up the belly of financing projects. In the UK, crowd-funding platform Crowdcube (http://www.crowdcube.com) is a leader in harnessing investments for businesses that may otherwise not have a “look-in” by the traditional banks. In just three years, Crowdcube, which brands itself as the leading investment crowd-funding site, has raised in excess of £30 million for businesses in the UK.
In the US, crowd-funding sites iFunding (https://www.ifunding.co) and Realty Mogul (http://www.realtymogul.com) are at the forefront of revolutionising how real estate projects are funded. Crowdfundproperty.com in the UK started recently. In fact I met some of its senior executives at a property show in London and I quite liked their enthusiasm. The big question though is, how can this new finance craze hit Africa where it is needed most?

Crowd-funding in Africa
In Africa, crowd-funding is not new. It is practised every day. The churches with their collection bowls/envelopes and community support networks all practice a form of crowd-funding. What is left is to formalise the process and make it a winning business platform for investments. Africa has a lot of infrastructure projects that are crying out for funding. The governments cannot do it alone nor the private sector. As the Americans will say, “we the people”, it is “we the people” who can help transform the economies of Africa through alternative funding mechanisms such as crowd-funding. After all, how much money does the African diaspora remit each year to Africa for all sorts of projects and expenses? In 2012 the African diaspora remitted in excess of $60 billion to their families. Why can we not channel some of these into financing infrastructural projects that will give good returns to investors and build the economies in Africa? Crowd-funding projects in Africa will encourage intra-African investments because it will not be about the geographic location of a project. It will be about the returns the project delivers to the investor.
Property Investor Africa
Property Investor Africa is being enhanced to serve as a crowdfunding platform to fund real estate and other infrastructure projects in Africa. Watch this space!

Quote of the day:

“Crowd-funding projects in Africa will encourage intra-African investments because it will not be about the geographic location of a project. It will be about the returns the project delivers to the investor”

Do angels exist in Africa?

obama

I have just arrived from a brief business trip to Ghana, one of Africa’s “doing well countries”. As to whose barometer the tag “doing well” is measured against is another subject all together. However, since arriving at my desk in London, my office has received several calls from many African countries with real estate projects in need of funding. At the same time Property Investor Africa is fast gaining ground in the eyes of investors (from the rest of the world) looking to invest in real estate and infrastructural projects in Africa. While there the dominant news was about America’s initiatives in Africa and of course Ebola.
America’s Smoking Pipe
Last week, President Obama’s administration made the last minute gesture of inviting no less than 50 African Heads of States, Presidents and Prime Ministers to what it billed as The US-Africa Leaders’ Summit. In his 6th year as president, President Obama finally delivers a summit that is to launch Africa’s credentials for funding innovation, entrepreneurship and the many infrastructural projects in need of financing. Do not get me wrong: I am a huge admirer of President Obama, however, I may perhaps be one of the most sceptical entrepreneurs you will find who actually thinks all this “brouhaha” about this summit may come to nought. After all, how many times haven’t African leaders attended summits such as the World Economic Forum, G8, G20, G-whatever and yet the same old issues persist to date? At these meetings and pledges have been made by many a nation, corporations and what have you. Yet, in 2014, the issues in Africa that necessitated attendance at these meetings all these years ago, still persist. Like bees to a honey comb, African leaders only need to see Africa added to USA, IMF, World Economic Forum or Europe and they come rushing to attend. Mark my words: the next big thing that will happen will be a China-Africa Economic Forum or something with a stupid label like that and African leaders will be there in their numbers.

You see, my problem is not that I think these summits do not amount to anything; my problem is rather that the leaders who attend these summits do not often times, have the commitment and balls it takes to implement what the summits deliver in terms of policy initiatives and investment drives to transform their economies and alleviate poverty. A pat on the back of President Obama for following up on his promise to give African governments and businesses a life-line. However, until there is a serious monitoring mechanism to ensure that the countries present do deliver the policy initiatives at the summit, I am afraid that all this is a lot of smoke from an American pipe.
Do Angels Exist in Africa?
In April 2011, I wrote an article headed: “Do angels exist in Africa?” which was published at vc4Africa.com. The article can be read here: http://vc4africa.biz/blog/2011/04/06/do-angel-investors-exist-in-africa/
Three years after the publication, the issues highlighted are still as relevant today as they were three years ago, because when it comes to Africa, it is “business as usual”. Africa is like a pocket with holes – it has all the natural resources any continent can ask for. It has all the man-power and skills set available, yet it is still very, very, poor and in my mind disjointed. The reason is because Africa still looks to the west and now Asia for its economic recovery instead of to itself. Almost all projects now look for funding from these countries. It is good to look to mature markets to fund multi-million dollar projects. But I still believe that it is about time Africans found a way of financing businesses and project initiatives by themselves.
At the US-Africa Leadership Summit, according to Dane Erickson, Lecturer at the University of Colorado Denver and previously a foreign policy advisor on Africa to the Barack Obama 2008 Presidential Campaign, “…$33 billion of public and private commitments aimed at enhancing commercial ties with the continent was pledged”. This is where I get mad. Pledges and commitments are not cash. As a Chartered Accountant, I know that pledges, cheques and promissory notes are not the same as cash. Give me a pledge of $1million in 12 months or cash of $10,000 now, and I will choose the $10,000. Why? Because a lot can happen in 12 months. With America, you only need one incidence of terrorism anywhere in the world and this summit and its ideals will be consigned to history. The question needs to be asked: Why does Africa still rely on the US and not on itself?
US and European businesses have benefitted enormously from Angel Investors and high net-worth individuals. Africa’s high net worth individuals or business angels are nowhere to be seen. Apart from showing off their wealth, they can only be found in holiday resorts, Dubai, London, Paris, or world forums such as the one I am talking about. Forget about high-net worth individuals. Africa’s new business angels must come from the diaspora. It is about time that we found the solutions to harness the might and power of the diaspora to fund capital initiatives.
I believe that the $33billion of US pledges and commitment are no match to the cash out-pouring of the African diaspora, if the right machinery is put in place to harness it. That is where US help is needed – helping Africa to harness its potential, not pledges and commitment. In 2012, African remittances from the diaspora was over $60billion cash (not pledges) – twice what America pledged last week! This is what African leaders do not see when they flock to these summits, coming back home with empty promises, pledges and commitments in their hands. It is about time Africa looked within to discover how it can transform its economies rather than depending on pledges and commitments.
Final Thoughts
President Obama’s US-African Leadership Summit held last week is to be commended. In recent years however, like bees to a honey comb, African leaders have attended summit after summit only to come home with empty pledges and promises. It is time for African leaders to harness the power of the diaspora and help grow angel networks that will help fuel innovation and enterprise as well as fund dire projects on the continent. Until Africa looks within itself for capacity and energy to transform its economies, I am afraid, that there will be more of such summits to come but it will be business as usual.

Quote of the day:
“Africa is like a pocket with holes – it has all the natural resources any continent can ask for. It has all the man-power and skills set available, yet it is still very, very, poor and in my mind disjointed. The reason is because Africa still looks to the west and now Asia for its economic recovery, instead of to itself.”