There is always discussion about risk and reward in Africa – how to move away from perceived risk to actually objectively understand what risk you’ve got, whether you have the capacity within your company to measure, manage and price it so your returns are commensurate to it. These are paradigm themes in Africa.
Rather than looking at just risk and return, companies should go back to basics. It comes down to appetite. Firstly, define the things you need to do to sustainably deliver on your strategy. Once you’re clear on your appetite for risk, then you can do away with the other risks that your company is not geared up to measure, manage and price properly. Then you’ve got a shot.
A lot of the big issues around risk pertain to access to finance – I think we’re making steady progress on this. There are risks that are higher than in the developed world, but we have returns that commensurate very favourably. And, in any case, in most of the world, there are just no returns. By contrast, risk in Africa (political, regulatory and credit) is coming down, while it is going up elsewhere without the commensurate returns. So there is a higher growth trajectory and expectations for returns here and, therefore, you need to have a higher appetite for risk – as long as it is risk that suits you and your business.
Talent and people have always been key factors for any business. In Africa, companies also need to be authentically local. At Barclays, we don’t want to just impose ourselves onto the market, but try and understand it – especially in terms of what the win-win solutions are. Being dedicated citizens on the continent, we consistently consider the impacts of our day-to-day business decisions on the wider African society. When it comes to people, an overriding theme is that Africa has a key demographic dynamic – a young and vibrant population.
The IMF estimates that by 2020, Africa will have 122 million more young people ready to enter the workforce than any other region in the world. In addition, Euromonitor states that the total urban population rate of Africa (irrespective of age) would have surpassed China and India’s rates by 200 million by 2050. This will either lend us a dividend in terms of sustained growth, or it will be our next curse, because expectations not met by such a huge part of the population results in social unrest.
As responsible business people getting into the continent, we have to be a force for good and help turn this demographic dynamo into a dividend for our businesses and the societies in which we operate. Africa today has a number of highly educated people – the challenge is, a number of these people do not yet have the managerial experience and expertise required in their jobs from day one. This means that skills transfer and skills development are key priorities now, and into the future.
Kennedy Bungane is the chief executive officer of Barclays Africa. This article first appeared in Ernst & Young’s 2013 Africa attractiveness survey.