PRIME Business Day supplement: Retirement

01_12_2018_01-12-2018-8-1550755429517 In December 2018 I contributed an article to PRIME, a Business Day supplementary magazine aimed at those heading towards retirement.

I enjoy financial writing so much these days, as I learn and reinforce previous ‘learnings’ every time I chat to financial expert sources.

The aim of the article was to give advice on what you should be doing with your investments in your 50s, 60s and 70s+. And – this is a tough bit – provide advice  on what to do if you haven’t planned wisely for your retirement.

You can read the whole piece on http://ereplica.pressmart.com/Prime (pg 9 and 10)

Financial Mail: Pound of Flesh

FM coverPart three of my Pound of Flesh series of data-driven articles on SA consumer debt (supported by impactAfrica)… This was the cover package of the Financial Mail on 22 March 2018.

How reckless lending is killing the economy

Reckless lending is back in the dock as another consumer takes on Capitec over possible contravention of the National Credit Act. It’s one of many such challenges against credit providers that highlight the dire state of overindebtedness in a country where those who owe money outnumber those who earn it

The three sections that make up the cover package all sit behind the FM paywall, so if you’re a subscriber, you can access the full article here: https://www.businesslive.co.za/fm/features/cover-story/2018-03-22-how-reckless-lending-is-killing-the-economy/ 

CFO magazine: Agile’s Tshego Sefolo

Here’s an extract from my interview with private equity investor Tshego Sefolo.

Agile’s Tshego Sefolo: The CFO is key to successful Private Equity

“When we invest in businesses we look at the quality of the CFO; that individual is critical as they become our eyes and ears into the business.”

Tshego Sefolo is the CEO and founder of Agile (pronounced ah-ghee-le) Capital. Alongside Director Londeka Shezi, Tshego has – through Agile – invested huge sums in growing businesses in the South African market. They describe themselves as sector-agnostic, and have holdings in energy, engineering and outdoor media among others. It’s a dream decades in the making for Tshego, who started his career as a CA at EY. For him, pursuing private equity (PE) offered a challenging career that would expose him to different business environments – outside of the routine that can sometimes be a part of the traditional accounting route.

He says:

“Additionally, what was attractive is the fact that in PE investing you really can live by your convictions if you identify a business to put money into. In this way, it’s a cradle-to-grave business scenario where you’re looking at putting five to ten years into these businesses, to really manage where you put your money and ultimately realise what you want out of them.”

A marathon, not a sprint
Tshego seems to really embody this active and people-centric view – both in his investment choices and outside of the office. When he’s not at his desk, Tshego is a keen half-marathon runner and golfer – two sports that also suggest he is not afraid of playing the long game. The ideas of longevity, growth over time, and sustainability come up repeatedly when he lays out his views on investing. It also plays into his aspirations for Agile and himself.

“There are several big established companies in this PE space, but South Africa is an emerging market, and I think it is ripe for someone with the right energy to build something significant that will transform the landscape and challenge these established businesses. We want to be that dominant, well-established financial services group,” he says.

For the full article, click here

Financial Mail: Check up on government

Screengrab from Financial Mail site
Screengrab from Financial Mail site

In 2017 I did quite a lot of research and writing on civic technology – how technologies are being used to strengthen links between people, their governments, civil society organisations, and services. Civic tech is used to give citizens a voice, to help them access public or civil society provided services and – critically – to help them keep government accountable.

One of the features I did was for the Financial Mail – rounding up what open data (in South Africa) is available, from where, and how is it being used:

Below is an extract of the article. For the full piece, click here.


Civic Technology
Check up on government

SA is behind on its commitments to make “open data” more easily accessible to its citizens, despite having signed an undertaking to do so.

The term “open data” refers to freely available and sharable public information. The argument behind the open data movement is that information about, for example, service provision, budgets, crime stats and population demographics, must be at hand (and needs to be scrutinised) to promote accountability and responsive governance.

SA is a signatory to the Open Government Declaration, and has been a founding member of the Open Government Partnership since 2011.

The partnership is a voluntary organisation that promotes commitment to open data, and the declaration calls on members to “increase the availability of information about governmental activities”, “support civic participation”, “promote administrative integrity”, “increase access to new technologies for openness and accountability” and “lead by example” in these endeavours.

The efforts are guided by country action plans, and SA’s is co-ordinated by the department of public service & administration.

But as Corruption Watch reported earlier this year, SA has made good on just one of the 15 commitments — establishing an anticorruption hotline — over two terms. And that hotline was set up before it signed the declaration.

SA’s second end-of-term report by the partnership found that by the end of 2015 the country had made “substantial” progress on three commitments and “limited” progress on four. As to whether these efforts opened up government, the report qualifies the metrics as “did not change” and “marginal”.

A third national action plan was launched for the period up to the end of this year that includes some new and some carry-over commitments, including “open budgeting”.

So where is SA on the open data journey? What is now available, and how is it being used?


Again, for the full piece, click here.

Business Day: How garnishees keep gouging debtors

Part of my Pound of Flesh series of data-driven articles on SA consumer debt (supported by impactAfrica)… This appeared in the Business Day on 12 October 2017.

Devices

How garnishees keep gouging debtors

Despite a landmark ruling, shady collectors are still preying on victims

It has been 13 months since the Constitutional Court handed down what was lauded as a landmark ruling on the illegality of certain practices in the administration of garnishee orders.

But for many of the applicants in that case, life is just as bleak – and activists claim that fee-gouging and fraudulent court orders continue unabated.

Lisinda Bailey was one of the applicants in the High Court in Cape Town case on garnishee orders that was confirmed by the Constitutional Court. Although she cried with relief when the

judge ruled in their favour, she says her life was ruined by the irresponsible granting of credit and subsequent garnishees.

“[After the ruling] they forgot about us,” she says, “just like that.” As her debt spiralled, she applied for loans to pay off earlier ones and says the loan company failed to carry out, or faked, the information on affordability checks. She couldn’t pay the rent on her flat in Stellenbosch, and lost her job.

Click here for the rest of the article…

CFO magazine: Mavericks, freaks and geeks

Screenshot from CFO magazine featureI recently attended the Finance Indaba as a writer for CFO South Africa. Two of the presentations that I really enjoyed were by so-called futurists – people who study trends and change (and history) in order to make predictions about the future. In this case, those predictions were aimed at a corporate and financial audience, focusing on digital disruption and the global economy.

Here’s an extract of my summary of one of those presentations. For the full article, click here.


Mavericks, freaks and geeks: Martijn Aslander about attitudes for a changing world – #findaba16

We’ll never again have economic growth like we have known before, says Martijn Aslander. And that’s okay…

Speaking at the Finance Indaba Africa on 14 October 2016, Martijn – author and co-founder of Amsterdam-Connected – put forward a thought-provoking view of our future, challenging the attendants of his presentation to rethink all the traditional rules of growth and innovation.

In his address, titled “Forget ownership, attitude is the key to exponential growth in the 21st century”, he posited that the network effect is not only changing the world faster than ever before, but disrupting and decentralising both power and production. That’s why – he argued – what you own or what you know is now of diminishing importance, while your attitude and your ability to adapt will be paramount.

Martijn started off his presentation with a frank assessment of the state of the world – that innovation is leading to economic decline, not growth, and yet we are heading for a world of abundance. Drawing from multiple futurists and commentators, as well as current examples of innovation, Martijn’s near-future is one in which couriers, transport and logistics companies give way to the Ubers of the world; internet access is ubiquitous; electricity and water are free due to DIY installations, which in turn addresses hygiene and health; and no one needs a university degree to get a job. “That’s why it is ridiculous to build a nuclear plant,” he quipped. “The confluence of technology means that the really hard stuff is being solved under our noses.”

Some of the technologies underpinning this include robotics, deep learning, 3D printing, DNA sequencing, open hardware and software, social swarms, and so on. And crucially, all aspects of these technologies and our crowd-sourced knowledge are connected and influencing each other. And very soon, through the internet, five billion people will have access to this knowledge, and be able to tweak and improve it for themselves and for the world. This interconnectedness is the power of the network effect in which every node that you add to a network strengthens the entire network, and speeds up change.

Martijn believes that with knowledge and innovation in the hands of the average person, many of the dominant businesses in the world today will not survive. People will buy less as they are freed up to download, share and create themselves. Instead, we will see the rise of “funtrepreneurs” – people who create products and ideas simply because it is fun. This is a world of the “haves” and the “have not yets”, said Martijn.


As I said, this is just an extract. To keep reading, please visit the original article here.

Financial Mail: I of the beholder (iOS10 review)

Screengrab of Financial Mail websiteAlmost every week of the year – and for several years running – I have written a technology or consumer product review for the Financial Mail.

I loved working for the FM when I was a full-time staffer (six or seven years ago now). I first edited the FM Campus publication, and later held the position of Financial Mail online editor. And I love contributing to them as a freelance journalist too. The “Gimme” section, as we call it, is a great space to talk about cool consumer tech and apps, useful business

The “Gimme”, as we call the weekly review article, is a great space to talk about cool consumer tech and apps, useful business software and tools, and share great new finds I come across. Often, it’s the latest smartphone from a big name manufacturer, like Samsung or Apple. Or a sleek new ultrabook  laptop, or giant curved TV. But not infrequently, it’s the “little app that could”, or occasionally something not at all “techie” – like artisanal leather handbags or handcrafted jewelry.

Just in case you’re wondering: these things come to me as review units on loan. No, I don’t keep them  🙂

You can find my reviews in the weekly magazine and on the website. Here’s an extract from a recent iOS10 review I did.


I of the beholder

Last month Apple released iOS 10 — the latest upgrade to the iPhone and iPad operating systems (10.0.2 was recently made available). iPhones from 5 up and third-generation iPads should be able to be upgraded. While there are changes to notification styles and sounds, it is apps such as Photos, Music, Maps and Messages that have changed most. There’s a bunch of new features in Messages, including animated handwriting messages, new display options, one-tap responses, predictive emojis and “invisible ink” messaging. Some of these are obviously gimmicky. But I like that Apple has been so playful in this release. In fact, “more playful” is a theme for iOS 10 — as are “more personal” and “more powerful”.

While there are changes to notification styles and sounds, it is apps such as Photos, Music, Maps and Messages that have changed most. There’s a bunch of new features in Messages, including animated handwriting messages, new display options, one-tap responses, predictive emojis and “invisible ink” messaging. Some of these are obviously gimmicky. But I like that Apple has been so playful in this release. In fact, “more playful” is a theme for iOS 10 — as are “more personal” and “more powerful”.

The “more personal” is evident in the redesigned Photo app. Alongside your albums and photo feed, there is a Memories option that groups images rather intuitively according to dates and locations. In my Memories feed, for example, it has created an album for the trip I took to Nieu Bethesda last year, not just grouping those images and videos, but even auto-generating a charming shareable video of the trip. Maps has also been overhauled, and Siri integrates with more apps than before. The new Home app is a cool space for linking and controlling the smart devices in your home, including lighting, security and appliances.

Of course, you can’t make everyone happy all the time. Many users have complained on social media about having to actually push the Home button to unlock the device with a fingerprint. Sure, it is a tiny niggle, but it does slow down the unlock process. The good news is that you can revert to the previous version, where you rest a finger on the button to unlock the phone.


For the full review, click here.

Can art save this city?

artcityHere’s a little throwback post for you. This time last year, I was gearing up for my near-annual trip to Grahamstown for the National Arts Festival. I head down to G’town most years (as often as I can) and have a deep love for the quirky little town and the wonderful arts festival it hosts every year.

In 2015, as part of the festival coverage I had planned, I was working on a project for Contributoria.com – a fantastic, but short-lived independent journalism project backed by The Guardian (UK). The article I had proposed was about the economic impact of the Festival, and called “Can art save this city?”.

Below is the article that resulted from this project. I had so much to say, and so little space, but I am reasonably happy with the result, and since Contributoria closed its doors shortly thereafter, I share the article on this platform for your interest.

[Please do not republish without permission.]

 

CAN ART SAVE THIS CITY?

A steady trickle of water runs down the pavement. In the cracks and crevices there’s already a green fuzzy algae blooming that tells me this particular stream has been around for months. It criss-crosses the path as I make my way up Hill Street, Grahamstown. The source is just outside the church hall – a hole in the tarmac with upturned paving, and fetid brown water seeping out.

A crowd has gathered with tickets in hand. Inside the hall, actors from the Makana Arts Academy are preparing for the 4pm performance of Waterline. We’re almost a week into the 2015 National Arts Festival, and word has got around: you need to see this one. The play is a workshopped piece of theatre, directed by renowned theatre-maker Rob Murray, about Grahamstown’s on-going water woes.

Makana Municipality – the council that runs Grahamstown, in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa – was placed under administration in late 2014. After years of sputtering water supply, issues with refuse collection and electricity provision, accusations of rampant corruption and financial mismanagement, the provincial government stepped in, in a desperate effort to right the ship.

“Sometimes we don’t have water for two months. Sometimes it comes out the tap like mud,” says Grahamstown resident Ziyanda*. “We heard [a rumour] that the municipality had to borrow money from Rhodes to pay staff, and then we see the mayor driving around in a new Mercedes.” She laughs, but her fists are balled.

Ziyanda lives in Joza, a township in Grahamstown. She’s got a job this week, working in a residential home that is playing host to both a temporary clothes shop and a takeaway food stall for the duration of the festival. It’s a small town, and this is their biggest event of the year, creating around 400 temporary jobs every year. According to economists, the “arts fest” brought in over R340 million to the province last year.

Today though, Ziyanda’s not working. She’s got a few hours off, and she wants to see Waterline.

A picture of inequality

The municipal troubles are just the start of the town’s issues. The problem is not that there’s no money in Makana, just that – as in most of South Africa – it is unevenly distributed. Makana is home to around 80,000 people. According to the latest available census data from 2011, 10% of Makana residents live in “informal dwellings” or shacks, a third are employed, and the average household income is less than R30,000 annually.

To put that in perspective, the average bank teller in South Africa can expect to earn R80,000 a year. In 2014, the budget for Makana’s mayor was over R700,000. Around 5% of residents (roughly 4,000 people) earn over R300,000 a year, but 13% (10, 400 people) have no income at all.

Conversely, Grahamstown has some of the most expensive private** schools. It costs over R80,000 to send your son to StAndrews College for a year, 2.6 times the average income for the area. The centrepiece is Rhodes University – a small liberal arts college. Studying for a BA degree at Rhodes, excluding accommodation, costs over R37,000 per year, putting it far out of the reach of your average Grahamstown school-leaver.

The GINI coefficient (a measure of inequality) of South Africa sits at 0.59, making us the most unequal of our “middle income” country peer group. This is despite huge gains made through public spending aimed at lifting people out of extreme poverty, one of the Millenium Development Goals. But as our global focus shifts to the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we have to ask “Is taking people out of extreme poverty enough?”

A cash injection

On the stage of the Guy Butler Theatre – the headline stage of the festival – veteran satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys is mid-way through his matinee. He wears a sequined shirt and high heels. Today he is Bambi Kellerman, one of his best-known characters.

“Have you seen the boys with the painted faces on the streets?” Bambi asks us. All across the city, small groups of young black boys have gathered, painted their faces white and placed out a cup, a tin, a hat – they’re begging for a taste of the money that floods in with the visitors every July. Toss them a coin and the scraggly “statues” come to life, tapping out a few dance moves or a song. Everyone’s an artist during festival.

Rhodes economics lecturer Professor Jen Snowball, together with Professor Geoff Antrobus, conducted the economic impact study on the festival. Snowball believes the spinoff benefits, economically speaking, impact the town broadly and stretch beyond the date limits of the festival. But, she cautions, the potential impact is limited because many of the services and goods needed must be brought in from outside of town. “There is no doubt that the [festival] results in some additional employment – both direct and indirect,” she says. “The [festival] office itself employs many temporary helpers, but so do other organisations who provide services to visitors, or to artists, producers and sellers. This has a knock-on effect, known as the multiplier.”

The multiplier means that for every rand spent in town during the festival, R1.9 is created. “The more money that stays in Grahamstown, that is spent and re-spent on goods and services, the bigger the [multiplier] will be. Unfortunately, Grahamstown doesn’t have a very big supply base,” she continues. Money spent on services outside of town present ‘leakages’. “These reduce the size of the multiplier, making the economic impact and job creation potential of the festival smaller. So one way to increase the impact of the festival (and any other event) is to encourage people to ‘buy local’ where at all possible.”

Getting creative

‘Buy local’ is one of the principles of Creative City (CC) – a new initiative established by the festival office. This ambitious project is attempting to address some of the systemic inequalities through strategic, creative and artistic ventures. The media bags for the Festival, for example, were sewn by local women, and the Makana Arts Academy is their flagship project.

Festival CEO Tony Lankester says: “Creative City came about as a result of an increased awareness that we need to do more to help the city on a particular kind of trajectory. Grahamstown is a poor city in a poor province with ridiculously high levels of unemployment. What we do for 11 days a year is great, but there’s 354 other days in a year that also need attention.”

The festival office’s strengths, according to Lankester, lie in their established brand and their partnerships, so for CC they looked for ways to use these. Those partners now include the provincial government, the National Lottery, Makana Municipality, Makana Tourism and Rhodes University. Another significant boost came through the European Union who put forward R6 million in grant funding.

Lankester says: “As dysfunctional as [the municipality] is much of the time, this need is something they recognised as well. Grahamstown is a festival city; It already has a fair amount of creativity going on, so how do we harness this, and herd the cats, so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts?”

There is now a series of activities that fall under this CC banner. A mass choir concert called Masicule (meaning “Let’s sing” in Xhosa) is one of their most popular efforts. The event was held for the second time this year, and featured choirs from across the city, including one from Ntsika Secondary School – a “no fees” public high school in the township. CC has also employed a visual arts teacher for the school. “Maybe the next William Kentridge is in there, we don’t know,” says Lankester. “But we do know that having creative stimulus in your life helps you in so many other spheres. It helps with maths, with other disciplines. There’s tonnes of research showing this. And because that’s working, we may now look at a similar thing at another school in the township – around music or drama perhaps.”

Madeleine Schoeman is the principal at Ntsika. “Our kids really love singing. With Masicule, this brings another dimension – to perform for the public at the City Hall and on the Guy Butler stage. It is important for town and township people, she says. “There is a huge divide in Grahamstown, but people know Masicule, and they want to go. Creative City has brought people into contact.”

Schoeman also has high praise for the “Foto Fence” amateur photography competition hosted by CC that culminated in a public exhibition. “Town people came to look and realised that there are people on the other side of the divide who are also talented. I think the biggest advantage is that it opens up doors and connections between the two groups. Creative City reaches right down the bottom as well as to the top. If we can just open up the world for these children, give them opportunities. It’s not charity; they must still practice and paint. But they get recognition for their work, for who they are,” adds Schoeman.

Among other things, CC funded the training of 20 sound technicians, and leased land to create an open air cinema – intended as a meeting place for residents from both sides of town. “Trying to break down those barriers is on the agenda. It’s a big ask for a small organisation. You’re asking us to fix something that’s endemic in this country,” says Lankester.

So, can art save Grahamstown?

Not alone, it can’t. Grahamstown – like all of South Africa – needs focused interventions and broad-based economic upliftment, driven by transparent government and a transformed corporate citizenry.

But art can give a 15-year old a creative outlet, and belief in her talents. Art can lead to jobs, backstage and in the sound booths for passionate techies. And it can put our thirst for water, for service delivery and equality, literally on stage.

.

….

*not her real name

**Private schools in South Africa are not government-funded. Unlike the UK system, “public school” means government-funded.

Image: Kate Ferreira

Continue reading “Can art save this city?”

Your TED in the clouds: Financial Mail

Eduze+team+XXX

I recently interviewed Charlie Beuthin from Eduze – a content and digital start-up – for the Financial Mail. Below is an extract. You can read the full article here.

CHARLIE Beuthin, CEO of digital media start-up company Eduze, is a self-described “content guy” who taught himself a bit of coding and development.

He’s not the typical tech entrepreneur. SA-born and UK-raised, Beuthin began his career in music marketing and production with major UK record labels, and was later a full-time touring DJ. Thereafter he found himself back in SA in a content-related role for MTV Africa.

“I realised very quickly that there was a real digital disconnect in Africa. Everyone was superexcited about ‘digital Africa’, with headlines telling us it was amazing. But no-one was dealing with the elephant in the room — the telecom companies. There were huge bottlenecks,” he says. Data in SA is expensive, making it the domain of the middle class.

Beuthin began to think about how to deliver rich educational and entertainment content to data-poor people on the continent. Together with co-founder Marko Nieminen (now Eduze’s chief technology officer), he created Cloud in a Box, or Clox. Clox is a little black box packed with content for users to quickly get access to or download through a smartphone, tablet or computer – with no need for data of their own.

The “no data” workaround means Eduze can reach volume Internet users in Africa, rather than targeting the small, affluent segment that has Wi-Fi and data to burn. Arguably, it is this digital infrastructure solution for content distribution that caught the eye of US-based global content player and nonprofit organisation TED (owners of the TED Talks brand). It certainly wasn’t the business case at the time, suggests Beuthin.

“I had forgotten I had e-mailed [TED] to ask about licensing its content. Two months later I got an apologetic e-mail and a request to set up a call.” On the other side of the line was Deron Triff, TED’s head of media distribution. “I told him about us, but also said we were running out of funds, and would soon close, so thanks for the call but we wouldn’t need that content,” continues Beuthin.

“But Deron said: ‘Before you close, let me speak to [TED curator] Chris Anderson and see if this is something he thinks we may want to help you with.’

“Three months of meetings, due diligence and [discussions with] New York lawyers later, we closed the funding round. Now TED is our partner and has the chairmanship of our board, and we have a licensing agreement for its content and partner content.”

Mobile money could help shut down state graft: Business Day

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 8.40.57 AM

In October 2015, I was a guest of MasterCard, at the fascinating MasterCard Innovation Forum in KL, Malaysia.

The rate of change and innovation around digital payments is startling, and exciting, and holds huge opportunity for changing the way we operate – as businesses, consumers, and even as states. Below is an extract of a story I wrote for Business Day (published both in the print edition and on the website) focusing in on one particularly compelling aspect of the conference – financial inclusion:

“MOBILE money systems not only lift people out of poverty, they can also aid in closing down opportunities for state corruption, improving the lives of all.

The World Bank estimates that more than 2-billion adults globally do not have a bank account and remain outside the formal financial sector. In developing economies, only 41% of adults have bank accounts.

Being “banked” offers people certain protection. It enables them to save more effectively, distribute money to dependants more efficiently and across distance, and can be a path to accessing regulated, affordable credit and employment in the formal economy.

It is often a major stepping stone in the transition out of poverty, making it a primary goal for many philanthropic organisations.

SA enjoys relatively high banking penetration for a developing nation, with seven out of 10 adults banked and little gender disparity. Lower down the economic ladder, though, 57.8% of the poorest 40% of South Africans are banked, and only just more than half of young adults.

Two of the biggest drivers of inclusion figures — up from 45% of the population in 2004 — were the introduction of Mzansi accounts (low-fee transactional bank accounts) and later the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) initiative.

According to the FinScope 2014 report, a third of the banked population have Sassa cards (linked to Grindrod Bank accounts) through which they receive state benefits.

Only 14.4% of South African adults have mobile-based accounts, according to the World Bank — and the GSMA Mobile Economy Africa 2015 report pegs this even lower, at 7.6%. In Kenya, where 75% of the population is banked, 58% have mobile accounts and more than 50% of adults use their mobile devices to pay utility accounts.

Digital payment systems allow for a saving of up to 90% on the cost of transactions, according to Sacha Polverini, a Gates Foundation senior programme officer and a panellist at the MasterCard Innovation Forum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, last month.

To read the full article, click here.