Imagine your African colleague. Like you, he focuses his best efforts on growing his business with seminars, cold calls, marketing and branding. Just like you, he struggles daily to build a client base and generate recurring revenue based on his total assets under management. In Senegal, a country where no one can ever be too stylishly dressed, he looks prosperous in a silk suit and Italian leather shoes. Ten years ago, there wasn’t even a stock market in the exploding, peninsular metropolis of Dakar on the western edge of the African continent, but here he is, on his way to a financial planning seminar, a so-called “program of promotion,” for which he has confirmed 10 excellent prospects, successful local business owners, and all of them qualified.
He leaves his apartment and steps into a street composed totally of red sandy dirt and littered with every type of urban trash imaginable. From the mosque behind his apartment, a crystal clear song in Arabic, the evening call to prayer, pierces the twilight from the crudely constructed minaret high above the neighborhood. Walking toward the taxis, he falls behind a group of beautiful, statuesque Senegalese women in brilliantly colored, form-fitting African dresses, scarf hats tied up high.
He negotiates a taxi price of CFA 11,000 ($22) for a lift downtown, and he climbs into the back seat with his briefcase and laptop and begins to double-check something in his PowerPoint presentation. The dirty, 20-year old Renault cab without shock absorbers, door knobs or air conditioning lurches into traffic. A medallion with a picture of the driver’s marabout [personal Islamic spiritual leader] swings from the rearview mirror. He receives a text message on his Nokia cell phone that the BRVM (Bourse R?gionale des Valeurs Mobili?res) composite index closed down -.04 today, but the number of securities traded rose to 3,037. He certainly doesn’t notice that large, broken bits of concrete jar his ride or that there are no defined lanes on this main road of Dakar as crazy blue and yellow busses, cabs, pedestrians in flowing robes, new Mercedes sedans, mopeds, and horse-drawn carts all negotiate aggressively but with astonishing patience and courtesy for an opening.
Along his route downtown, lean-to markets line the side of the road. His assistant calls him with a last minute detail, but he cannot hear her over the sounds of the city mixed with the braying of 10,000 fat, curly horned sheep tied up everywhere by their delicate ankles and waiting to be slaughtered at the upcoming feast of Tabaski. This is Africa: where the digital, the industrial, and the agricultural revolutions are all happening at the same time.
The professional life a financial advisor in Africa is in many ways something very familiar to you, but the paradox is that these new, unsophisticated and low volume capital markets are in the hands of professionals whose skill, resourcefulness and entrepreneurial courage are guaranteed to humble you on your very best day. For example, meet Gabriel Fal, CEO of CGF Bourse, the first licensed investment and brokerage firm in Senegal. After 13 years with Citibank in London and Dakar, Mr. Fal was elected to a three-person commission charged with the task of setting up a stock exchange. The commission spent 1996 through 1998 setting up the stock market “from zero.” They had to establish the listings, procedures, rent office space, tie themselves into the regional market, buy the computers, select and install the software, purchase furniture and supplies, hire a staff, and flip the switch.
In fact, the African Stock Exchange Association aggressively encourages integration between stock markets in the four primary regions of Africa, including the exchanges in the West African region: the Nigerian exchange, the Ghanaian exchanges, and now the francophone regional exchange, the BRVM. With its central headquarters in Abidjan, C?te d’Ivoire, the BRVM exchange maintains trading offices in each of the eight member countries including Senegal. Traders at their workstations in each of these national branch offices can get quotes, analyze statistical information and place trades through a satellite network to the central market in Abidjan.
Following his involvement in the launch of this regional exchange, Mr. Fal decided that he wanted to set up one of the licensed investment firms now authorized to link to this new market. In Senegal there are only three such firms with 23 in the entire region. “I gathered a few friends and we collected some capital to meet the minimum requirement.” In the comfortable surroundings of his Dakar office, Mr. Fal pauses with a wry smile and ads: “In fact, we didn’t know if it would work or where we were going, so it was some kind of bet on the future.”
The bet has paid off. CGF Bourse, which merges the concept of investment banking with the concept of a brokerage firm, now captures 30 percent of the regional market share; but this phenomenal success follows an audacious combination of fast-thinking maneuvering and pure nerve.