RECIPE FOR SUCCESS

Ghana 2018 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Ben Ahiaglo, Executive Director of SAS Finance Group, on its recent major successes, partnering with foreign institutions, and stimulating the equity market.

Ben Ahiaglo
BIOGRAPHY
Ben Ahiaglo serves as the Executive Director of SAS Finance Ghana. Prior to his current role, he served as a Partner at Constant Capital Partners Limited and both in the Equity Capital Markets and the Mergers and Acquisition Groups at Lehman Brothers in New York. He has also worked with the Derivatives Products Group at Republic Bank in New York, where he served as an Assistant Options Trader and also participated in structuring asset-linked instruments for the hedge fund and high-net worth clients. He holds a degree in business administration from the University of Ghana, Legon and earned an MBA from Harvard Business School.

How have operations grown in the last few years for SAS?

We have recorded significant growth in several of our businesses since 2015. In the fixed income area, in particular, we have added market share in both the primary and secondary markets. In asset management, our AUM has grown significantly over the last one and a half years. In equities, we are a licensed brokerage company that has listed more companies on the Ghana Stock Exchange than any other Ghanaian investment bank over the past two decades. However, in the last few years, the brokerage industry as a whole has not done much business, as high interest rates and the stock market decline between 2014 and 2016 drew investors away from equities. Between 2016 and 2017, there have only been two public offerings. One of our core businesses is in principal investing, where we invest some of our own capital in partnership with strategic and financial investors from abroad in landmark projects in telecommunications, healthcare, information technology, power, and green energy. There have been some major successes in this area.

What is your strategy for partnering with foreign institutions for principal investments?

We seek partners who are naturally interested in coming to invest in Africa. International investors will not find perfect opportunities and deals in our markets; they have to be willing to work with projects and the opportunities they come across and identify and mitigate risks away. That is why the Chinese are winning more project concessions and contracts across Africa than Western investors. They are willing to work on basic opportunities to structure projects and partnerships that would work for all stakeholders. Secondly, we want to partner with investors who are well capitalized or have the credibility to be able to attract project financing. These are two critically important factors. Third, we need patient investors with a medium- to long-term vision who are prepared to go through longer project life cycles than in other markets.

What expertise can SAS Finance Group bring to these investors?

Our principals have significant experience in international business, with training from top business schools such as Yale and Harvard. We are, therefore, able to interface well with partners from all over the world and support them with unparalleled local business and economic access and a strong understanding of the local market and industries. Local knowledge plays a strong part. We add value through our understanding of what the competitive forces in every industry are, such as the raw materials, how assured and risky resources are, what the markets are for the industry, and who the major players are. Competitiveness lies in helping a new entrant to be successful and partnering an investor from a position of knowledge. For portfolio investors, our research offerings provide valuable insights on Ghana and the capital markets, promote investors' awareness, and support investment decision-making and liquidity in shares and fixed income securities.

What is the key to unlocking the potential of the equity market?

The Ghanaian public stock market is significantly undersized relative to some other African country markets, but this is artificial. Multinationals here such as MTN Ghana, Vodafone Ghana, and Nestlé Ghana, some of the largest corporates in the country, are not listed on the Ghana Stock Exchange. The local subsidiaries of Nigerian banks here, such GT Bank, UBA, Zenith Bank, some of the largest banks on the continent, are not listed in Ghana but these banks are listed in Nigeria. If we were to add all these relatively large companies that are currently off the market, there would be more investment securities, possibly even listed corporate bonds issued by these companies, and the market would be even more exciting for domestic and international portfolio investors. We need to see either government incentives or mandates that motivate all the multinational companies operating in Ghana to list. Securities firms also need to do a better job of marketing listed securities.