By Reece Mennie is the CEO of Hunter Jones
Tell us about yourself and what Hunter Jones does:
My name’s Reece Mennie. I’m the CEO and Founder of Hunter Jones, a London-based company that I set up back in 2013. Between then and now, we’ve built up a strong reputation as a specialist introducer of property bonds and have raised over £50 million for a range of SME businesses.
What exactly does it mean to be an introducer and what are property bonds?
In a nutshell, an introducer can either be one person or a whole organisation hired to introduce alternative investment opportunities on behalf of their clients. As for property bonds, which are also known as loan notes, these are a form of alternative investment issued by property developers to raise funds for the land purchasing and construction costs involved with a planned development. They’re generally issued for a fixed term and set for a time period that allows the developer to complete construction and generate the returns owed to the investor.
How do property bonds work?
Once the bonds are issued, they’re secured against the property or land with a legal charge to protect the investors’ capital against loss. These charges provide both collateral and security to investors and become registered on the property title at the Land Registry Office. The investor will be paid a rate of interest over an agreed period of time – usually between two and five years – after which point the bond matures and the loan amount is returned. It really is as simple as that!
Why should people consider using alternative investment introducers?
The UK’s interest rates are nearing an all-time low. Because of this, investors have struggled to make a healthy return on their money. In the hopes of finding ways of doing so, many have discovered the opportunities presented by the residential property market. However, traditional property investment is dogged by complexity and demands that investors deal with a wide number of issues like insurance payments, council tax, Stamp Duty, maintenance fees, rental voids and other tenancy issues – the list goes on. On top of this, buy-to-let property investment has experienced a real downturn in recent years due to a marked dilution in the tax advantages, as well as tighter restrictions on mortgage eligibility.
Why have property bonds become so popular among investors?
Investors are looking to property bonds as a viable alternative to buy-to-let in increasing numbers. Not only can they be asset backed, meaning there are always underlying assets to generate returns for investors, they also encourage investing with relatively low amounts of capital. Property bonds create some of the most attractive returns available to investors.
How do property bonds offer an appealing alternative to buy-to-let?
It makes sense that many investors prefer to take a more ‘hands-off’ approach to their investments. They might recognise the potential for attractive returns within the UK’s property market, but might not have the time, experience or expertise that’s needed. For these people, property bonds are invaluable as they don’t burden investors with the day-to-day hassles that are associated with directly owning a property. Put simply, property bonds offer the best of both worlds: appealing fixed returns with the peace of mind that comes with ‘bricks and mortar’.
Are alternative investment firms regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority [FCA]?
The alternative investment sector is completely unregulated by the FCA, and we at Hunter Jones are no exception to this. Though we’re not directly authorised nor regulated, we are however an Appointed Representative of Equity for Growth [Securities] Limited, which is both authorised and regulated by the FCA.
But what is an Appointed Representative?
Appointed Representatives, or simply ARs, are similar to conventional introducers in that they can be individuals or firms and are entitled to provide regulated products and services on behalf of regulated clients.
Why is it worth becoming an Appointed Representative?
There are a number of key positives for introducers to consider becoming ARs despite there being no legal obligation for them to do so. Firstly, ARs can conduct regulated activities such as arranging or being directly involved in investments, the discretionary management of assets, or operating a collective investment scheme by effectively ‘borrowing’ the principles as an authorised firm. The application process is relatively straightforward and can be completed in a matter of weeks rather than extending across several months, making it much faster and cheaper than direct authorisation.
Is there lots of risk involved with investing in property bonds?
While the FCA considers property bonds to be a high-risk investment opportunity, it’s important to remember that the level of risk differs from person to person. This is why it’s wise for prospective investors to consult an independent financial adviser before taking action. Hunter Jones doesn’t offer any type of financial advice, nor does it make personal recommendations on investment opportunities. Our responsibility is to provide the facts for the investors to make their own, informed decision.
How do investors know if property bonds are for them?
Property bonds can be a good option for those people looking for ways of generating passive income from their investment that pays regularly and offers attractive rates of interest. They may also be an ideal opportunity for those seeking an investment that protects their capital by securing against assets. As one of the best ways to generate substantial returns, property bonds can be very appealing for any prospective high-net-worth individuals, sophisticated investors or self-certified investors.
Supporting Growth in Africa
Despite the internationally recognized importance of SMEs, African small businesses often have difficulties accessing financing for growth and innovation from the formal financial sector. SME financing is often considered by many financial sector players in Africa to be a risky activity as promoters quite more often than not, fail to come up with the collateral levels required to secure bank facilities. Enterprises (SMEs) are widely recognized as big drivers of economic growth, innovation, regional development and job creation. A strong and vibrant SME sector provides a strong foundation to increase standards of living and to reduce poverty. African Guarantee Fund is a non-bank financial institution whose objective is to promote economic development, increase employment and reduce poverty in Africa by providing financial institutions with guarantee products and capacity development assistance specifically intended to support SMEs in Africa. Jules Ngankam is Group Chief Executive Officer of African Guarantee Fund (AGF), and recently he spoke to Global Banking & Finance Review about today’s business challenges in Sub Saharan Africa, and the financial implications combatting the Coronavirus pandemic. Jules has over 15 years of experience in banking and financial services with leading financial institutions. He joined African Guarantee Fund in 201 3 as the Chief Financial Officer after which he served as Deputy CEO from April 2017 and was thereafter appointed Group Chief Executive Officer in September 2020.
- What conditions led to the creation of African Guarantee Fund?
The Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector contributes significantly to developing African economies, but it still has a huge unexploited capacity for growth. SMEs make up approximately 80% of Africa’s private sector firms, with 50% being small- scale and 30% being medium-sized. SMEs contribute over 50% of new jobs in Sub-Saharan Africa however, only approximately 20% to the GDP. This is compared to 40-60% of GDP in the EU and the US and even higher rates in growing Asian economies.
For the SME to really play their role of the engine of growth, among other barriers, access to finance remains the strongest obstacle. According to analysts the SME financing gap in the continent is estimated at USD 300 billion.
The acknowledged reticence of the banking system in financing SMEs, especially as regards to the investment needed for development for this class of businesses, is mainly explained by:
- Low Banks’ long-term deposits; The inability of the SMEs to provide
- acceptable guarantees and collateral; Inadequate equity for SMEs;
- SMEs’ poor quality of management.
The African Guarantee Fund for Small and Medium- sized Enterprises (AGF) was established in 201 2 to address the mismatch in the supply and demand of SME financing in Africa.
The aim of AGF is to reduce the risks assumed by the financial sector by sharing these risks through the provision of financial guarantees that mitigate the inability of SMEs to provide acceptable collateral.
AGF also offers capacity development to financial institutions to improve SMEs’ financial product offerings, by helping banks to better address working capital and long-term financing needs of SMEs; and increasing Banks’ capacity to appraise SMEs by providing technical assistance and strategy to further develop their business.
AGF is a truly public-private partnership involving donors, development institutions, financial institutions and private investors joining forces to support African SMEs.
- Can you tell us about the guarantees AGF offer to address the range of financing needs?
AGF offers four main types of guarantee products:
Loan Individual Guarantees
Loan Portfolio Guarantees
Bank Fund Raising Guarantees
The Loan Individual Guarantee guarantees a single loan made by a bank to a single Borrower whose identity is known. The Loan Portfolio Guarantee guarantees a portfolio of loans made by a bank to a borrower segment for which the qualifying criteria have been defined but the individual borrowers are not known at the time of the guarantee agreement. The guaranteed party is not required to get approval of AGF prior the placement of each loan under the guarantee.
The Bank Fund Raising Guarantee guarantees bonds issued by a bank to investors for the purpose of raising long-term resources to finance SMEs.
The Equity Guarantee is issued to cover equity investments in SMEs.
- What is the scope to use guarantees?
The most important criteria of AGF’s guarantee is that the end beneficiary has to be an SME.
- How does African Guarantee Fund enable banks in Africa to execute their SME strategy?
In Africa, the main source of financing for SMEs is the banking sector. Despite Banks’ increasing interest to provide services to SMEs, they face multiple challenges mainly due to issues of assessing and managing risks. Furthermore, the resources of banks and financial institutions are mostly short-term, and it is therefore difficult for the banking system to easily use their current excess of liquidity to finance the needs of SMEs. Finally, the inability of SMEs to provide acceptable collateral to reduce the lending risks associated to them, the inadequacy of their capital structure and sometimes the poor quality of their management increase the reluctance of the banks to fully support their activities.
AGF products assist financial institutions to scale up their SME lending activities in situation where SMEs are unable to meet collateral requirements; Improves the solvency (regulatory capital) ratios of banks and thus enables them to have a better leverage on their capital; Addresses regulatory requirements of banks’ limited use of short-term resources to finance medium and long-term SME needs; Allows banks to mobilize medium and long-term resources at very competitive price.
- How is the AGF opening up financial opportunities and supporting the growth of SME customers?
The challenges SMEs face in Africa are within five key areas:
Access to finance
Access to markets
Legal environment and corruption
Amongst these challenges, the biggest one is that of accessing finance.
The SME financing gap is brought about by the following gaps:
Information gap: SMEs lack historical data to enable them to adequately assess their risks due to the fact that most of them do not practice proper book-keeping.
Tenor gap: Banks have short-term resources while the SMEs need more of long-term resources to grow.
Collateral gap: Banks have tough collateral requirements.
Product gap: Bank products are sometimes not adapted to SMEs’ business cycles.
Skills gap: SMEs are unable to attract or afford required talent.
Perception gap: This is the gap between the perceived risk and the real risk.
AGF’s guarantee products and capacity development assistance are designed to tackle the financing challenge by being the missing link between the lending institutions and the SMEs.
- What improvements have you brought about in the SME sector since you began operations?
Since AGF began operations, the company has delivered in:
Improving lives in Africa
AGF has supported more than 25,000 SMEs.
SMEs that benefited from AG F guarantees have generated an additional revenue of USO 4 Billion. Approximately 50% of supported SMEs are located in rural areas.
20 Million people were able to access clean energy thanks to SMEs supported by AGF guarantees.
Fostering Jobs Creation
130,000 Additional jobs created
Fighting Climate Change
Cutting 3.8 million tons of C02 equivalent Greenhouse Gas (GHG) 57,005 KW Cleaner generation capacity installed
101 Partner Financial Institutions and 291 SMEs Trained
Promoting Gender Equality
USD 522 million Loans granted to 6,000+ women-led SMEs
328 women-led SMEs Trained
Contributing to Africa’s Competitiveness USO 780 million loans granted to 3,400+ SMEs in the Energy, Infrastructure and Manufacturing Sectors
Contributing towards Food Security
USD 188 million loans granted to 2, 100+ SMEs in the Agriculture Sector.
Partnering for Poverty Reduction
USD 2.5 billion private capital made available in 40 Countries
- What are your plans to increase financing to agricultural and renewable energy SMEs in Africa?
In 2015, AGF with support from the Nordic Development Fund, launched the Green Guarantee Facility (GGF) to ease access to finance for SMEs to invest in climate and green growth-oriented economy.
The Green Guarantee Facility brings direct benefits in terms of climate change mitigation and adaptation as well as sustainable employment, poverty reduction, and gender- inclusive financing opportunities.
From the banking sector point of view, green finance is a new sector, of which SME lenders are not very familiar. Besides, SMEs are also not well versed with knowledge and skills to design and manage climate-friendly projects, let alone access to green funding. There exists significant knowledge and capacity gaps in green finance, which the GGF technical assistance addresses.
To-date, AGF in partnership with the Nordic Development Fund and the International Trade Centre has hosted five Green Finance Conferences and subsequent trainings in Zambia, Kenya,
Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal.
- In November, Fitch Rating confirmed the African Guarantee Fund for Small and Medium- sized Enterprises Ltd’s (AGF) Insurer Financial Strength (IFS) Rating at ‘AA-” (Very Strong), what does this rating mean for the company?
The biggest asset of a guarantee fund is its credibility. The main criteria defining AGF’s credibility is its rating. The rating brings a very strong comfort to our partner financial institutions when assessing AGF’s capacity to assist them in improving their profitability, liquidity and solvency in order to meet the expectations of their shareholders and the requirements of the regulators.
AGF’s rating brings huge benefits to our partner financial institutions:
It provides a higher capital relief to banks as it reduces the required amount of loan provisions.
Allows banks to raise capital at a better cost;
Increases the asset quality of banks’ loan portfolio.
Improves the banks’ Risk Weighted Assets (RWA)
- Has AGF had to adapt operations as a result of COVID-19? What are some ways AGF is responding and assisting businesses and individuals during this critical time?
COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect African SMEs and has deteriorated their creditworthiness.
As a consequence, the reluctance of financial institutions to finance SMEs has increased.
It is crucial to provide external stimulus to financial institutions so that they can continue to support SMEs in this unprecedented crisis.
AGF launched a COVID- 19 product that aims to:
Reduce the uncertainties faced by financial institutions in Africa as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic.
Provide more comfort to financial institutions to restructure facilities that become non- performing because of COVID-19.
Provide commercial stimulus to the financial sector with the objective of mitigating the deterioration of SMEs ‘ perceived risk.
Provide technical assistance to financial institutions to enhance their risk assessment approaches to better analyze the impact of the pandemic and reduce the SMEs’ risk perception gap.
- In your opinion, what role should financial institutions take to support the social economic development in Africa?
Financial institutions need to increase their support to SMEs by increasing SME lending and designing products that are better adapted to SMEs’ needs.
- Are you launching any new products and where do you see AGF in 5 years?
We are constantly improving our product offering to better serve SMEs and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Our new products mostly follow a thematic approach to close financing gaps in climate finance, women finance, agribusiness, etc.
In 5 years, we see AGF covering all countries in Africa, dealing with most of African banks and managing a guarantee portfolio of USO 5 billion.
seedtag’s Co-CEOs discuss their most recent acquisition success
By Albert Nieto, Co-CEO of seedtag & Jorge Poyatos, Co-CEO of seedtag
Q: What does the acquisition of Recognified mean for seedtag?
The acquisition of Recognified is a highly strategic move for seedtag as Recognified is the contextual advertising leader in Germany. It has greatly impacted our business, specifically in three different ways. Firstly, it has consolidated our European leadership which has allowed us to expand our contextual solutions to Germany, the second-largest European market in advertising spend. Secondly, it has reinforced our contextual AI (Artificial Intelligence) technology, strengthening our computer vision capabilities. Last but not least, it now means we can push our ambitions even further to consolidate more companies under seedtag’s umbrella, embedding us as a global leader in contextual advertising.
Q: How will this expand seedtag’s services and technologies?
In terms of services, seedtag offers several contextual solutions, which are completely integrated into the content. We are currently expanding our options so that our clients can move from delivering contextual advertisements in-image and in-video, and also in-article and in-screen. The key is to allow our proprietary contextual AI to optimise among a different set of placements, depending on which is going to be a more effective way of respectfully catching the attention of users.
In terms of technology, our contextual AI has incorporated the strong computer vision capabilities of the technology built by Recognified. The combination of computer vision and Natural Language Processing algorithms allows our technology to be extremely precise when categorizing online content and determining its brand safety, which is absolutely critical for our clients.
Q: What is contextual advertising and why it’s so important in modern marketing?
More and more players are positioning themselves in this sector to meet the demand of internet users, authorities and advertisers, so contextual advertising represents a growing share of the market worldwide.
Q: What’s the next step for seedtag? Will seedtag continue its international expansion?
Seedtag has a lot of growth opportunities ahead. Contextual advertising will keep developing in the coming years and we must be sure that we can offer the best product and service to our clients to capitalise on this growth. Organic growth is our number one priority.
Today we are leaders in Europe and Latin America, but our ambition has been to be global since day one. We will definitely continue to analyze both organic and inorganic opportunities to continue our international expansion, mainly to the United States.
Q: How do you see the advertising market, regardless of your technology, in 5 to 10 years?
It’s not easy to predict how such an innovative sector like advertising and the technology around it will look like in 10 years. However, there are some clear trends that we believe we will see over the next few years.
Media consumption across the globe is increasing across many digital platforms and this will only keep growing. The more time we spend online, the bigger the share of investment for digital advertising there will be.
Relevancy and attention will become the true currency in advertising. Only the brands and solutions that will be able to respectfully catch the attention of users and be relevant to them will survive in the long run.
We also foresee an increase in market duplicity. On the one hand, we will have the ‘walled garden’ platforms led by Google, Facebook, and sooner than later Amazon as key players. Alternatively, we will have an open internet that will be very relevant in terms of time spent but will have higher challenges in terms of addressability. Seedtag is moving towards being one of the key players in the open internet to help brands win the attention battle in a privacy-first world.
Bank CenterCredit – the best bank for business in Kazakhstan
Bank CenterCredit is recognized as the best bank in Kazakhstan for work with small and medium-sized businesses according to the results of research by the international rating publication GLOBAL BANKING & FINANCE REVIEW. To answer how the financial institution managed to earn this award and establish itself as the best in the market for SMEs, we interviewed the Chairman of the Bank`s Management Board, Galim Khussainov.
Galim Abilzhanovich, the title of the best bank for SMEs speaks of a serious tilt of the Bank towards entrepreneurship, is BCC a bank for business?
Not really. Bank CenterCredit is a universal financial institution, and a significant part of its portfolio is devoted to retail. But we have traditionally strong and reliable relations with business. If a businessman comes to our service, we always have something to offer him. Starting from the opening of an account, we carefully guide the entrepreneur throughout his time at the BCC. The accumulated experience and rich product line allow us to make his business and cooperation with the Bank comfortable and profitable as we are always ready to support you with practically zero service cost, inexpensive loans and high deposit rates. Also, I would not divide our bank like a pie, as many banking divisions are investing in the success of our SME clients, which cannot be listed in the interview.
What do clients look for when choosing a particular financial institution?
Every year people are becoming more financially literate. You can get information about the bank by opening just a few websites. It is enough to have the Internet and some free time. All key indicators are available in open sources. It is also easy to compare service and product line fees. Well, no one has disregarded the opinion of colleagues and friends who already have experience of cooperation with one or another financial institution, often their opinion is key, because these people have already experienced the quality of services of our bank. There is also advertising and marketing, and potential customers should see high-quality and conscientious bank advertising, where certain services and products are presented interestingly. Another important factor is the amount of time that the bank has been on the market, the ratings of independent agencies and the compliance with the Regulator’s standards. Our Bank is already 32 years old, we have successfully survived several global financial crises, and we continue to work successfully despite the slowdown in business activity associated with the Covid-19 pandemic. This is thanks to a balanced approach, a somewhat conservative policy in terms of risks, as well as with the appropriate indicators, including the NPL.
Based on your words, it becomes clear why Bank CenterCredit was recognized as the best bank for SMEs in 2020. What else, besides the above, was offered to business clients last year?
First of all, we continued to work in the same way that has worked previously, while trying to improve and speed up the existing processes as much as possible. Plus, under strict quarantine conditions, we considered all incoming applications from financially impacted applicants and provided deferrals for payments to everyone whose business was affected by the pandemic. During this time, Bank CenterCredit also continued to actively lend to SMEs, which helped a lot of organizations to survive. Despite the decline in business activity, we continued to develop new services and products with an pivot to online service. Thanks to the effective Internet banking and the multifunctional mobile application StarBusiness, customers performed transactions without visiting the Bank’s branches. In terms of new products, it has been a record-breaking year. If I may, I will tell you about them in the order they are listed:
Let’s start with the “Number”:
Online opening of a current account for business clients – now there is no need to visit a Bank branch to open an account.
Online opening of deposits is also a very useful service, both in isolation and in everyday life.
Online issuance of guarantees within the limits through the Internet banking system is an indispensable tool for entrepreneurs participating in tenders.
Online opening of a blank limit for issuing tender guarantees through the Internet banking system is also a very useful and relevant product, when it is possible to make payments even without funds on the account.
“Growing Business” loan for legal entities and individual entrepreneurs is a very convenient and profitable loan product for small business.
The program of portfolio subsidies and guarantees – for lending to small entities, including micro-entrepreneurship within the framework of the State Program for Support and Development of Business “Business Road Map – 2025”.
We are also long-term partners with foreign financial institutions such as the Asian Development Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
Within the framework of cooperation with the EBRD, in 2020 tranches were carried out under the SME support program, as well as another large-scale project – “Women in Business”. This one-of-a-kind program was created specifically to support women entrepreneurs.
An agreement on unfunded risk participation was signed between BCC and the EBRD, and not so long ago the financing of the first project in this direction was carried out.
Given the difficult situation in the economy sector, does the Kazakh government somehow help domestic business?
Of course, the state provides all-round support to entrepreneurs, and we, for our part, fully support the anti-crisis measures of the country’s government, putting the needs of the SME sector at the forefront. From the very beginning, Bank CenterCredit actively participates in almost all government programs implemented by DAMU Entrepreneurship Development Fund JSC, regularly receiving awards from this organization. Indeed, in cooperation with this fund, a huge number of projects in various sectors of the economy have been financed. At the moment we can offer business people loans at a minimum rate of 6% per annum. The loan is issued for investment purposes – up to 20 million tenge, and for replenishment of working capital – up to 5 million tenge. A highly demanded product.
What plans does the Bank set for itself for 2021?
We will move in accordance with the strategy approved by the Board, which, as we see, is bearing its fruit. We very much hope that the epidemic will decline and economic activity will increase significantly. Businesses will start operating at full capacity, people will start traveling, and we need to be prepared to offer them the most convenient services and products for every situation. We are planning an even more serious pivot towards online services, because digital products are truly products of the future.
Nonetheless, we will not forget about those clients who are more accustomed to classical banking services in the offices of the BCC. Now we have branches in absolutely all regions of the country, but the targeted opening of new and modernization of existing branches will continue. It is important for us to be closer to people. Our task is not only to follow trends, but also to create them.
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