Africa’s Financial Future
Emerging Opportunities for the African Diaspora
Nigeria and South Africa are the sole countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that have their own exclusive stock markets at the time of this writing. In 2020, Ethiopia will launch its first stock exchange. This means that there will be new jobs opening up in the financial sector across Africa as markets begin to develop and emerge. The problem is that not enough people on the ground have the training and experience to fill all those jobs. This means international talent will be needed to meet the labor demand.
Setting up the Dominos
Ethiopia will structure its stock exchange for companies ready to list initial offerings once they’ve installed a government-run regulatory board. An exchange for coffee and other commodities exists in Ethiopia, so a natural progression is afoot. If successful, this could open the door for other East African nations like Kenya, where there is not a full-fledged stock market but there is the Nairobi Securities Exchange Ltd., to do the same.
2 million Ethiopians are in the global diaspora, a quarter of which live in the United States. That means hundreds if not thousands of educated candidates that now live abroad could serve as traders, bankers, financial advisers, regulatory officials, and analysts. With the Ethiopian economy growing at a consistent clip of 10% a year, even repatriated and foreign-born Ethiopians may not be enough to meet labor needs.
The opportunity may attract Wall Street burnouts, looking for purpose in their next job. Given the fact that 3.5% of financial planners are so-called minorities (read Black and Latino), it’s questionable if the majority of white people in finance would be willing to move to Africa, even for an amazing job. This points to an underlying lack of representation in financial planning that is sure to increase. Much like specific design and development jobs in tech go unfilled for months due to a lack of qualified talent, the same may become true of the financial sector in Africa.
Prime Minister-elect Abiy Ahmed got the ball rolling in 2018 when he announced that he would be allowing private investment in the government’s telecom business and Ethiopian Airlines. The move to privatize the national assets signaled that his administration will move to liberalize the state-run operations.
It’s clear that a lack of diversity in most industries hurts the Black community, including financial services. Wealth accumulates over generations and Black families have been left out for centuries. This problem affects everyone in the global Black community. To meet this challenge head-on, there needs to be a concerted effort to improve financial literacy for Black people of all ages, especially the youth.
Picking A Major
Most African American college students pursue degrees in the arts or service-related occupations like social work. While this reflects an overwhelming wish to improve conditions in the Black community, it also translates to earning less money and knowing less about how money works. Finance and economics are typically not the first choices of African American students when selecting college majors.
I for one was more interested in Sociology and Anthropology than Economics or Engineering, so I can relate. After studying finance in grad school, I realized that knowing about markets and how they work is vitally important, even though I too have pursued a career in the arts and entertainment.
For that reason, I recommend Black and Latino high school and college students consider at least taking a class on finance if not choosing a major that could lead to a career in the financial services.
Learning How Money Works
Speaking from personal experience, I learned most of what I know about money the hard way. Some of my fellow Millennials can probably relate. Yet, while the economic crisis of 2008 jolted the masses, people in the Black and other under-served communities had been living in similar financially unstable conditions for decades, and have continued to do so. The lack of inherited wealth negatively impacts the Black community and has for centuries. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to learn about financial best practices and implement them to create wealth that can be passed down. Breaking the cycle is not easy, but it can and should be a priority.
Learning the basics of how to create budgets, understand income and taxes, how to invest and save money can all be learned outside of a classroom. The issue is that it’s hard to focus on learning about money while wondering where your next meal is coming from. If we combine our activism and social work with financial education, we can begin to turn the tide on inter-generational poverty.
The mission of capitalism is supposed to be to lift the lowest rung of the economic ladder up. Lessons learned through this process would help every community struggling with the same issue. Much like how the Black Panther Party’s Breakfast Program became the model for free breakfast programs in schools sponsored by the federal government.
A Lesson From History
Black Wall Street is one of America’s best-kept secrets. An unfortunate history of discrimination speaks to why the numbers look like they do in respect to how African Americans and other Blacks take part in the financial industry. In 1921, the Greenwood community in Tulsa, OK was a thriving center of economic activity referred to as “Black Wall Street”. The neighborhood was destroyed by a race riot that year, which is tragic. The big picture is that Black Americans have faced unfair and unjust obstacles when it comes to building self-sustaining financial institutions.
While the tragedy of the Tulsa Race Riot often hogs the spotlight in this story, the real moral is that Black people are capable of creating and keeping wealth without hurting anyone else. If we apply the same values on owning businesses and starting financial institutions like banks and financial service providers, the success of Black Wall Street can be replicated throughout the African Diaspora.
By leveraging technology and looking at the business models of micro-lending and mobile banking many start-ups in Africa are using, businesses and exporters can begin to connect their supplies of products with African Americans and other Blacks in the diaspora looking to buy. Instagram alone can be leveraged into a small business with the right strategy.
Looking to the Future
Africa’ is becoming more developed while Western economies are falling into turmoil. An inevitable shift in perspective will happen for Black professionals. No longer will Africa be viewed in a negative light all the time. There will always be a place for Black people in America, but opportunities abroad will be more plentiful and attractive than before.
By using our ancestors' successes as a blueprint, we can begin to prepare for a financially healthy future for historically oppressed people of African descent, in the US and places like Ethiopia. As Ethiopia plans to launch its stock exchange, it’s prime time for the rest of the African Diaspora to gain skills in finance that can contribute to the building of the institutional wealth our communities are in dire need of.
For more information on becoming a financial adviser, check this out.