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Toyin Sanni, the exceptional game changer

Emerging Africa leads closure of N40.9b NEN Infrastructure bond

Toyin Sanni is Founder and CEO of the Emerging Africa Group, a Financial Services Group comprising investments in Investment Banking, Financial Technology, Venture Capital and Microfinance Banking, Co-Founder of the Africa Investment Roundtable, as well as Board Chair at Layer 3 Limited and Vice-Chair, Fundall Limited, both of which are innovative technology companies.

A prominent Investment Banker, Public Personality /Speaker and Influencer, she derives satisfaction from grooming future leaders (through capacity building initiatives such as a highly rated Executive Mentorship program) and from preferring capital solutions for financing and investing challenges of African governments, businesses and individuals.

With a background in securities law and extensive experience in corporate finance, investment banking and asset management, she leverages networks across markets and her extensive experience working on leading transactions to achieve growth objectives. She leads a team of experts who provide advisory and capital raising solutions across Africa to achieve sustainable economic growth.

Toyin sits on several boards and committees including Transnational Corporation Plc, the Off Grid Energy Fund – Financing Energy Inclusion (OGEF-FEI) sponsored by the AfDB, and other International Development Finance Institutions, NEPAD Business Group Nigeria and the Pearl Awards Governance Board. She chairs the Technical Committee on Financial Literacy of the Nigerian Capital Market and is Ambassador/Co-chair for the Africa CEO Forum Network for Nigeria. She is also the Founder and Chairperson for the Women in Finance Nigeria Network and Founder, WIFNG UK.

Sanni was declared the All African Business Woman of the year 2017 by CNBC Africa, & Nigeria’s CEO of the Year 2017 by Pearl Awards. In 2020, she won the Africa Influencer (CEO) Award by Tech Times Africa.

Toyin has written three published books including Riding The Eagle – A Guide to Investing in Nigeria. Her past roles include President, Association of Investment Advisers (CIIA), President, Investment Advisers and Portfolio Managers (IAPM), and President, Association of Corporate Trustees.

In addition to a Master’s degree in law, Toyin holds professional qualifications as a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Stockbrokers, Fellow Chartered Institute of Secretaries and Administrators, and Member, Chartered Institute of Securities and Investments, United Kingdom.

What memories of your younger years and its impact on you till date would you love to share?

I had an amazing childhood. I was brought up in a large household and I saw that as hard-working as my parents were, as committed as they were to raising us and our cousins, uncle and aunts that lived with us, I saw from day one that resources were scarce. I saw that the human needs and wants obviously exceeded the available resources. So, from very early in life, it was almost like a burden upon me that wherever I am, I must do everything within my power to ensure that I can create value for the people around me. I grew up watching my father use post-dated cheques to pay school fees for his junior brothers, his nephews and we his children as well. I grew up watching my mother running four jobs on the average. She was working for the government, she was running a catering business and at some point, she was sewing and making clothes. At some point, she was traveling abroad to bring clothes into Nigeria to sell. I saw her do like four things at a time, and I guess I grew up with that sense of knowing that life is challenging and the needs are plentiful, and there is always an extra mouth or two to feed. Those were the only influences for me as I grew up.

Share on how and why you started Emerging Africa Capital

At the time I established Emerging Africa Capital, which was close to four years ago, I had worked for about twelve and a half years for a lead African Investment Bank, the only Investment Bank listed on the Nigeria Stock Exchange. I had run the organisation as Group Chief Executive Officer for four and a half years, and I had led the organisation to win a lot of accolades in the particular year before I opted for early retirement. We had won one all the five categories of awards for public companies in the Pearl Awards, which was an unprecedented feat by any company. I had become the first to be declared the CEO of the year in the 22 years history of that award, and I had also emerged first as the Business Woman Of The Year for West Africa, and later as the All Africa Business Woman Of The Year in the CNBC Abla Awards. I had always promised God that I would leave when the ovation was loudest, and so I had a conviction to step out. Why was I stepping out? At that stage, I recognised that women had accomplished a lot of amazing things, mostly running and driving businesses that were established by men, either as employee, CEOs like I was, or as maybe children or daughters that inherited business that were set up by their fathers, or their uncles, and I looked across Africa, and hardly saw any model of financial institutions that were prominent, that we’re doing well, and that were founded originally by women. For me, the interest is always to show them that a woman can do this, make the journey easy for the next set of women.

Read also: IWD 2022: EU pledges support for women rights defenders in Nigeria

I had this desire to be a Founder from scratch, a home-grown African financial institution and grow it. Obviously, my mentor and one of my greatest heroes was my former chairman, Tony Elumelu, and I saw the amazing things that he was doing. I am actually on the Board of Transcorp Plc where he sits as the Chair. I had observed him break a lot of barriers; I had observed him challenge a lot of stereotypes. I had observed him raise a home grown African Bank to essentially stand side-to-side with some international institutions and hold its own, and for me, I wanted to be the female version of that. I also had the opportunity to meet Folorunsho Alakija, who is also an amazing woman who has broken barriers, and she welcomed me and was also very encouraging. I remember she was one of the first people I gave my first business card as CEO of Emerging Africa Capital to, and she prayed over my business card for me, and said we would go places.

So, I really wanted to break biases, I wanted to disprove stereotypes. I wanted to make the journey easier for the next round of women coming, I wanted them to know that women can win in the business space fair and square. I wanted also to do these not just as an employee, but as an entrepreneur in which case I had to take risks because, women are perceived as being risk averse. They are perceived as being very good managers of resources, but not necessarily good at taking risks and winning. So, I wanted to take a position as an entrepreneur where I would have a significant equity stake, to have my own money, my life savings actually, ridding on the outcome of the business that I was running just as an encouragement and inspiration to women who have wonderful business ideas and are afraid to take the risks. I wanted to make it easier. I have two daughters. I wanted to make the journey easier for my two daughters when their time would come. I wanted to also do honour to the men who have helped to raise me, the honour of showing them that they didn’t make a mistake when they chose to support me.

How have you performed on your set objectives at Emerging Africa Capital from inception till date?

First of all, in terms of how we have performed on our set objectives when we started Emerging Africa group, I say with all humility, but with incredible gratitude to God, to our amazing staff, to our directors and shareholders that we have surpassed every target that we set for ourselves at inception.

We have grown at an average of about 200% per annum both in terms of size of assets under management, and also in terms of profitability consistently. Working with our partners both locally, regionally and internationally, we set out to raise up to $1billion for African companies and businesses for the subnational governments we’ll work with over a period of five years, but we achieved that target in three and a half years.

We achieved raising the $1billion by raising bonds, commercial paper, equity for government and companies, and we have done this consistently from inception. We work with various partners, some of these partners include international banks, development finance institutions, local banks and other capital markets that we work with, but the sum total in all the findings raised in all the transactions that we have collaborated on, has crossed the $1billion mark. We have now challenged ourselves to raise $4billion in the next four years. Crossing the $1billion mark was done 18 months ahead of schedule and we are very pleased about this.

We are glad to say, by the grace of God, we pay our dividends to our shareholders on a consistent basis, far above what the market has done.

When and why was Women In Finance Nigeria Founded?

Women In Finance Nigeria was Founded in 2016, and we have since gone to replicate same in UK, and the essence is to create a platform where we can encourage and strengthen the proportion of women that are operating both in the finance sector and in finance roles, therefore increasing the potential pool of decision makers that will be able to support gender lens investing and gender lens financing, which is financing from the viewpoints of meeting the clear gaps that I have identified when it comes to financing for women, and by the grace of God, we have accomplished a lot of milestones including like I said, establishing the international branch, and we’re currently working on the US branch.

Many women have gone to become executive directors, have gone on to become managing directors and have gone to become chairpersons of financial institutions. We also participated in the Covid-19 recovery effort by raising significant sums of money. We donated to the CACOVID Federal government initiative, and also contributed to one of the isolation centers in Lagos, and distributed food to women in several communities in Lagos State.

We have also trained Women In Finance related spaces, and we brought highly respected international speakers to speak to these women. We’ve also done training for women who are just starting out in the finance space. So a lot of work has been done through the years.

How has Covid affected your business?

Our first concern was the health of our people, second concern of course was continued access to our clients, and of course, the loss of mobility. The fact that we had to withdraw office services, in fact, since Covid started for over two years now, our staff continue to work from home.

Initially, we gave up about 50% of our office premises because we were preparing ourselves for what we thought could be the negative impact of Covid. We didn’t cut staff pay, we actually paid staff inconvenience allowances and help supported that people work from home.

On one hand, we had about 20 staff when Covid started, and by the grace of God today, we have 88 staff and counting. So, if you look at it on the whole, not that Covid did not have its impact, but we essentially in a lot of ways prepared ourselves. We had prepared ourselves in advance for example to be able to work remotely. Working remotely was not a problem at all. All our staff from day one were equipped with laptops from first day when we started business four years ago. It was our policy to get them a laptop not a desktop. The reason was because we told ourselves that we may never know when the day will come and we will all need to be working from remote locations. There had been nothing like Covid then but in a way, we set up ourselves to survive in a Covid world. Also, all our information was also stored on the cloud and we had no interruption whatsoever. It also speaks to digital training. We started training our people for digital marketing, digital engagements and digital services to clients, practically from the first month of accessing the impact of Covid. We also recognise that the big challenge for most businesses with Covid was financial advice and capital raise. So, what we did was to support our clients with the right quality of financial advisor with capital reason and that enabled us to thrive during this time, because you will thrive as long as you’re giving back.

Why is investment banking crucial?

Traditionally, investment banking is regarded as elitist so to speak, because typically, investment bankers provide services to the largest institutions, to governments, to essentially what were called Blue Chip companies but the truth is, there’s a lot of value to be created by serving businesses that are young and new and coming to the markets, businesses who are typically underserved, and that space is a space where we excelled and we’ve been able to give value. So, I guess what I would say most people don’t know is that, investment banking is actually relevant to you at all stages of your life. Within our investment banking Group, we have an asset management business that has mutual funds and products that you can invest in with as low as 1,000 naira.

These are collective investment schemes. That’s relevance to the man on the streets. Most people don’t know that we have the Trust business also that helps you to plan for the future and plan for the events of death and all that. It’s relevant again to everybody’s life whatever stage of life you’re at. We have the core investment banking business that is raising capital. We set up a dedicated SME desk and today, we have since acquired two microfinance banks and so our MSME and SME businesses are now being undertaken by those microfinance Banks. One in the north and one in the south. Meaning one in Lagos one in Northern Nigeria. We also have acquired a fintech company called Fundall, which is able to provide end to end services for MSMEs, SMEs, for your side hustle, for your small business, for you as an individual, manage wallets for you, essentially touching lives at all levels. We also have a capacity building business that we have invested in that trains executives, trains fresh graduates and generally helps people to develop. So those are some of the things that we have done and are doing just to create value for every day Nigerians.

In your view, what state is the Nigerian economy in today?

The Nigerian economy is in dire need of investments, in dire need of a steady flow of invariable funds. These funds will come first of all by way of investments in our SMEs and at our end, how we’re contributing to that is that, we have set up a venture capital business that is right now working to raise two funds. One for technology SMEs and another for women owned businesses across Africa. So that’s our way of contributing. Like I tell people, money in an economy or investment in an economy is like blood in the in the veins of a human being.

When blood ceases to flow, that person will die. When investment ceases to flow into an economy, it is dead. Unfortunately, for some years now, we have witnessed steady reversal of investment flows due to concerns around security, concerns around the management of our economy, concerns around the trend with respect to inflation rates and especially currency volatility. So my view is that, if we can get handle on those, and we can encourage flows of money to come back, then we can heal our economy and we are contributing by doing that. I also think the massive infrastructure gap is a big problem for us. I am in the UAE here having client’s training for some of our clients that we have been able to raise N25billion for, for roads and infrastructure in their part of Nigeria, and I can tell you that one of the things that was highlighted at the training for me today was a statement by John F Kennedy. “America does not have good roads, because it is rich, America is rich because it has good roads.” We need power, good roads, good hospitals, good schools, right infrastructure, rail system that works, we need waterways that work. We need provision of water, public utilities that work for our economy to work.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of borrowing as a nation?

Borrowing is not bad on its own. Borrowing, whether for an economy or for a company or for an individual, borrowing can be good if you are borrowing for example to create assets that will build wealth for your future. So, if you borrow for example so that you can buy some equipment for your business, equipment that are going to generate cash flows that will make you a millionaire, please borrow. But the same way for us as a government, if we’re borrowing for example, to have good road systems so that our goods can move from the market, from the village, and from the farms for example, they will not be destroyed before they get to the markets, and we can create work and employment for our people, that is a good thing to borrow for. But when you borrow for what we call the current expenditure, when you borrow to meet daily bills that are not going to do anything for your future, and unfortunately, when you also borrow to fritter it away on non-essentials and on a wasteful lifestyle, then obviously, borrowing is a problem.

So as an economy, as a country, you find out that some of the largest and most developed economies in the world probably also are some of those that have the highest debt figures in the world. What you need to look at is, what is the debt ratio to our GDP? For example, what is the infrastructure stock for example to our GDP? So you know what we’re doing with this debt. One of the things we analysed today is that a country like South Africa has an infrastructure stock GDP ratio of 86%, we have China with 76% and we have Nigeria with 35%. With all our borrowing, we have not used it to build infrastructure. Our infrastructure stock is still very low meanwhile, relative to our GDP, how much of the GDP, the earnings we are making are we putting in something that will last and create wealth? The problem is not borrowing in itself, the problem is what we’re borrowing for, what we’re getting out of borrowing.

Have we used the money borrowed for the right things? The answer is No! We haven’t done that. We haven’t used it for the right things. It is right to be concerned about our level of borrowing, but the borrowing itself is not the problem. If for example today we will make up our minds that we’re going to put the right infrastructure in place, it might be okay to still borrow. But you know, it may become challenging to borrow more until we resolve certain things. Also, the fact that unfortunately, our debt service ratio to GDP has been marked up essentially in capacity, we have to service debt. In a case where we’re using practically all the earnings that we have, all our revenue now to service debts, then we are obviously in a precarious position.

What is your take on having the right leadership in power and the need for youth involvement?

We must choose and elect leaders who are competent, conscientious and who are committed to the future of Nigeria and its people.

On youths, I frequently address the youths and I let them know they are the hope for Nigeria. If our youths are thinking right and living right, Nigeria has a future. If they have been deceived by the horrible things that they watch into thinking there are short cuts to wealth through crime, rituals and all kinds of horrible things, then we are dead on arrival. But I think our youths are the microcosms of the entire community. As we have with the elders the good, the bad and the ugly traits, I can only pray that the youths imbibe the good because we have excellent youths doing amazing things in all spheres of life, even in leadership, so if these types of youths are in the majority, then we have a future. I encourage every right thinking youth to bring up other youths and shape opinions because if you are good and brilliant, and you are surrounded by peers that are criminal minded, your life is not safe. Every youth has a duty to impact, influence and positively affect more lives.