The directive of the Nigerian Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), issued 8th of April 2021, has been met with consternation and a straightforward (but hopefully simplistic) interpretation that; “the government is out to stifle innovators, again.”
These perspectives aren’t unfounded, as innovators of all shades have taken a heavy beating lately due to a number of direct government policies or interpretations of these policies – irrespective of how well-intentioned these policies may be. On the contrary, micro-investment platforms deserve a fair shot within Nigeria’s capital market.
This is especially true considering that the recent regulatory fervour coincides with a period where the innovation ecosystem is recording new milestones and gaining traction, solving problems for users in all walks of life, democratizing wealth creation, and creating high-value jobs, all of which Nigeria desperately needs.
In the last six months alone, Nigerian startups have gained the confidence of some of the best investors locally and globally, leading to never-before-seen innovations, acquisitions, and investments into the economy. This promotes interest in the Nigerian innovation ecosystem from foreign market actors and increases its relevance as a high-value job creator. Some now wonder if our regulators want more or less of this positive momentum.
This latest notice from the SEC warned Capital Market Operators (CMOs) to desist from selling securities not quoted or registered, as only registered securities in Nigeria can be issued, sold, or offered for sale. Ostensibly, the directive requires CMOs registered with the SEC to offer only securities listed on any exchange in Nigeria to the public.
The challenge here is that High Net worth Nigerians (HNIs) have always had access to foreign securities offered or acquired through registered CMOs for the apparent benefit of the upside available in markets such as the United States. This should be democratized to allow Nigerians with smaller incomes to have access to valuable global stocks within fair rules, and this is what the likes of Trove, Chaka, Bamboo, and Risevest have done. In fact, this democratization should be applauded as one of the outputs of a thriving innovation ecosystem that provides practical
palliatives for the stifling inflation and erosion of value we have all experienced as Nigerians.
After all, what is suitable for Dangote should also be good for Musa, who earns NGN50,000.00, and thanks to any of the apps mentioned above, can today invest in shares of Dangote sugar while also adding a quarter of a Google stock to his portfolio every month. This “magic” of innovation is a poverty alleviator that should be encouraged and nurtured while ensuring that the public is protected from any harmful financial practices.
It is important to acknowledge at this point that the SEC has been a positively progressive regulator, generally engaging its public fairly. The issuance of the guidelines for crowdfunding and accommodation of FinTechs within the capital market was encompassing and engaged stakeholders of all hues. This should be commended. The SEC’s position classifying crypto as an asset class is also fair, refreshing, and proactive. We need more of this and not less.
At a time when we are exploring how the Nigerian capital markets can become a viable option for listing tech startups, this latest body language of the SEC, and the Nigerian government as a whole can be further misinterpreted.
In the spirit of progressive engagement and dialogue, many voices now suggest that the SEC take a fresh look at its latest position, as these innovations are widespread, publicly accepted, and valuable. Furthermore, these innovations support some of the registered and regulated CMOs by offering white-label solutions that are accelerating the ability of these legacy CMOs to better serve their HNI customer base, with local and foreign securities. The emergence of these innovative micro-investing platforms has triggered investments into local Nigerian securities in multiple folds. The volumes these innovative platforms channel into Nigerian stocks are arguably the most significant development in Nigeria’s capital market in a decade.
By virtue of the existence of these innovators, their combined strength has introduced over 150,000 new market participants who are primarily millennials: a majority of whom purchased their first set of stocks through these platforms. Before now, they had no active interaction with the capital market. These new entrants are now trading in excess of NGN10,000,000,000 (Ten Billion Naira) monthly through these apps. Note that a good chunk of the highlighted trade volume is routed through local CMOs to purchase Nigerian securities on the Nigerian Stock Exchange(NSE). Long term, these innovations would also serve as a channel to offer Nigerian guarantees to a global audience which would be a massive positive for the economy.
The quest for diversification of portfolios to include foreign securities can only be good overall. It underscores the global trend in cross-border trade in securities as disintermediated by technology and the need to enhance portfolios’ value globally.
Rather than curbing the practice of offering Nigerian and international stocks in a basket, this micro-investing trend should be allowed to flourish within reasonable regulatory frameworks. These platforms make investments attractive, easier, and affordable. Micro investing will curb the menace of pyramid and Ponzi schemes while introducing a new generation into Nigeria’s securities market in parallel with their appetite for global securities. Regardless of what we decide, the world has gotten smaller, and information that enables people to easily seek the best economic outcomes is readily available. While other nations gain from micro-investing, shouldn’t our people do too?
The ultimate beneficiary of increased wealth for Nigerians is the Nigerian economy. Rather than shutting Nigerians off from the rest of the world, we should be accelerating global access for our millions of people; hence this is the time for dialogue, not shutdowns.
Kola Aina is the Founding Partner at Ventures Platform and writes from Lagos, Nigeria.