By Amit Jain and Rufus Mwanyasi
For many years, Africa’s image has been associated with extreme poverty and political strife. Many remember the “We are the World” charity drive in 1985 when celebrities led by Bob Geldof performed a much-publicised live show to raise funds for Ethiopia which was battling a severe famine. But times have changed. Although famines and occasional coup d’etat still occur, the enduring image of a helpless continent, however, hides a world of exceptional wealth. The estimates of wealth held in private hands in Africa varies wildly. According to Credit Suisse total household wealth in the continent was US$5.8tr in 2021. Wealth advisory firm Henley and Partners in its latest Africa Wealth Report 2022 put the total private wealth in Africa to be less than half - US$2.1tr. There is also a wide gap in the estimates of the number of High Net-Worth Individuals (HNI) – those holding at least US$1m in assets – in Africa. Henley and Partners say there are at least 136,000 such Africans, while Credit Suisse puts that number down to 352,000. South Africa, Egypt, and Nigeria together make up more than half of the continent’s wealthiest individuals possessing US$651bn, US$307bn, and US$228bn of total private wealth respectively. The wealthiest among them include Johann Rupert, the chairman of the Swiss luxury goods maker Compagnie Financiere Richemont (est. personal net worth US$10.8bn); construction magnet Nassef Sawiris (est. personal net worth US$7.1bn); and cement king Aliko Dangote - the richest African in the world (est. personal net worth US$14.1bn). But the list of such billionaires is not too long. Only 305 Africans own private property worth at least $100m and the entire continent has produced only 21 dollar billionaires so far. Africa is a long way from nurturing the spectacular growth of billionaires that China and India have seen in recent decades. In 2021, as world economies bounced back from the pandemic induced lockdowns the number of Ultra-HNIs (those with more than US$30bn in assets) rose by 9.3%, creating an additional 52,000 very wealthy people. Only Africa saw a decline in its count of the super wealthy. Nonetheless, this group of wealthy Africans cannot be ignored by wealth managers.
Why does the Africa HNI market matter?
Credit Suisse predicts that Africa will record the fastest rise in the number of millionaires, anywhere in the world. Indeed, Rwanda has seen a stunning 72% increase in the number of dollar billionaires over the last 10 years. Henley and Partners report estimates the richest among the African HNIs – those with at least US$100m in total assets to number approximately 259. This group also includes 21 billionaires – seven of them Egyptians. Those at the ‘lower end’ of the wealthy spectrum (US$1-10m in assets) and are estimated to number 130,000. According to Oliver Wyman/Morgan Stanley it is this so-called lower segment of the wealthy that is expected to generate over 60% of revenue for global wealth managers by 2026, which could be as high as US$45bn.On the other hand, serving the ultra-HNI investors will account for less than 15% of the overall potential industry revenue pool and account for less than 20% of its growth.
Where are the wealthiest in Africa?
The latest JDYD Liquor-Hurun Global Rich List 2023 shows that that the number of billionaires across the world has dropped from 3381 to 3112. Although the numbers of African billionaires barely find a mention in this report, Credit Suisse estimates that HNIs in Africa will nearly triple to 961,000 by 2026. A PwC survey on family businesses in Africa, Africa NextGen Survey 2022, reveals that at least 41% of them had a family office. Henley and Partners predicts that over the next decade African wealth asset management market will grow by as much as 60%.
Can Singapore attract African HNI?
The rich in Africa, like anywhere else in the world, seek to protect their wealth. Singapore’s rising stature as a global wealth management may have started to draw attention. The city-state's image as squeaky-clean business friendly place is already well established in the ranks of Africa’s rich. Some have visited Singapore for medical treatment, gambling, and business. The availability of world-class professionals with expertise covering all aspects of the wealth management, including succession, tax planning, innovative fund vehicles and philanthropy are a draw for the world’s wealthiest. So is the rule of law, quick dispute resolution, good schooling, business friendly policies, international flight connectivity, low taxes, and a wide range of entertainment and leisure activities. The number of family offices in Singapore have multiplied in recent years. The city-state now hosts over 700 family offices. This includes one of Africa’s most well-known billionaires – Nicky Oppenheimer.
There is good reason why more may follow suit. In an era of rising interest rates and declining currencies, traditional asset classes such as stocks, which account for a big portion of Africa’s HNI, have come under pressure. Take for example, South Africa. Valuations of South African companies declined as the Rand depreciated from US$8.10 in 2011 to US$15.90 in 2021. Consequently, despite the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) All Share Index posting an impressive 120% over the ten-year period, in dollar terms, the index was only up by 11%. The South African property market did not fare well either. The desire for stability calls for diversification, which makes Singapore’s Variable Capital Company (VCC) structure fit-for-purpose.
What is Variable Capital Company
VCC is a form of legal entity that can be used as a vehicle for investment funds. It elevates Singapore’s value proposition as a competitive asset management hub. It provides the option to not only stay invested locally, but through its sub-fund system, allows the investor to diversify into other asset classes. This way, the desire to de-risk the portfolio can be met in the most efficient manner. Similarly, VCCs provide the option to pursue multi-strategies under one central structure. This means exposure to different strategies is workable with each separate fund strategy ring-fenced from each other. Re-domiciling an operating business to Singapore is possible through VCC. This is attractive for the African HNIs coming from countries burdened with overregulation.
A VCC can issue shares or bonds. Liability of its members is limited to the amount, if any, unpaid on the shares held by them. A VCC is allowed to freely redeem shares and pay dividends using its capital. It can be set up as a standalone fund or an umbrella structure with multiple sub-funds. As one of the two jurisdictions to legislate VCCs, Singapore is certainly an ideal solution for the African HNI.
VCCs superior structure explains its increasing adoption. As of October 2022, more than 660 VCCs had been incorporated or re-domiciled in Singapore, representing over 1,300 sub-funds managed by 420 regulated fund management companies (Chart 1). Notably, family offices are some of the early adopters of the framework. Asset managers too, specifically external asset managers’ (EAMs), who generally manage liquid portfolios of assets for affluent individuals or families, have joined in. The use of the VCC structure by EAMs is a reflection of the rising demand from the family office/multi-family offices. Oliver Wyman/Morgan Stanley research expects global externally managed AUM to grow by 4-5% compounded annual growth rate (CAGR).
Singapore’s asset management industry has risen to become a major global player with Asset Under Management estimated to be US$4tr (2021). This is a scale rivalling some of the mature wealth hubs. Critical to note that 78% of total AUM comes from overseas and 90% of AUM is invested outside Singapore. It is no coincidence therefore that, in the latest Global Financial Centres Index 32, the country is ranked as third in the world overall and first in Asia. Not only does this prove that Singapore has the appeal to global investors but that it equally plays a vital role in working with and supporting the outbound wealth management strategies for investors. This is important for the majority of African HNIs as many are still in the process of “creating wealth” and may need robust platforms that support inbound African investments.
In addition, the country also remains the best place in the world to do business in the next five years, according to the Economist Intelligence’s business environment rankings (BERs) for the fourth quarter of 2022. Looking at critical indicators broadly, Singapore still ranks higher than most international financial centres, which is a clear indication of the island’s strong positioning for the super-rich.
The permanent residency (PR) status of Singapore could also be a draw for millionaires – especially for those from emerging markets. It allows them to establish a permanent and safe base overseas and make Singapore an alternative home. Although the policy has its fair share of critics, permanent residency in Singapore can be acquired through a global investor programme which is intended to attract top tier investors. According to Bloomberg, some 200 permanent residencies were granted between 2020 and 2022. The programme is said to have brought in at least US$4.1bn in investments and created more than 24,000 jobs. So overwhelming has the response to this program been that Singapore has become much more selective. Individuals applying for the PR status under the country’s investment programme are now required to either invest US$7.5m in a new or existing business in Singapore, invest US$18.66m in select funds a set minimum of or set up a single family office with at least US$149m in AUM. Previously, they needed to either invest at least US$ 1.86m in a new or existing business, the same amount in a select fund that invests in Singapore-based firms or set up single family office with at least US$149m in AUM. According to Henley and Partners, Singapore is home to 249800 HNIs with a net worth of at least US$1m, many of whom have permanent residency status. PR status holders who proceed to gain citizenship have the added advantage acquiring the passport of a country that promises visa free access to 192 destinations.
The desire to move overseas coincides with a growing desire among African HNI to diversify wealth. A number of South African billionaires, for instance, are reported to have moved abroad in recent years. In the past 10 years, about 4,500 wealthy South Africans have left for Antigua and Barbuda, Portugal and Montenegro. A similar number have moved to the UK, Australia, USA, Portugal, Switzerland, Israel, Mauritius, New Zealand, UAE, Canada, Monaco, and Malta. Of the top 15 South African born billionaires only five still live in South Africa. Appetite for investment migration has also been noted in other markets such as Nigeria, Egypt, Morocco, and Algeria. Between 2012 and 2022 the number of dollar millionaires in Singapore grew 40%. It offers a window of opportunity for Africa’s rich to benefit from the rise of Asia, whose contribution to the global GDP is now more than that of Europe or the US. As a financial hub catering to the fast-growing economies of South and East Asia, Singapore could prove to be beneficial for African HNIs looking to grow their wealth. Singapore’s position as a financial centre and an attractive place to live may serve to drive increasing interest from the African HNI. With wealth held by African HNIs forecast to increase by over 35% over the next decade (although this figure is debatable), Singapore could become an attractive draw for many.
Managing the wealth of African HNIs, however, may come with its own set of challenges. Topping the list is stricter anti-money laundering and anti-terror financing compliance. HNIs in Africa are widely suspected to be politically exposed and much of their wealth is tied to the extractive industry, one way or the other. Corruption, cronyism, and in some cases downright plunder, often lies behind the source of their wealth. Exhibit A for this kind of ill-gotten wealth is Isabel dos Santos, the eldest daughter of the former President of Angola – Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who became the first African woman to enter the Forbes list of billionaires after she bought large stakes in Portuguese media and financial companies, building on her holdings of stocks in Angola’s largest bank and a 25% share in the telecommunications monopoly, Unitel. According to UNCTAD Africa loses up to US$88.6bn in capital flight every year – much of it through illicit financial flows (IFF). This includes money from tax evasion and other criminal activities (corruption, illegal arms trade, human trafficking, money laundering etc). This puts the business of wealth management and international financial centres that facilitate such transfers under adverse spotlight. An expose by Al Jazeera recently showed how Dubai has become the centre of money laundering for a cabal of gold smugglers and traders based in Southern Africa.[xi12i] In 2021, the so-called Pandora Papers, an investigative report released by the International Consortium for Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), linked the family of former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to offshore bank accounts and firms valued at over US$25m. Such capital flight has been blamed for widening wealth inequality. According to data from the World Inequality Report (2022) the share of total earnings of the bottom 50% is less than 10%, while the share of the richest 10% is over 60%. Oxfam claims that three African billionaires have more wealth than the bottom 50% of the entire continent. That means just three African billionaires have more wealth than 650 million people. Managing their money, therefore, comes with its fair share of reputational risk.
As Africa grows, so will the ranks of its rich. According to Henley and Partners private wealth in Africa is expected to reach US$ 2.6tr by 2030. The question is who among the world’s leading financial centres is best positioned to manage it? Until recently Africa’s wealth has flown to traditional wealth management centres like the city of London or Dubai. But there is a possibility that Singapore could emerge as a serious contender.
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 number of millionaires in South Africa grew 25% between 2012-2022, Henley and Partners
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