He’s Bringing Text Message Trading to Southern Africa
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Collen Tapfumaneyi’s innovative platforms are helping democratize the stock market in Zimbabwe.
Eager to move some shares into Old Mutual Zimbabwe bank on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange, Godfrey Koti was thrilled to learn about C-Trade on the radio one morning in January. The first service in Africa to offer combined desktop, mobile app and text message stock trading, C-Trade “has transformed the way we do business in Zimbabwe, without a doubt,” says Koti, the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority’s head of corporate affairs. Being able to swap shares via the app “has made life much easier,” he says.
For a country with sinking GDP, soaring inflation and a foreign currency crisis, successfully managing one’s financial life here can be difficult. Lining up is becoming a national pastime — for both banks and fuel. But the innovations forged by Collen Tapfumaneyi, who created C-Trade last year after launching the country’s first alternative trading platform, the Financial Securities Exchange (Finsec), could help lift Zimbabwe from its economic doldrums. Their popularity is spreading quickly around the region.
The 46-year-old Tapfumaneyi’s passion for markets is evident in his animated gestures and earnest discussion about his work. When the founder and CEO of the Escrow Group speaks, you do not hear a speculator but a career trader looking for his next bid.
Accessible to anyone with a Zimbabwe-based bank account who wants to swap shares in the 56 active listed companies on the country’s stock exchange, C-Trade has seen an average of $300,000 in trades each month since its launch last July. (Kenya’s M Shares pioneered trading via text message with Unstructured Supplementary Service Data, or USSD, in 2017, but without an accompanying app.) The market cap for Finsec, which democratizes trading of a wide variety of securities by bringing them to a central online marketplace, is $320 million. By global standards, the amount is minuscule, but Tapfumaneyi is thinking far beyond his 17 million-strong homeland. He’s establishing himself as one of the continent’s innovators, with a goal of facilitating a stock market revolution: do-it-yourself public stock offerings.
I thought that finance was the oil that made the world move around.
Born in 1973 in Zvimba communal area, a rural township outside the capital of Harare, Tapfumaneyi decided in his last year of high school to pursue a career in the financial markets. “I thought that finance was the oil that made the world move around,” he says from his office on Kwame Nkrumah Street in Harare’s central business district. “Along the way, I got to know about the stock market, and it was an enigmatic subject to me.” The firstborn to a tailor and a housewife, with five younger siblings, Tapfumaneyi knew financial markets could help him earn while enjoying his work, but he first needed to become a “guru.”
After a year studying economics at the University of Zimbabwe, he was forced to drop out because of financial pressures at home. While working at the now-defunct First Merchant Bank, he studied to become a certified chartered accountant. At First Merchant, he helped manage the share registers for companies listed on the stock market. “That was a dream job because suddenly, I was at the heart of the shares business,” Tapfumaneyi says. Realizing that the bank intended to diversify and close this segment in 1998, Tapfumaneyi got the idea to form his own company — with the encouragement of a First Merchant client whom Tapfumaneyi refused to name.
So he launched his own venture called Corpserve Registrars — Zimbabwe’s first independent share-registry company — to help companies launch IPOs, manage shares and pay dividends. This evolved into the Escrow Group, which now commands a 42 percent market share in Zimbabwe with offices in Kenya and Zambia. Tapfumaneyi went on to earn two master’s degrees from Edinburgh Business School, in addition to training at the London School of Economics in financial markets regulation. He was a finalist for last year’s Entrepreneur of the Year award in southern Africa from the All Africa Business Leaders Awards (AABLA), which praised his “exceptional vision and leadership.”
Every morning, Tapfumaneyi takes time to examine the markets for opportunities by going through data that he gets from members of his team and the news. From there, he identifies loopholes in the data and potential solutions for closing those gaps. He sees an incredible revenue opportunity, for example, in the 66 percent of sub-Saharan Africans who are unbanked.
This doesn’t mean everyone’s a fan. Traditional brokers are still going the traditional route for trades, and regulations restrict traditional investors from participating in the new platforms, reflecting a lack of trust. Arnold Dhlamini, vice chair of the stockbrokers’ association, questions ”whether it can claw up any of the trade” for the major players on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange.
And C-Trade is still working out its bugs. “I want to be able to pick it up from any point anywhere and access it fully,” says Koti. “Sometimes I don’t know if it is network issues, but I doubt it’s that. I have trouble accessing it.”
Tapfumaneyi’s company is now developing a C-Trade-like platform for stock exchanges throughout the continent. Escrow Systems, a subsidiary, is managing the Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland) Stock Exchange mobile trading platform, which went live in February. Also, with the Zimbabwean government seeking capital from the market, Finsec plans to list more securities.
But Tapfumaneyi is not relying solely on mobile trading for expansion. He’s also developing software to help startups navigate whether they’re ready for an IPO. “Once we do that, 10 years from now the ambition is to then say let us redefine what the stock market is,” Tapfumaneyi says. “And it is all about anybody from anywhere pitching their idea on the stock market … Then, and only then, do you get an efficient market.”
OZY’s Five Questions With Collen Tapfumaneyi
- What’s the last book you read? The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy.
- What do you worry about? Continuity. When we come up with some of these innovative ideas, what is the impact they have on industry, the economy and lives? If I am no longer here, together with my team, how will these ideas be taken forward by the next generation?
- What’s the one thing you can’t live without? Technology.
- Who’s your hero? Former U.S. President Barack Obama.
- What’s one item on your bucket list? Breaking the barriers or boundaries that we have in Africa — that is, the geographical boundaries.