Investments are all about trust
My name is Hervé-Serge Ndakpri, and I'm the CFO of Groupe Cofina.
I am Ivorian born and raised. During my career I have worked for the Central Bank in Senegal and for the National Investment Bank in Côte d’Ivoire. But I always wanted to embark on an entrepreneurial adventure with a social twist. So, after a lifetime of working for banks, I joined Cofina. Here, we touch the lives of the least privileged in our society.
Take, for example, Barry Ibrahim in Guinée Conakry. He was a young man with a bright future in basketball. But then his mother died, leaving him to fend for himself. He had inherited a small piece of land and did not really know what to do with it. So, he tried his hand at farming. When he encountered Cofina, we provided him with a small loan and helped him along the way. Now, he has become one of the country’s major producers of fresh food products. It’s success stories like this that underline the value of our work.
The history of Cofina is, above all, the story of a man with a vision. Our founder, Jean-Luc Konan, noticed that the big banks often had very strict procedures to access credit. But on the African continent, the economy is dominated by small, informal businesses, farmers and shops. It frustrated him to see that the local mom-and-pop store, run by a guy he knew and trusted, could not get a loan due to a lack of "formalisation" and financial education.
In the end, loans are about trust. Trust that they will be repaid, that the debtor will use the money to develop his activities, send his kids to school and - who knows – even create a multinational corporation. In Africa, behind every entrepreneur, there is a family of ten to thirty people, who contribute to and benefit from the business. That is why Jean-Luc came up with Cofina: a Pan-African vision of financial inclusivity, aimed at offering financial services to as many people as possible and giving them the chance to develop their potential.
When the crisis first hit Côte d’Ivoire, there was widespread panic, with people withdrawing from the public sphere. As our health system is less advanced than those in Europe, we were afraid of the potential devastation, so we took drastic measures that included a curfew and a ban on large gatherings. All social and economic life came to a halt.
Luckily - perhaps due to our relatively young population - the mortality rate has been quite low. The economic impact, on the other hand, has been devastating. In our predominantly informal economy, with many (if not most) people living from hand to mouth, a lockdown is brutal.
Cofina has done its utmost to stay in touch with its clients and offer them support through the difficult covid-times. The company had to reduce its activities in the first weeks of the pandemic, offering loan extensions where possible, without necessarily provisioning its investments – basically freezing a part of the portfolio. All in all, Cofina limited the negative impact of the epidemic wherever possible. The company also took a long look at its target market and tried to reinvent itself by adapting to the new normal - including by looking at sectors that were less affected by the crisis.
Crises are cyclical phenomena. The covid pandemic is not the first crisis humanity has had to face. As with almost all crises, however, this one came as a surprise and has had a profound impact. I have seen pictures of empty European cities, with wild animals on the streets. I saw a video of Charles de Gaulle airport, with an empty tarmac and bird song in the background. It was surreal! But this too shall pass. Measures have been taken and medicines have been developed. We will recover.
Thanks to impact investors like BIO, who kept their faith in us during difficult times, we have been able to continue investing and to pursue our work with SME’s all over Africa. We appreciate this support enormously and it has kept us going throughout the crisis. It is through investors like these, that Cofina can carry on touching lives and supporting entrepreneurs and their families. I am eagerly looking forward to continuing this partnership.
BIO has granted loans and technical assistance to Cofina Senegal and Cofina Ivory Coast, members of Cofina Groupe, a young Pan-African mesofinance group.
Hervé-Serge Ndakpri is the Group CFO. This is his story.
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