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Tiger Global and Greycroft back Nigerian investment app Bamboo in $15M round

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To buy a share in Amazon, you’d have to fork out almost $3,000. It’s a luxury very few can afford and despite the prospects of the trillion-dollar company or returns from its share price, it’ll take some contemplating to pay that full price for those who can afford to.

But with fractional investing, pioneered by Robinhood, access to these securities are democratized and people can own smaller shares in big companies.

There are many Robinhood-esque platforms globally because of a growing need to invest in U.S. stocks in different parts of the world. Bamboo, launched in January 2020, is one of such in Nigeria. Following two years of significant growth and raising $2.4 million to facilitate it, the investment firm is announcing that it has raised $15 million in a new financing round.

U.S.-based Greycroft and Tiger Global co-led the Series A round (it’s the second Tiger Global-led investment announced this month after Ghanaian fintech Float). Motley Fool Ventures, Saison Capital, Chrysalis Capital and Y-Combinator CEO Michael Seibel are some of the other investors in Bamboo’s round, per a statement seen by TechCrunch.

The average Nigerian only has a handful of ways to save and invest. The nation’s currency, the naira, experiences devaluation every other year against the dollar and currently runs on an almost 16% inflation rate. Building a portfolio of stocks, particularly U.S. stocks, is one way they can hedge against inflation and currency devaluation.

The S&P 500, for instance, has an average annualized return of 10.5% from 1957 through 2021. But Nigerians that could access such services, up until a few years ago, were HNIs with resources to open brokerage accounts and consult asset managers.

For the average Nigerian, it’s an expensive and tedious process that takes weeks. But Bamboo simplifies all that. As a brokerage and retail investment app via its partnership with DriveWealth LLC, it lets Nigerians set up an account in minutes and buy and trade U.S. stocks in real-time.

“What we essentially want to do is to make investing in the global stock market easy for Africans,” said Richmond Bassey, who founded the company with COO Yanmo Omorogbe.

“In accessing investment options, especially in capital markets, both locally and globally, we want to make that easy for Africans because we’re driven to help Africans create and preserve wealth by owning shares in the world’s most successful companies.”

Stock investing is relatively nascent in Nigeria, but Bamboo has managed to rack up impressive numbers quickly, showing expertise in user acquisition and retention. The company said it has more than 300,000 users; of that number, about 20% are active daily traders, while 75% never traded stocks before using the platform. In 2021, repeat depositors made up 85% of deposits on the Bamboo platform.

These users are charged a commission of 1.5% per transaction and about ₦45 (~$0.1) to $45 withdrawals for users with naira or dollar bank accounts, respectively.

Bamboo has competitors in the Nigerian retail investment space such as Chaka, Rise and Trove. They differ in the type and class of securities they offer; for instance, Bamboo gives access to U.S. stocks, ETFs and ADRs, while Chaka deals with stocks and ETFs trading on local and foreign capital markets, but all have collectively been subjected to regulatory issues at home.

Last April, Nigeria’s capital market regulator SEC declared the activities of these investment firms as illegal and warned capital market operators to stop working with them.

Then in August, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) accused them of operating without licenses as asset management companies and “utilizing F.X. sourced from the Nigerian F.X. market for purchasing foreign bonds/shares.” A court order to freeze their accounts for six months pending CBN’s investigation followed. According to findings released by the CBN, the four fintechs had a total of ₦15 billion (~$30 million) turnover from January 2019 to April 2021.

It’s unclear where Bamboo stands with the first directive, but Bassey confirmed to TechCrunch that the company received a court order to unfreeze its accounts. Operating in a tight regulatory space has somewhat stood in the way of other features Robinhood and other investment platforms offer freely, yet Bamboo cannot, for now, such as crypto.

“Stocks and selling stocks is a regulated business and currently, we are only live in Nigeria. Working very closely with regulators in Nigeria, we have to work within the ambit of what they are comfortable with and what they allow.

“That’s the extent to which we are offering our services. Perhaps if we launched in other markets and regulators there have a different relationship with a certain asset class, we would also work within the ambit of what they are comfortable with,” said the CEO. He also stated that Bamboo is waiting for approvals from regulators to start offering Nigerian stocks before Q2 this year so Africans and those in the diaspora can tap into investment opportunities on the continent.

The next market for Bamboo is Ghana. Over 50,000 users have joined its waitlist since it announced intentions to launch in the neighbouring West African country, the company said. Similarly, there has been some demand from Kenya and South Africa, so Bamboo will look to move into those countries soon with this new funding.

Part of the funding will be used to scale the company’s tech infrastructure for smoother processes and faster withdrawals. The company also intends to introduce new offerings to add to its B2B product, allowing asset managers and fintech companies to integrate Bamboo into their offerings for their customers and trademark stock-trading product.

Bamboo’s round at this stage is akin to Robinhood’s Series A eight years ago, in terms of size. It’ll be unfair to assume that Bamboo can replicate the U.S. fintech giant’s growth trajectory over the years. Still, there’s no denying that with the backing of Tiger Global and Greycroft, who have backed successful retail platforms over the years (Robinhood and Public, respectively), the two-year-old Nigerian company is poised to reach mass scale across Africa in the following couple of years.

“These are very early days. If you think about it with the kind of technology that we’ve put together, the kind of brand that we’ve created, the access that we do both locally and globally, then we’ve come far, we are a unique team that incept a vision to say we want to get 1 million or 2 million Africans to invest in over the next 18 months and have a great shot at making it happen. We’re one of the few teams that can do that on the continent today, so the future is bright for us,” the chief executive remarked.

Finance

Teacher, Police And Firefighter Pensions Are Being Secretly Looted By Wall Street

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America’s severely underfunded public pensions are allocating ever-greater assets to the highest cost, highest risk, most secretive investments ever devised by Wall Street, such private equity, hedge funds, real estate, and commodities—all in a desperate search for higher net returns that, not surprisingly (given the outlandish fees and risks), fail to materialize. Transparency—public scrutiny and accountability—has been abandoned, as pensions agree to Wall Street secrecy schemes that eviscerate public records laws.

Our nation’s state and federal securities laws are premised upon full disclosure of all material risks and fees to investors: “Read the prospectus before you invest,” is the oft-cited warning by securities regulators. Nevertheless, teachers, police, firefighters and other government workers today are not allowed to see how their retirement savings are managed or, more likely, mismanaged by Wall Street.

For nearly a decade, the United States Securities and Exchange Commision has warned investors that malfeasance and bogus fees are commonplace in so-called “alternative” investments and, more recently, Chairman Gary Gensler has called for greater transparency to increase competition and lower fees.

Gensler has asked the agency’s staff to consider recommendations on ways to bring greater transparency to fee arrangements in private markets. “More competition and transparency could potentially bring greater efficiencies to this important part of the capital markets,” he said. “This could help lower the cost of capital for businesses raising money. This could raise the returns for the pensions and endowments behind the limited partner investors. This ultimately could help workers preparing for retirement and families paying for their college educations.”

Gensler has stated he would like to see a reduction in the fees these investments charge and has also commented on industry abuses such as ”side letters” which permit private funds to secretly give preferences to certain investors—preferences which harm public pensions.

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But that’s not good enough to protect public pension stakeholders.

No one—including the pensions themselves—seems to care that the government workers whose retirement security is at risk are being kept in the dark.

The SEC needs to do more—actually alert public pensioners as to those abuses the Commission knows full well are rampant, at a minumum. Advise them, Chairman Gensler, to demand to see and read prospectuses and other offering documents related to their hard-earned savings.

Does the SEC think it’s kosher for Wall Street to conspire with public pension officials to withhold this information from investors—any investors?

Since my 2013 forensic investigation of the Rhode Island state pension exposing gross mismanagement by then General Treasurer Gina Raimondo which I accurately predicted would cost workers dearly; my 2014 North Carolina state pension investigation exposing that $30 billion in assets had been moved into secretive, offshore accounts and, most recently, my investigation of the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio, I have provided my expert findings to the SEC staff for their review. Each and every public pension forensic investigation I have undertaken has extensively discussed Wall Street secrecy schemes that enable looting. In my book, How To Steal A Lot Money—Legally, I quote disclosures from SEC filings that detail industry abuses.

Join me, Chairman Gensler, in giving government workers a clue, a glimpse, a peek, at the alternative investment abusive industry practices that are carefully guarded by Wall Street and being hidden from them.

Teachers, police and firefighters deserve a fighting chance to protect their retirement savings.

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Finance

It Is Time To Buy Bonds

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US 10-year note prices are likely to rise through August. The monthly histogram below shows that July and August have been the two strongest months for the note price.

Monthly Return- US 10-Year Notes

Blue: Average Percentage Change

Red: Probability of a rise on that day

Green: Expected Return (Product of the first 2)

These numbers are static in the sense that they change little over the years. This is only one cycle, the one-year cycle, whereas there are many cycles operative at any one time. In order to get a reading on such other rhythms, a scan is run to identify other profitable price cycles. The graph below reveals the most valuable cycles that are operative at any one time.

10-Year Note Monthly Cycle

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These cycles reinforce the seasonal tendency for notes to rise. Prices have risen in 60% to 65% of the time in these summer months. With the dynamic cycle also in ascent, the probabilities rise to about 65% to over 70%. There are similar and supportive developments in the Japanese and German fixed income markets.

The cycle projection must be confirmed by market activity. The daily graph reveals that price broke through a downtrend line.

10-Year Notes Broke Through Resistance

Here is a helpful sentiment indicator that supports the bullish view. The cover page of this week’s Barron’s points to much higher rates. Applying contrary opinion, this suggests lower rates and higher note and bond prices. The first objective is 123.0.

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Finance

Will There Be War Over Taiwan – The Next Spy Thriller

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I usually go through a rhythm of reading one or two serious books, followed by a few works of fiction and with summer on the way I wanted to highlight a few of both. In that regard I have just finished Laurence Durrell’s ‘White Eagles in Serbia’, an old-fashioned espionage thriller where the hero Colonel Methuen is dropped behind enemy lines in post war Serbia (he speaks excellent Serbo-Croat) and becomes embroiled in a violent plot to overthrow Tito.

The book is a warm-up to reading Durrell’s ‘The Alexandria Quartet’, a work that nearly won him the Nobel Prize. Durrell was part of an interesting Anglo-Irish family, who largely considered themselves Indian – his brother Gerald, the naturalist and writer, touches on this in ‘My Family and Other Animals’.

Thrillers

Though I am not an expert on these matters, I found ‘White Eagles’ a more realistic account of espionage than much of what we see in the media today (Mick Herron’s ‘Slow Horses’ is good), and overall it is a tale of derring-do that is more in keeping with the work of the founding fathers of the genre – Eric Ambler, John Buchan, Erskine Childers and Ted Allebury for example.

It also made opportune reading given what seems to be an epidemic of espionage – with reports of the Chinese hacking group APT40 using graduates to infiltrate Western corporates and notably the admission by the head of Switzerland’s intelligence that Russian espionage is rife in that country (notably in Geneva – for which readers should consult Somerset Maugham’s ‘Ashenden’ as background material).

These and other trends – such as the outbreak of a heavy cyber battle last week (against Lithuania and Norway for instance) and the increasingly public ‘clandestine’ war between Israel and Iran (they have just sacked their spy chief) point to a world that is ever more contested and complex.

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Secret World

One of the new trends in the space is cyber espionage – both in the sense of stealing state and industrial/corporate secrets, influencing actors (such as the manipulation of the 2016 US Presidential election) and outright acts of hostility such as the hacking of public databases and utilities (i.e. healthcare systems). Here, if readers are looking for some serious literature I can recommend two excellent books – Nicole Perlroth’s ‘This is how they tell me the world ends’ and ‘Secret World’ by Christopher Andrew.

I am personally more intrigued by the difference between a spy and a strategist. A spy’s work could well be described as the pursuit of information about someone who is acting with a specific intent, as well as a sense of their reaction function. There are plenty of examples – from Christine Joncourt (‘La Putain de la Republique’) to Richard Sorge (see Owen Matthews’ ‘An Impeccable Spy’).

In contrast a strategist may try to plot trends and the opportunities, spillovers and damage they may cause. The US National Intelligence department is good in this regard, becoming the first major intelligence agency to publish detailed warnings on the side effects of climate damage.

Spies and strategists might work together, but history is full of examples (LC Moyzisch’s ‘Operation Cicero’) where intelligence fails to make it through the strategic process or is simply ignored for political reasons (might the early warnings on the invasion of Ukraine be an example).

Asia next?

In the spirit of the Durrells and Flemings of the world, what issues might be of interest in terms of digging into unknown knowns and unknown unknowns. Here are a few ideas, most of which are Asia focused (we might see an uptick in Asia focused thrillers).

On the diplomatic front, an interesting recent development was the visit of Indonesian president Joko Widodo to Ukraine, and then Moscow. It was a rare visit to Ukraine by an Asian leader and potentially marks the emergence or at least aspiration of Indonesia (population 273 million) as an emerging world diplomatic player. What has intrigued me so far is that there has been little coordination by the populous emerging (largely Muslim) nations (Nigeria, Indonesia, Pakistan) in the face of high energy and food prices, and that potentially Widodo could play a unifying role here.

Then, still in Asia, but on a more deadly footing, if the Western commentariat is to be believed, China is preparing an assault on Taiwan, and looking to learn from Russia’s military errors in this regard. Other countries are reacting, and I suspect that there will be much intrigue around Taiwan’s ability to acquire sufficiently powerful ballistic missiles that could strike the coastal cities of China, and relatedly how long might it take Japan to produce nuclear missiles (my sources say they could very ambitiously do it in five months!).

So, whilst the espionage literature of the 20th century has tended to be focused on Geneva, Berlin and London in the 21st century we may find ourselves reading about ‘behind the lines’ exploits in Jakarta and Tanegashima.

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