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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.

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Bonds See 2023 Recession, Stocks Aren’t So Sure

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The yield curve is one of the most robust recession predictors and has signaled a recession may be coming since mid 2022. In contrast, U.S. stocks as measured by the S&P 500 are up materially from the lows of last October and only just below year-to-date highs, seemingly rejecting recession fears. Yet, fixed income markets see the Fed potentially cutting rates by the summer, perhaps reacting to a U.S. recession.

The Evidence From The Bond Markets

The recessionary evidence, at least from fixed income markets, is mounting. The 10 yield Treasury yield has been below the 2 year yield consistently since last July. That is is called an inverted yield curve and has signaled a recession fairly reliably when compared to other leading indicators.

Building on that, fixed income markets see almost a nine in ten chance that the Federal Reserve cuts rates by September of this year. That’s something the Fed has repeatedly said they won’t do on their current forecasts. Yet, a recession could cause it to happen.

The Stock Market

In contrast, the stock market shows some optimism. The S&P 500 is up 7% year-to-date as the market has shrugged off fears of contagion from recent banking issues. In particular, tech stocks have rallied.

In contrast, more defensive sectors such as healthcare, utilities and consumer goods have lagged in 2023. This suggests that the stock market is taking more of a ‘risk on’ position and is perhaps less worried about the economy.

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That said the stock market is a leading indicator of the business cycle, it may be that stocks see a recession, but are now looking past it to growth ahead and are factoring in the lower discount rates that a recession might bring as interest rates decline. Also, the U.S. stock market is relatively global, so the fate of the U.S. economy is a key factor in driving profits, but not the only one.

What’s Next?

Monitoring unemployment data will be key. Though the yield curve is a good long-term forecaster of recessions it is less precise in signaling when a recession starts. Unemployment rates can offer more accurate recession timing. Unemployment edged up in February, suggesting a recession may be near, but we’ve also seen monthly noise unemployment. Two similar monthly unemployment spikes during 2022 both proved false alarms.

However, if we see a sustained move up in unemployment from the low levels of 2022 that may be a relatively clear sign that a recession is here. Economist Claudia Sahm estimates that a sustained 0.5% increase in unemployment rate from 12-month lows is sufficient to trigger a recession. Unemployment rose 0.2% from January to February 2023, so maybe we’re on the way there. Of course, the jobs market performed better than expected in 2022 and it could do so again. Still, fixed income markets do suggest a 2023 recession is coming. Stock markets don’t necessarily share that view.

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Which States Have The Highest And Lowest Life Expectancies?

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There’s a wide variance of life expectancies among the 50 states in the U.S., according to a recent report prepared by Assurance, an insurance technology platform that helps consumers with decisions related to insurance and financial well-being.

Figure 1 below shows the 10 states with the highest life expectancy, starting with Hawaii, the state with the highest life expectancy.

Figure 2 below shows the 10 states with the lowest life expectancy, starting with Mississippi, the state with the lowest life expectancy.

Assurance scoured life expectancy data prepared in January 2023 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). With this data, Assurance created several easy-to-understand graphics that offer information about life expectancies.

Life expectancies are a basic measure of well-being

As measured by the CDC, life expectancies are a basic measurement of well-being in a broad population and not a prediction of how long an individual might live. The CDC measures the expected lifespan for a person born in the year of measurement. This measurement is calculated based on the assumption that the individual will live and die according to the rates of death that are prevalent in the measurement year for each age. There’s no assumed improvement or backsliding in the assumed mortality rates in future years for each age in the life expectancy calculation.

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By contrast, an estimated lifespan for an individual would consider their current age, their gender, and some basic lifestyle information. It might also attempt to project future improvements or backsliding in mortality rates based on key factors.

Significant influences on life expectancy calculations

Leading causes of death in the U.S. are heart disease, cancer, and accidents in that order. These immediate causes are significantly influenced by factors in the population such as poverty rates, educational attainment, rates of obesity and smoking, access to healthcare, prevalence of violent crime, and the support people receive from federal, state, and local governments. All these factors can vary widely among different states, which can be a key reason why life expectancies vary by state.

When you think about it, all these factors also have the potential to influence a person’s quality of life. The measured life expectancy rate rolls up all these factors into one objective measurement of well-being that’s based on population data.

In addition to the factors listed above, mortality rates increased and life expectancies decreased in the past few years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. A recent article titled “Live Free And Die” summarized recent research results that show that life expectancies in most countries around the world rebounded after the Covid-19 pandemic but that they continued to decline in the United States. Many of the reasons cited in the article for the continued decline in U.S. life expectancies are the same or similar to the factors listed above.

NPR‘Live free and die?’ The sad state of U.S. life expectancy

Why should retirees care about the life expectancies reported here if these measures don’t predict your own lifespan? Life expectancy calculations indicate the general well-being of the entire population in your area. While the living conditions in your area can influence your own lifespan and quality of life, retirees should focus on their remaining life expectancy given their age. They should also consider how the factors listed above that influence life expectancies in the population might apply to them.

You can obtain customized estimates of your remaining life expectancy at the Actuaries Longevity Illustrator. Part of your planning for retirement is understanding how long you an an individual might live, instead of relying on generalized information about larger populations you see in the media.

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IRS Dirty Dozen Campaign Warns Taxpayers To Avoid Offer In Compromise ‘Mills’

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Owing taxes can be stressful. Unfortunately, the actions of some companies can make it worse. As part of its “Dirty Dozen” campaign, the IRS has renewed a warning about so-called Offer in Compromise “mills” that often mislead taxpayers into believing they can settle a tax debt for pennies on the dollar—while the companies collective excessive fees.

Dirty Dozen

The “Dirty Dozen” is an annual list of common scams taxpayers may encounter. Many of these schemes peak during tax filing season as people prepare their returns or hire someone to help with their taxes. The schemes put taxpayers and tax professionals at risk of losing money, personal information, data, and more.

(You can read about other schemes on the list this year—including aggressive ERC grabs here, phishing/smishing scams here and charitable ploys here.)

Tax Debt Resolution Schemes

“Too often, we see some unscrupulous promoters mislead taxpayers into thinking they can magically get rid of a tax debt,” said IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel.

“This is a legitimate IRS program, but there are specific requirements for people to qualify. People desperate for help can make a costly mistake if they clearly don’t qualify for the program. Before using an aggressive promoter, we encourage people to review readily available IRS resources to help resolve a tax debt on their own without facing hefty fees.”

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Offers In Compromise

Legitimate is a key word. Offers in Compromise are an important program to help people who can’t pay to settle their federal tax debts. But, as the IRS notes, these “mills” can aggressively promote Offers in Compromise—OIC—in misleading ways to people who don’t meet the qualifications, frequently costing taxpayers thousands of dollars.

An OIC allows you to resolve your tax obligations for less than the total amount you owe. You generally submit an OIC because you don’t believe you owe the tax, you can’t pay the tax, or
 exceptional circumstances exist.

Because of the nature of the OIC—and the dollars involved—the process can be time-consuming. It can also be confusing for taxpayers who may not have a complete grasp on their finances.

First, you must complete a detailed application, Form 656, Offer in Compromise. You must also submit Form 433-A, Collection Information Statement for Wage Earners and Self-Employed Individuals, or Form 433-B, Collection Information Statement for Businesses, with supporting documentation (generally, bank and brokerage statements and proof of expenses).

You’ll also need to submit a non-refundable fee of $205 and payment made in good faith. The payment is typically 20% of the offer amount for a lump sum cash offer or the first month’s payment for those made over time. Generally, initial payments will not be returned but will be applied to your tax debt if your offer is not accepted. Payments and fees may be waived if the OIC is submitted based solely on the premise that you do not owe the tax or if your total monthly income falls at or below income levels based on the Department of Health and Human Services (DHSS) poverty guidelines.

The IRS will examine your application and decide whether to accept it based on many things, including the total amount due and the time remaining to collect under the statute of limitations. The IRS will also review your income—including future earnings and accounts receivables—and your reasonable expenses, as determined by their formula. The IRS will also consider the amount of equity you have in assets that you own—this would include real property, personal property (like automobiles), and bank accounts.

Criteria

Before your offer can be considered, you must be compliant. That means you must have filed all your tax returns and paid off any liabilities not subject to the OIC. After you submit your offer, you must continue to timely file your tax returns, and pay all required tax, including estimated tax payments. If you don’t, the IRS will return your offer.

Additionally, you cannot currently be in an open bankruptcy proceeding, and you must resolve any open audit or outstanding innocent spouse claim issues before you submit an offer.

Representation

You can probably tell—it’s a lot to consider. You may want representation. A tax professional can help marshal you through the process and offer practical guidance, while communicating what fees could look like.

By contrast, according to the IRS, an OIC “mill” will usually make outlandish claims, frequently in radio and TV ads, about how they can settle a person’s tax debt for cheap. Also telling: the fees tend to be significant in exchange for very little work.

Those mills also knowingly advise indebted taxpayers to file an OIC application even though the promoters know the person will not qualify, costing taxpayers money and time. You can check your eligibility for free using the IRS’s Offer in Compromise Pre-Qualifier tool.

“Pennies On A Dollar”

What about those promises that taxpayers can routinely settle for pennies on a dollar? Not true. Generally, the IRS will not accept an offer if they believe you can pay your tax debt in full through an installment agreement or equity in assets, including your home. That’s why the IRS tends to reject a majority of OICs that are submitted. The acceptance rate is less than 1 in 3, according to the 2021 Data Book.

The IRS will generally approve an OIC when the amount offered represents the best opportunity for the IRS to collect the debt. It’s true that there’s a formula that the IRS uses to figure out how much they think they can collect from you. But there is some wiggle room to account for special circumstances, including a loss of income or a medical condition. It’s worth noting those are the exceptions, not the rule.

Collections

While submitting an OIC may keep the IRS from calling you, it doesn’t stop all collections activities—don’t believe companies that suggest that submitting an OIC will make your tax debt disappear. Penalties and interest will continue to accrue on your outstanding tax liability. Additionally, the IRS may keep your tax refund, including interest, through the date the IRS accepts your OIC.

You may also be liened. In most cases, the IRS will file a Notice of Federal Tax Lien to protect their interests, and the lien will generally stay in place until your tax obligation is satisfied.

Be Skeptical

An OIC is a serious effort to resolve tax debt and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Be skeptical—if it sounds too good to be true, it likely is. If you’re considering an OIC, hire a competent tax professional who understands the rules and is willing to level with you about your chances of being successful—including other options. Don’t fall into a trap that can make your situation worse.

MORE FROM FORBESIRS Urges Those Hoping To Help To Beware Of Scammers Using Fake Charities

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