Mr. Ng, given its energy, mining and agricultural resources, Guinea has the potential to become an even greater and more important actor in the region. In your opinion, what are the other investment opportunities for Guinea?
This is a country with abundant natural resources which, mostly, are not exploited. Based on my experience here, the country has a lot of potential but remains poor. It means that a link in the chain is missing. Hopefully, as a development bank, we can forge these elements together to improve this condition.
In recent years the sector of foreign investment has become competitive in West Africa, with all countries in the region fighting to secure as much foreign investment as possible. What are the major comparative advantages of Guinea compared to other countries in the region?
Guinea has had a more stable government in recent years. It is now a country where you can operate safely, with a committed government with strong leadership, plentiful natural resources, and a hard-working population. If we take into account these factors, together with the aspiration of the country to become a vital member in the West African region, we can clearly see the potential of the country
Under the presidency of His Excellency, Professor Alpha Condé, the country had made great progress in terms of transparency and democratization. This encourages foreign investment and stimulates economic growth. What does that mean for the banking sector and how do you see that as an opportunity to attract more foreign investment?
Greater transparency in both markets and democratic processes will always encourage investors. The president’s encouragement for foreign investment directly supports our mandate to ensure the country’s development. We’ve found that, despite that level of support, challenges remain but because our team is now well established in Guinea, we have the knowledge, networking skills and relationships to overcome these barriers to ensure the projects we have undertaken can move forward.
We are trying to help improve the way things are done here, and we work hard together with the government to improve the development of the country. It is not only the transparency that will make Guinea more attractive for investors, but also a clear view of how opportunities can be accessed. When investors see these opportunities (and evaluate the return) they will consider establishing their business and invest in the country. But this process depends on the co-operation of the authorities in sharing vital information needed for investors to commit to Guinea. Without this, the country runs the risk of discouraging the outside support which it ultimately needs. Businessmen will simply look to other countries.
Hopefully, as the development bank with an international management team, we are in a strong position to more effectively procure and convey project-related information to interested investors and help overcome the obstacles and get business done. That is our main role here.
Launched in 2013 with 100% controlled capital from a consortium of private shareholders based in Hong Kong, BDG is the Republic of Guinea’s principal investment bank with a clear mandate to support the country’s development. How would you describe BDG's experience in Guinea since its inception?
We faced a great many challenges in the first phase of establishing the bank including learning and becoming familiar with, local practices.
An Ebola outbreak meant we had to pause for 18 months as part of the national response. Notwithstanding the risk, my colleagues all remained within Guinea. By the end of 2015, we began to capitalize on the infrastructure that had been put in place, driving the projects forward for which we had done the groundwork. The time and investment spent gathering the right information, carrying out technical and feasibility studies and viability assessments, together with strengthening good working relationships with government ministries, meant we had made solid progress.
I came onboard at the start of 2017. Now the master agreement between China and Guinea has been signed, the advisory deals we already have are moving towards completion, and there has been increased interest from further potential customers, including Chinese companies, looking to us to handle their investment.
BDG faces increased competition in the market with reputable banks such as Afriland, Ecobank, SGBG and BICIGUI or more likely BISIC, which monopolize more than half the market share. In your opinion, what are the major competitive advantages of BDG and how does your work model differentiate you from these competitors? What are you doing to make sure it remains as competitive as possible and attracts more investors?
We have no direct competitors here in Guinea because we are the first and only development and investment bank. I have told the central bank here that we are not trying to compete with the other 15 commercial banks here. Our outside competitors may try to gain an investment banking license after seeing what we have done, but they need to build a presence in their own their own niche market. Our main competitive advantages lie in the following areas:
1. Knowledge of foreign/Asian/China investment markets;
2. Know-how and understanding of what projects are important to the country;
3. The vital information we have built and invested in through feasibility studies, technical reports and environmental studies on the country’s important projects;
4. Our good and improving working relationship with the ministries and;
5. Our ability to communicate with potential investors.
Ultimately, we strive to find long-term strategic investors that have goals, which align with the national interest. We hope to work on projects that offer good value, with partners possessing strong technical expertise and, together with the investor, we will arrange a viable financial structure to benefit all participants. It is important to consider in equal measure, the risks and benefits for both the State and our strategic partners for each and every single project.
BDG’s interest in the socio-economic development of Guinea is clear. You are focused directly on the main axes of the development of Guinea. By this, we mean you are focused on the empowerment of financial resources to sectors of major potential of the future development such as infrastructure, mining, agricultural resources and Energy production. How does your bank play a key role in the country's social, as well as, economic development?
Firstly, we offer an advisory service if someone is interested in investing in Guinea. We can provide a brief of the panorama of the country and suggest how to allocate their investment efficiently.
We also have a social corporate responsibility pact with Guinea. We have clients who are directly participating in the development of the country and also use best practice to reduce the impact of their operations on the environment. We collaborate effectively because we talk the same language and have a corporate governance approach which chimes both with our clients and the republic.
For example, the Green Climate Fund (the main UN vehicle for financing green projects) is looking into opportunities in Guinea. We are now pursuing accreditation with the fund in order to support this process.
We are also involved in a project, supporting the Ministry of Mines to improve its operations and the livelihood of artisanal miners, by buying a machine to wash out gold to streamline the extraction process.
Now, thanks to very good bilateral relations between China and Guinea, the interest of Chinese investors in the resources and development of Guinea is increasingly visible. In his state visit to China last year, President Alpha Conde had said himself: "We want economic cooperation with China to be stronger than political cooperation." What kind of result do you hope from this cooperation between the two countries? What can it bring to the banking sector?
The Guinea Government has recently signed a $20 billion framework agreement with the Chinese Government, pledging its bauxite mining rights in return for securing financing for government-approved projects. To us, this brings opportunities and challenges for advising project companies to submit proposals for approval and receipt of funding under this arrangement. The banking sector as a whole will also benefit, as funding will be injected in, and SME’s, too, stand to gain.
The other incentive for China would be Guinea’s political cooperation in the UN & the African Union.
Mr. Ng, you are now leading BDG, a bank leading an important financing of the development and exploitation of the resources of the country of Guinea. What are the main qualities needed to succeed as a leader today?
I spent 35 years in banking in Hong Kong after my MBA from the Chinese University and exchange to New York University. I was on my way to retirement before the shareholders of the bank requested my help. It was a challenge I couldn’t refuse.
The first thing I did here was to share with my staff the mission of the bank. I want the bank to be recognized as having best practice and governance; I want the bank to achieve the financial goals of our shareholders, I want the bank to be fully compliant with regulations, I want our bank to be the employer of choice. I want our staff to be happy to come to work every day; I want the bank to contribute to the economy of Guinea.
To accomplish this, we rely heavily on best practice which, ultimately, will lead to profits, demonstrable compliance, firm governance and respect across all our relationships.
During your work at the head of this prestigious company in the banking sector in Guinea. What is the greatest achievement for which you want to be remembered?
If I can be remembered as: “The DG from Hong Kong emphasizing best practice, firm governance and strong performance which has contributed to the economy of Guinea.” That would make me very proud.
Finally, Readers of South China Morning Post include most of the most influential businessmen and politicians from China and around the world. Do you have a final message to their address to Guinea that would encourage them to come and do business and invest here?
There exists a great deal of untapped business opportunities here in Guinea, to suit most risk appetites. I invite interested investors and companies to visit us to find out for themselves how our advice can help to realize both their commercial objectives and support Guinea’s own development aims.