Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Even wealthy Batswana don’t understand how the stock exchange works

When the country’s premier road transport magnate says that he still doesn’t know what a stock exchange does 21 years after it was established, there is reason to worry.

Invited to the floor at the Botswana Stock Exchange inaugural listings conference to give his appreciation of the stock exchange system in Botswana, Seabelo Tlhaselo, would have shocked some with his admission that he still doesn’t know the difference between the stock exchange and a commercial bank. Tlhaselo is the owner of Seabelo Group which is made up of Seabelo Express and Seabelo Carriers. The former is a passenger carriage with 38 buses and the latter a freight carriage with 14 trucks, both of which operate nationally and regionally.

Later when she got her turn at the podium, one of the directors of ceremony, Tshepidi Moremong of the Rand Merchant Bank, said that Tlhaselo’s revelation was an “indictment” on those whose responsibility it is to educate members of the public about the stock exchange. Her use of “us” in relation to the latter made clear the fact that she personally accepted blame for the dearth of public knowledge about capital markets. To its credit, the BSE has long been trying to close this knowledge gap and the listings conference, which will be an annual event, is the latest addition to its public education programme. At the conference, various speakers from listed companies told of their experiences with the BSE and how listing on it improved the fortunes of their companies. Mark Tunmer, the Chief Executive Officer of Imara Capital, spoke of how the company’s value increased manifold after it had invested on the BSE.

Part of BSE’s inability to reach as wide a segment of the population as would be desirable appears to be closing the cultural gap between western and indigenous commerce. Closing this gap is crucial in any learning scenario. To an extent this may in turn be an indictment on the amount of scholarship that has been exercised in understanding indigenous systems. Generally, the indigenous systems of commerce have not been studied and explicated well enough to relate them to western commerce as it occurs on the stock exchange. Closing this gap would be crucial to making capital markets understandable to ordinary people. 

The situation notwithstanding, there is increasing awareness and interest among Batswana about the stock exchange. Last year, when the Botswana Telecommunications Corporation Limited hosted an initial public awareness grand assembly (“IPO Awareness Pitso”) at the Gaborone International Convention Centre, the venue was literally packed to the rafters as hundreds of people showed up. The response to the subsequent IPO was hugely positive.

However, there is one little problem that even the BSE cannot solve for those willing to learn about the capital markets. Part of process of closing the knowledge gap includes doing something that most Batswana are not terribly keen on ÔÇô reading. Investors generally have to conduct extensive research to learn about a company or product they want to invest and in almost all instances, that information is hidden in publicly available reading material. And, for a peculiar type of addict, the market reports on Btv will come at the exact same time that they are getting their daily fix of soap operas on South African television. 

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