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Six technology trends that SMEs should watch out for in 2017


Sage Chief Technology Officer Klaus-Michael Vogelberg talks about the role chatbots, collective intelligence and blockchain will play at start-up and scale up enterprises in 2017

Sage, the market leader in Cloud accounting software, has predicted that chatbots, collective intelligence and blockchain are some of the big technology trends that will change the way entrepreneurs run their businesses in 2017. Sage Chief Technology Officer, Klaus-Michael Vogelberg, said: “As every business – big or small – is transforming more or less intensively into a tech-enabled business, today’s entrepreneurs should be on the lookout for the opportunities these technological developments can bring to their business.”

Vogelberg sees six major trends in 2017 that could make a big difference to the way business builders will work in 2017 and beyond.

Trend #1: Chatbots and autonomous interfaces


Autonomous interfaces such as chatbots or digital agents will become increasingly common on different devices and user interfaces which entrepreneurs use to manage and control their businesses. These interfaces will dramatically change the way that humans and computers work and interact with each other. While, in the past, people used a keyboard or mouse to interact with their PCs, they will gradually start talking with their systems or using gesture control such as hand, head or eye gestures to interact with them.

The user experience will not only become more convenient but also more enjoyable – these systems will work autonomously and have self-learning capabilities. Eventually, software could act without user intervention, or ask a certain question only once and use this information for all further activities.

In June 2016, Sage launched the first accounting chatbot, PeggTM. Pegg acts as a smart assistant that allows users to track expenses and manage finances through messaging apps such as Facebook messenger and Slack. Pegg hides the complexities of accounting and lets entrepreneurs manage finances through conversation, making the process as simple as writing a text. By digitising information at the point of capture, it takes away the hassle of filing receipts and expenses, eliminating the need for paper and data entry.

Trend #2: Artificial & collective intelligence


According to Vogelberg, artificial and collective intelligence is another major trend to look out for, even for smaller companies. With mushrooming data volumes being generated by all sorts of sensors and devices on the one hand (see trend #6), and computer power and special analysis software and intelligent agents becoming increasingly affordable and powerful on the other, companies need to find ways to extract knowledge from today’s wealth of Big Data.

Sage’s Klaus-Michael Vogelberg therefore advises SMEs to “team up”. “If small and medium-sized enterprises join forces and – while considering their corporate data protection policies and personal rights laws – share, for example, computer power and data with other companies in a structured and systematic manner, they could profit from this collaboration by receiving a better and larger data pool and superior data intelligence. Similar to crowdsourcing mechanisms, this enriched data pool would enable companies to better understand how customers behave, what they need, what to offer them and the business areas to invest in.”

Trend #3: Blockchain – or how to create trust in the digital age


According to Sage, business builders should also carefully analyse if, and how, the new blockchain technology could impact their current business models. Particularly all those industries which work as intermediaries between two parties – such as lawyers, notaries, or real-estate or financial brokers – could be affected by this new, innovative approach.

Bookkeepers and accountants might also be affected in the way they do business in the future, as blockchain has the potential to eliminate a significant part of the workload – such as checking and booking transactions, transferring money or paying invoices – handled by these professions today.

Why could this happen? Blockchain organises transactions of digital assets between two parties in a radically new way. Instead of using middlemen or intermediaries such as banks, notaries, state authorities or trading platforms to legitimise the exchange of certain assets – such as digital properties, digital trading goods, digital contracts, or even financial transactions via digital currencies such as Bitcoins – blockchains allow individuals to transfer these assets in a direct, safe, secure, and immutable way between each other.

A decentralised, distributed ledger, essentially an asset database shared across multiple participants, combined with crypto-economic algorithms serve as the technological basis of a blockchain. All participants of a blockchain (so called nodes) have access to the distributed ledger, which contains an inventory of all the relevant digital assets.

All parties within this network have their own identical copy of the ledger. Any changes to it are applied to every copy in a matter of minutes or even seconds. Thus, the system is transparent and creates trust among all nodes without the need for legitimisation by any other third party authority.

Trend #4: Revolutionizing the movement of money
The way people use money and transfer their payments from one account to another has already changed dramatically: at the frontend, in-app payment solutions nowadays enable users to effortlessly make one-click payments and purchase goods via mobile devices or websites. This functionality is already available in many apps today. But at the backend, systems such as accounting software are less user-friendly and less integrated.

For example, companies currently have almost no possibility to make one-click invoice payments or easily manage their financial transactions between partners, suppliers and their bank with a fingertip.

In 2017, more and more new solutions will allow companies to establish an end-to-end payments value chain with their suppliers and customers. These new solutions enable ubiquitous anytime anywhere, immediate and omni-channel payments and will be fully integrated into the financial accounting systems of tomorrow’s enterprises. All parties, such as e-commerce platforms, banks, fin-techs or partners, will profit from open API standards which will be used for creating new services and enable seamless, fully-automated processing of payments and financial transactions.

At Sage Summit in July 2016 Sage announced its partnership with US Bank, a technical example for this paradigm change in payments. The  HYPERLINK "https://smallbiztrends.com/2016/07/sage-partner-us-bank-cash-flow-statement.html" AP Optimizer for  HYPERLINK "http://www.sage.com/us/sage-live" Sage Live that Sage built in partnership with U.S. Bank marks a first truly digital accounting and payment solution that enables start up and scale up businesses to manage their cash flow through dynamic integration with customers. AP Optimizer is integrated in Sage Live and determines for example the best time to pay bills and the best method for payment to optimise cash flow in near real-time, and then carries out the payment.

Trend #5: Platform-based infrastructure


In 2017, more and more SMEs will replace their stand-alone, on-site software systems with integrated, cloud-based software solutions that operate on global Cloud platforms such as Salesforce.com who are offering their users access to a wealth of business apps and integrated services. Moreover, companies will also benefit from mobile-app platforms such as the one operated by the Apple Mobility Partner Program.

“The big benefit of these platforms is that they give even smaller companies access to innovative business software solutions and services which these companies would not have been able to afford five years ago.  To some extent, these types of cloud platforms are democratising the way in which companies gain access to state-of-the-art apps and smart and scalable technologies,” says Klaus-Michael Vogelberg.

“They allow business builders to discover new ways of working and give them the infrastructure needed to receive every kind of data from partners or the Internet of Things, analyze it, and then – in a “citizen developer” style – create something new and productive,” the Sage CTO says.

Trend #6: Internet of Things will create new services and job profiles


Small and medium-sized enterprises should be on the lookout for new possibilities that emerge with the realisation of the Internet of Things. Multiple data streams originating from all sorts of sensors built into e.g. machines, cars, mobile and immobile goods, clothes or even human beings (e.g. for medical monitoring purposes) will result in a true treasure trove of data, thus creating all sorts of new services.


SMEs should think about how to use these data streams to grow their business:  Mechanics will develop new services such as predictive maintenance for all sorts of technical infrastructures. Logistic companies will optimise e.g. the navigation of their truck fleets by using traffic data from many different sources including smart city data from traffic lights, streets or other vehicles. 


Concierge services will develop all sorts of surveillance services with the realisation of new smart home technology. Retail companies and shop owners might connect to smart home devices such as refrigerators or Amazon-style dash buttons to supply customers automatically and predictively with goods and services. Mobile medical care services will innovate their work with the assistance of all sorts of new devices e.g. to improve their support of elderly people living alone at home.

Early last year Sage demonstrated its partnership with TomTom telematics which enables Sage Live customers to keep track of vehicle journeys, and feed data into the accounting process in real time.

In summary, Sage Chief Technology Officer Klaus-Michael Vogelberg said: “In 2017, every business will need to start thinking of itself as a technology business. To stay competitive, they will need to grasp the opportunities that this development brings with it and change almost every aspect of today’s more or less traditional ways of working.

The good news is that this technology means that we believe that very soon, business admin could become completely invisible, as easy as messaging a friend, or even completely automated, as machines learn like humans. This will empower entrepreneurs to stay focused on building their businesses, driving growth in the economy and contributing to their communities – not basic admin.’

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Business

Choppies back to profitability

21st September 2021
Choppies CEO - RamachandaranOttapathu

Choppies Holdings Limited, Botswana’s largest Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) retail group, is back to its glory days of profitability.

On Wednesday, Choppies signalled its shareholders in a circular published on the Botswana Stock Exchange website that a massive comeback is in the offing. The retail giant, which trades on both Botswana and Johannesburg Stock Exchange, notified its investors that it is currently finalising its financial results for the 12 months ended 30 June 2021 (FY2021).

As per the Listings Requirements of the Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange Limited (JSE), that requires companies to publish a trading statement as soon as they become reasonably certain that the financial results for the period to be reported on next will differ by more than 10% (in the case of the BSE) or more than 20% (in the case of the JSE) from the financial results reported for the previous corresponding period, Choppies notified the market about the expected financials.

In the circular, Choppies said it expects the consolidated Profit after Tax, including discontinued operations for the period FY2021, to be between 106% to 126% better than the Loss after Tax of BWP 370.6 million reported for the period FY2020, representing a Profit after Tax of between BWP 22.6 million and BWP 96.7 million.

The Profit before Tax for FY2021 is expected to be between 1% and 21% higher (BWP 105.7 million and BWP 126.7million) than the Profit before Tax of BWP 105.0 million reported for the period FY2020. The Choppies come back is against the backdrop of a devastating past three(3) financial years where the company endured some of the worst headwinds ever since its establishment over two decades ago.

Following reports of internal boardroom wars, the crisis exploded to fireworks. The retail giant was suspended on both Botswana and Johannesburg Stock Exchange for failing to publish its audited financials as per the regulatory requirement for all publicly listed companies. Following suspension from trading, Choppies’s value deteriorated to record low levels, triggering massive governance restructuring before reconfiguring its portfolio, divesting and exiting some markets, retreating to regroup in its spiritual home ground of Botswana.

In the process, the retailer stayed on news headlines for all the wrong reasons, boardroom infighting, shareholder tussles and disagreements between founders and back to back conflicts with its external auditors. At some point, Choppies founder, Chief Executive Officer and talisman, Ramachandran Ottapathu, was suspended and later reinstated in a dramatic turn of events. Furthermore, the fallout saw the longest-serving Chairperson, former President Dr Festus Mogae, resign as board chair.

The delayed 2018 year-end financial results, released a year and a half later in December 2019, delivered a shock to shareholders, with many pundits announcing Choppies’s funeral. Choppies registered a whooping BWP 445 million loss for the full year ended June 2018. Another shocking loss of BWP170 million for 2017 was initially reported as a BWP 74. 6 million profit when KPMG was still the auditor.

The Choppies loss-making crusade spilt over to 2019, registering in loss BWO 428 million before drowning again into a loss of BWP 370.6 million for the full financial year ended June 2020. In July this year, Choppies biggest individual shareholders Ramachandran Ottapathu and Farouk Ismail, revealed they would be levelling a lawsuit against former Choppies auditors Price Water Coopers (PWC).

The duo blames the auditors for alleged lapses, incompetence, and deliberate sabotage that led to the company’s regulatory non-compliance and subsequent suspension from the Botswana Stock Exchange in 2018 and a massive deterioration in value. In the Annual Report for the financial year ended June 2020, released in November that year, newly appointed Board Chair Uttun Corea announced that Choppies had appointed new auditors, Mazars, regarding FY19 and FY20.

The new board further announced a massive reconfiguration strategy to return the company to glory. The Board Investment Committee recommended disposal of loss-making operations in South Africa and the closure of operations in Mozambique, Kenya and Tanzania, which according to Mr Corea, helped return the Group to profitability.

“Our other markets also proved economically challenging with a struggling and volatile Zimbabwean economy, currency devaluation in Zambia, and a lack of economies of scale in Namibia. However, we believe a focused approach in these regions and the numerous opportunities for growth in Botswana present the Group with solid prospects.

This conditions, together with the favourable conditions following the introduction of funds by the founding shareholders, together with additional security, and given the renegotiation of our banking facilities which will see our monthly payments lower, put the Group on a firm going concern footing,” the board Chair said last year.

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Business

Cresta Marakanelo exits Zambia market 

21st September 2021
Cresta Marakanelo

Cresta Marakanelo Limited (CML), Botswana’s most prominent hotels and hospitality group, has decided to exit the Zambian market, the company announced on Wednesday. 

CML, a Botswana version of the larger Southern African Cresta Hotels Group, revealed in a circular to its shareholders on Wednesday that “it will not be renewing the lease agreement with Golfview Hotels Limited for the rental of Cresta Golfview Hotel in Lusaka, Zambia.” The Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) listed hotels group explained it would be withdrawing from the Cresta Golfview Hotel operations on 30 September 2021.

CML explained in the circular that for continuity of operations, the landlord, Golfview Hotels Limited, will be taking over the management of the hotel and will endeavour to absorb the majority of the staff.

“The consideration to not renew the lease came after a review of the financial viability of continuing with the lease agreement. The decision to exit the lease is therefore in the best interests of CML shareholders,” Cresta Marakanelo Board explained on Wednesday.

For the year ended 31 December 2020, Cresta Golfview Hotel accounted for 5% of the CML Group’s revenue and 2% of the Group’s loss before tax. The company said it would continue to operate the 11 hotels in Botswana.

The Board of Directors of Cresta Marakanelo went on express gratitude to its dedicated staff at Cresta Golfview Hotel, “The men and women who personified our Cresta brand essence; Where One Smile Starts Another and lived our Cresta mantra of Hospitality with African Heart and Soul consistently over the years.” The Board further thanked its business partners in Zambia: the valued guests, suppliers, stakeholders, and the Zambian community at large during the time CML has operated in Lusaka.

“We look forward to welcoming you to our other properties under the CML portfolio,” the statement said. Early this year, Cresta Marakanelo attempted to expand its Botswana footprint, nearly taking in Phakalane Golf Estate & Hotels Property under its wing. In January 2021, Cresta Marakanelo announced that it had signed a 10-year lease agreement for the hotel and the golf course, located in the Gaborone high-end suburbs, with an option to renew for a further ten year period.

In addition, Cresta had planned to pay Phakalane P10.7 million as a once-off for moveable assets, including furniture, fittings and equipment, with the amount payable over 24 months. Two months later, CML directors told shareholders that the conditions necessary to finalise the deal had not been fulfilled, and as a result, the transaction could not materialise.

Cresta Marakanelo is the operating company for, until this Zambia exit, the 12 Cresta Hotels in Botswana and Zambia. The company was formed in 1987 with an initial portfolio of fewer than 290 rooms, and until this September end exit, Cresta Marakanelo has been managing over 1000 rooms in Botswana and Zambia.

Since its establishment, Cresta Marakanelo Limited (CML) has maintained its position as the largest hotel group in Botswana. The company was established in 1987 when Cresta Hospitality was awarded the Management contract for the Marakanelo Hotels in Botswana by the Botswana Development Corporation.

Cresta Marakanelo was listed on the Botswana Stock Exchange in 2010. Its largest shareholders are the Botswana Government, through the Botswana Development Company, at 30 percent and Cresta Holdings Botswana at around 29 percent, with other shareholders being Motor Vehicles Accident Fund Botswana, Botswana Insurance Company, amongst others.

Established in 1970, the Botswana Development Company is the investment arm of the Botswana Government. BDC’s main aim is to be the country’s principal agency for commercial and industrial development. The Government of Botswana owns 100 percent of the issued share capital of the Corporation. BDC has interests in industry, property development and management, agribusiness and services.

Cresta Holdings Botswana is ultimately owned by Masawara Plc, a Jersey Registered Company listed on the London Stock Exchange’s Alternative Investment Market, with an investment portfolio that extends from Botswana to Zambia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The Group’s portfolio spans the Hospitality, Insurance, Investment Management and Agrochemical sectors.

Its hospitality arm, Cresta Hospitality Holdings, is one of Southern Africa’s largest hotel management groups, managing or operating hotels in Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia.  Cresta Hospitality started hotel operations as far back as 1958. Cresta Holdings is a hotel management company registered in Botswana.

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Business

ABSA posts improved results  

21st September 2021
Keabetswe Pheko-Moshagane

Absa Bank Botswana released their condensed consolidated interim financial statements for the period ended 30 June 2021. Profit before tax grew significantly by 125% against the previous year, a material recovery from the June 2020 position.

According to the company directors, the performance was driven mainly by the positive performance of the impairment line together with the positive momentum on cost lines. Pre-provision profit has also grown year on year by 9%.

Consequently, the bank’s Return on Equity (ROE) went up to 19%. Total revenue declined 1% year-on-year. Net interest income fell 8% due to margin compression driven by interest rate cuts in 2020. However, the sales and transactional banking franchise realised impressive recovery rates with volumes going up to almost pre-COVID-19 levels, and fee revenue grew 20% year on year.

Absa boasted that their operating costs remain well contained, on a reducing trend compared to the prior year. On a statutory basis, operating expenses totalled P460 million, representing a 7% decrease year-on-year. This was achieved by an overall reduction in spending as the bank continues to leverage on a leaner, rotational and digitally-led operating model.

Costs in the current year have benefited from the absence of the Voluntary Staff Separation exercise that happened in the first half of 2020, together with a significant reduction in separation expenses as the rebranding exercise has been completed. Cost-to- income ratio declined 4% and ended at 58% for the period under review. On a year-on-year basis, our credit losses decreased materially by 74%.

This significant drop was driven primarily by the better-than-expected performance of the macroeconomic variables, predominantly GDP, which carries a higher weighting in the bank risk models. With improved and stable portfolio performance, the loan loss rate improved to less than 1% for the period ended 30 June 2021.

Absa balance sheet continued on its growth trajectory with an overall growth of 14%. Customer loans and deposits remained key. components of the balance sheet and the key drivers of balance sheet growth. The balance sheet position remains solid at a total financial position of P21.5 billion. Customer loans grew by 9% year-on-year to P14.8 billion.

“We have seen increased momentum in our loan conversion rates, especially in RBB where growth was driven by scheme loans, mortgage loans and Enterprise Supply-chain Development (ESD) loans,” the bank said in a commentary that accompanied the financials.

Directors explained that growth is in line with their strategy to continue to lend a hand to the bank customers who need support during this period and support the initiatives around citizen economic empowerment and economic diversification. Customer deposits have registered good momentum growing 15% compared to last year, reaching P16 billion as of 30 June 2021.

“Although we have seen tightening liquidity in the market, our client penetration, acquisition and retention strategy has borne much fruit, especially in our CIB segment. We have noted a stable upward trend in our deposit book, a momentum which is expected to last into the rest of the months of 2021,” Directors observed.

Directors further noted that the solid balance sheet position and recovery in profitability had further strengthened the bank’s capital position, which stands at P2.9 billion and represents a capital adequacy ratio of 18% against a regulatory requirement of 12.5%. The liquid assets ratio stood at 14.6%, well above a regulatory limit of 10%.

Zooming deep into segmental performances, corporate and Investment Banking (CIB)closed off the first half of 2021 with a year-on-year decline of 3% on total income; this is on the back of the slow recovery in economic activity felt in crucial economic sectors which have previously contributed positively to revenue.

Business sentiment and confidence remain subdued even in 2021 as uncertainty continues due to the impact of COVID-19. However, the profitability of CIB is on the move, on an upward trajectory with 36% growth year-on-year. This performance was supported by the non-funded income lines’ resilience and the impairment lines’ performance.

For the Retail Banking segment the first half of the year, both loans and advances and deposits due to customers grew by 14% and 16% year-on-year, respectively. Overall revenue has remained flat year-on-year. Growth was realised from non-interest income. This is in line with the bank’s strategy to become the go-to transactional and digitally-led bank.

In the future, Absa directors noted the volatile, unpredictable environment that continues to prevail due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which comes with new waves of infections and variants, restricted movement and trade.

” However, we remain resolute in executing our refreshed strategy and focus on offering our employees and customers support in collaboration with the various stakeholders that we have partnered with.

As part of our strategy to provide customer-centric transactional banking solutions, we will continue to roll out enhancements to our existing digital platforms and develop new solutions that offer our customers convenience and safety.” For the period, Absa Bank Botswana Limited Board approved an interim dividend of 9.74 thebe per share, amounting to a total dividend of P83 million.

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