BNC London: Warren Wheatley – Revolutionising finance for SA’s informal and SME sectors

At the BizNews Conference in London, AltVest Capital Limited CEO Warren Wheatley highlighted the transformative impact of his company on South Africa’s informal and SME sectors. Wheatley passionately described how AltVest’s innovative platform democratises investment opportunities, allowing everyday South Africans to fund and grow local businesses. Through equity and debt crowdfunding, AltVest bridges the gap between underserved communities and essential capital, fostering economic inclusion and resilience. With successful ventures like Pormat Property Group and Zwani Financial Services, AltVest is redefining financial access and creating sustainable growth across the nation.

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Summary of Warren Wheatly’s keynote address at the BizNews Conference in London

AltVest Capital provides SMEs in South Africa with access to debt and equity funding through a crowdfunding platform. This allows ordinary investors to participate in economic growth, democratizing access to private equity. AltVest has successfully funded various businesses, creating jobs and supporting underserved communities. They aim to expand their impact by attracting more capital.

Warren Wheatley’s PowerPoint Presentation

Edited transcript of Warren Wheatly’s keynote address at the BizNews Conference in London 

00:01 All right, good afternoon everyone. Thank you for having me and thanks for inviting us, Alec. I grew up in an environment not too dissimilar to what Gigi described. Despite the increased size and scale, not much has changed in the last 40 years. It’s still largely cash-based.

00:34 There are no formalized or regulated lending practices, though lending exists. Financial services in this informal economy are limited to funeral and life insurance policies. There’s a significant lack of advisory services.

01:04 No one’s selling wealth or savings products. Savings are very informal, often in stock fields. There’s a structural exclusion from capital and financial markets for small and medium businesses in South Africa.

01:32 I developed AltVest Capital to address these issues. I’m going to be embarrassed if Paul figured this out and I can’t.

02:06 So, what is AltVest Capital? We provide SMEs with access to debt and equity funding solutions and allow investors to crowdfund these solutions. Businesses in townships or small communities can access capital from the public.

02:36 In South Africa, like in other developed markets, we are very protective of investors. It’s easier to invest in VC through South Africa than for most American professional investors. It’s incredibly difficult to get the public to invest in small businesses. We’ve developed a platform where companies can approach us for debt or equity, and we handle the administration and regulatory work to attract public capital.

03:33 Alternative assets like private equity and venture capital have been ring-fenced for the ultra-rich. We’ve changed that by allowing ordinary South Africans to invest in the real economy, giving them access to wealth creation outside traditional markets. We use trusted media platforms to educate and inform.

04:32 For investors, it’s a cost-effective way to invest in alternative assets, often real assets in their communities. For SMEs and entrepreneurs, they can raise capital from retail and institutional investors.

05:01 I have a few stories of companies we funded. One is Pormat Property Group, which builds and manufactures student accommodation. We provided debt funding for them, helping students who are studying in formal structures for the first time. Ecosystems of business and support services for students have grown around these developments.

05:54 Another is Jason Funding Impact, a 20-year-old business providing mobility devices like lifts and ramps. After COVID and port issues, they were near bankruptcy. We provided permanent capital to keep them operating.

07:18 We are also involved in the solar space, addressing access to residential solar power. Last year, we had 54 days of blackouts. This company makes solar affordable on a rent-to-own basis and trains electricians. Our funding helped lower the cost of rental products for poorer South Africans.

08:18 Zwani Financial Services operates in townships, providing regulated loans and financial services. They employ 24 people and have been operating for five years, funded exclusively by friends and family until we came in.

09:28 In our first five months, we deployed 82 million rand, prevented 144 retrenchments, created 168 jobs, and calculated that for every 560,000 rand from investors, we can save a job. For every 450,000, we create a job. We’ve helped 13 SMEs with an average loan term of 31 months and an average loan of 5 million rand.

10:55 What we lack is capital, which is why we’re here in London. Our debt product, the AltVest Credit Opportunities Fund, meets first-world governance requirements. Our debt and equity instruments are listed and accessible worldwide.

11:43 We also do equity investments, creating synthetic instruments that give holders economic exposure. These instruments are listed on South African exchanges and can be bought and sold at market value.

12:13 We’ve democratized private equity for all South Africans. For example, with Kevin Peterson, we bought 50% of his luxury lodge and sold shares at 150 rand each. Now, all South Africans can invest in these assets. The lodge has returned over 30% in capital appreciation.

13:06 We financed a children’s restaurant in Johannesburg, helping an entrepreneur raise money from her community to open two new stores. We’ve institutionalized and provided governance for informal businesses previously excluded from our markets. Thank you, Alec.

*The above transcript has been condensed and paraphrased for brevity and clarity, and may not capture the full context or nuances of the original speech delivered by Warren Wheatly at the BizNews London Conference

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