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Posted on Wednesday, 15 October 2014 15:03

Hafid el Fassy : The banking system has its Robin Hood

Hafid el Fassy. Photo©Hassan Ouazzani for TARFed up with the excesses of banking culture, this Moroccan entrepreneur aims to show that ethical finance is viable.

Hafid El fassy, who can quote in the same sentence former federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan and the late King Hassan II, is not your average banker.

Faces oF Finance

Backed by a new generation of bankers, Africa's financial sector is fuelling the continent's exponential growth. Foreign investment continues to flow to African projects, but more than ever the focus is shifting, with the continent generating home-grown solutions to its challenges and shaping its own financial future.

Behind the scenes at African banks, law firms and companies, a quiet revolution is underway. The architects of this phenomenon are vanguard of finance professionals seeking to push the continent's rapid development and to channel the resources crucial to fund Africa's expansion.

It includes Simon Denny, one of South Africa's chief mergers and acquisitions experts, and Hafid El Fassy, a Moroccan banker battling to strengthen the ethical dimension of the financial sphere. Ghana's Joshua Siaw, too, is a rising star and at only 30 is heading the Africa division at a leading law firm.

There are thousands of such players across the continent, and these new faces of finance have several things in common, in addition to their vast business experience. They each have an international perspective and the ambition to shape a new self-sustaining Africa providing sophisticated financial solutions to build the continent of tomorrow. ●

At 47, the son of a Saint-Cyr trained cavalry officer knows what the military school motto "they study to vanquish" means.

Discipline, assertiveness and precision have led him to an international career which began in france, took him to Wall Street as a trader and then brought him back to Morocco a decade ago to launch a green banking platform.

It all started when he graduated from Paris Dauphine University's financial engineering programme in 1991.

"I saw an internship offer from a subsidiary of the Union Européenne de CIC. They were looking for someone to help manage the developing countries' debt portfolio. I was not supposed to work in the front office, but this internship changed everything."

Two years later, El fassy was hired by the Union des Banques Arabes et Françaises (60% of which is held by Arab central banks).

After 10 years co-managing a half-billion-dollar portfolio, he became an expert in African and Arab debt, working
closely with the Club de Paris and its British counterpart, the Club de Londres.

"At the time these assets were so shady they were called 'exotic' or even 'illiquid' – it was a different era."

In 2000 one of his clients, International Asset Transactions, an investment fund focused on sub-Saharan assets, offered him a position in New York. One of his tasks was to create an e-marketplace for the assets to reduce the bid-offer spread.

He also had to work with credit derivatives, with his company managing $800m to secure in bond strips worldwide. But he became wary of banking culture.

"I ended up being disgusted by what I was witnessing: bosses asking their employees to hide things when making a presentation for investors, colleagues convincing clients to buy assets they don't need at a price they can't afford just to get their bonuses," he said.

El fassy was convinced that the solution lay in a more responsible banking system. "The current situation is the direct result of my profession losing sight of its essence: financing the economy," he says.

In 2004, he returned to Morocco wanting to make a difference. After different positions in local companies, he decided to create his own firm and, in 2009, Maghreb Green Banking opened its doors.

His company only accepts projects that respect the 2003 Equator Principles that advocate ethical finance.

"We worked with Maroc Export, for instance, to connect 50 Moroccan entrepreneurs to their Gulf counterparts. I was personally screening each and every company and if i found that one was not respectful of the values of green banking, I'd simply refuse to work with them," he says.

He has also worked with Casablanca finance City to finalise details around French-speaking Bloomberg TV Africa.

"It is complicated, as the finance sector in Africa is not really keen on giving up information and the whole point of business television is transparency," he says.

"One of the other challenges was to explain to Bloomberg that we had to adapt the content of the programmes as the economic activities in the region are nothing like those in the US: we would talk about small and medium-sized enterprises, women's empowerment, infrastructure development, etc."

As he likes to multitask, El fassy is also working with the European Bank for Reconstruction and development to install their southern Eastern Mediterranean sustainable Energy financing facility credit line, to help develop investment in green energy equipment in Morocco and Jordan.

He also found himself a new lobby: social finance, to focus on stimulating positive social and environmental returns for investors and the wider world.

He co-organised and moderated the first conference in Casablanca last year organised by local think tank Conseil du Développement et de la Solidarité, with social finance UK as a guest star.

Described by his business partners as an idealist, perfectionist and workaholic, El fassy believes that making business is not incompatible with improving people's lives. In a nutshell, a progressive banker. ● 



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