Botswana: Pan-African microlender Letshego lets go of fourth CEO in four years

By Kanika Saigal
Posted on Wednesday, 4 May 2022 19:25

The logo of Botswana-based microfinance institution Letshego.

Pan-African microlender Letshego is once again on the hunt for a new boss following the termination of group CEO and executive director Andrew Okai.

Okai was dismissed following the “irreparable breakdown in trust and confidence between the two parties”, according to a press release signed by Letshego group chairman Enos Banda and published by the Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE).

The group’s current chief operations officer, Aupa Monyatsi, was appointed to fill Okai’s roles for an interim period as the company searches for a replacement. Banda says the Letshego board “fully supports and has confidence in Monyatsi and his executive team to continue to drive the company strategy”.

Okai is the fourth CEO to leave the microfinance institution (MFI) since Chris Low’s departure in August 2018. Colm Patterson, Smit Crouse and Dumisani Ndebele all served as interim CEOs before the board appointed Okai on 1 February 2020.

It was pretty apparent when I arrived that the company was in trouble.

Some Letshego shareholders had hoped that Okai’s appointment would restore confidence in the company after the succession of interim CEOs left Letshego searching to solidify its identity and purpose.

“It was pretty apparent when I arrived that the company was in trouble,” Okai told The Africa Report in a Zoom interview in April. “I think a lot of this was due to a lack of direction and communication of our strategy given all the changes in management. In fact, the fundamentals of the MFI were good – I just had to bring this to everyone’s attention.”

Transition

Okai’s leadership initially paid off. He led the company’s transition from a traditional lender into a digital-first commercial business whose ambitions were to become a pan-African giant with insurance, lifestyle and savings products offered alongside its lending services.

Catalysed by the Covid-19 pandemic, loan applications through all of Letshego’s digital channels – mainly via WhatsApp – rose from 1% at the start of the pandemic to 78% within four weeks. In the first four months of this year, Letshego added close to 650,000 new customers to its previous 350,000, driven by the company’s digital transformation.

According to the company’s 2021 annual report, profit after tax rose 16% to P730m ($60.3m) in 2021 up from P631m in the previous year. Meanwhile, the share price rose to around P1.80 in recent weeks, where it remained on 4 May, according to the BSE. Letshego’s lowest share price was P0.60 in July 2020.

The institution’s non-performing loan ratio increased to 5.9% in 2021, up slightly from 5.3% in 2020, but overall asset quality remained strong, said Okai, given Letshego’s core customer base – government employees.

“Governments across our remit continued to employ and pay workers,” Okai said in the interview last month. “We maintained high collection rates, and the business stayed in relatively good shape, despite the economic downturn.”

Before joining Letshego two years ago, Okai had served as global chief operating officer for retail banking at Standard Chartered for two and a half years in Singapore. He had been with the bank for more than 20 years in posts across Africa and Asia before moving to Ghana to pursue a career in international development.

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