IMI’s Africa-correspondent Andre Bothma recently interviewed a number of prominent players in Nigeria’s rapidly growing investment migration industry. The picture that emerged from these interviews is one of serious challenges, but also of significant potential rewards for those who can overcome them.
Doing business in Africa – and Nigeria, in particular – is not for the faint of heart:
- Telecoms and airline companies have difficulties repatriating profits.
- Fintech companies face ongoing challenges stemming from patchy mobile network reliability.
- Strict capital controls hamper investment migration companies’ ability to accept payments from clients within viable time frames – Nigerians can only move $10,000 per month out of the country.
- Add to this the average Nigerian’s fear of being scammed by either locals or foreigners, and business development practitioners in Africa’s largest economy have their work cut out for them.
But it’s not all gloom and doom:
Wealth-X, a research firm that focuses on mapping high net worth behavioral patterns, estimates some 29,500 millionaires reside in Nigeria, a number similar to that of Malaysia or Argentina.
More remarkable, however, is that the same firm pegs Nigeria as the country whose stock of HNWIs will see the greatest annual growth rate between 2018 and 2023.
At a compound annual growth rate of 16.3% to 2023, Nigeria will see a higher relative increase in its millionaire population than any other country. Apply The Rule of 72, and you’ll see that if Wealth-X is right in its forecast, Nigeria will have more than doubled its number of HNWIs by 2023. Ceteris paribus, then, demand for investment migration services will also double over the same period.
Push factors: Terrorism, crime, dismal education
According to industry publication EB-5 Daily, rising terrorist threats and high crime rates are among the key reasons Nigerian families apply for American or European residency. Currency devaluation and access to better education are frequently cited as reasons as well.
Tunde Leye, a Lagos-based economist who wrote a personal essay on why Nigerian families emigrate, is on record saying that “the range of opportunities that are available to children in Nigeria is limited because the range of education is limited […] Your money can’t buy you the quality of education that is available abroad and the [opportunity] gap will only get bigger.”
It is also expected that emerging climate-related threats may lead to an increase in the size of Nigeria’s investment migration market in the coming decades.
Boots on the ground; not necessarily the best choice
In terms of new market penetration, conventional wisdom would have it that firms either need to partner with local businesses or establish their own in-country operations to succeed.
According to Gareth Brookes, CEO of citizenship advisory Brookes & Partners, however, his firm discovered very early on that an actual office was not a pre-requisite, and have been running a leaner, more remote work-oriented operation ever since they entered the market in 2017.
While this may seem counter-intuitive in a market where interpersonal trust is a vital business catalyst, many well-heeled Nigerians prefer dealing with foreign businesses and service providers, given the high propensity for fraud and identity theft within the country.
UAE shopping trips are a regular occurrence for the Lagos jet-set, so client meetings frequently take place in Dubai.
Another key trend in Nigeria is the rise of female entrepreneurs and traders, both as key economic contributors and as potential citizenship by investment clients. Citizenship and residency applications by Nigerian women as the primary or sole applicants appear to be on the rise, and in instances where applications are submitted by couples, women are increasingly playing an instrumental role in the decision-making process.
The face of wealth in Nigeria is also changing: Aboard business and first-class flights out of Lagos, one doesn’t see only banking execs and asset managers – many of the business travelers are entrepreneurs and traders.
When CIP donations come in duffel bags
As in many other African countries, cash is king in Nigeria, and a large percentage of big-ticket deals involve hard currency, frequently denominated in US dollars. This kind of commercial pattern creates obstacles for citizenship firms in terms of compliance requirements and proving source of funds – not to mention tax clearance.
According to Brookes, “it is vital to know exactly what a specific CIP’s requirements are before even suggesting it to the prospective client. Failure to do so can lead to unsuccessful residency or citizenship outcomes, which in turn can wreak havoc with your firm’s reputation even before your market development efforts get properly off the ground.”
While industry feedback across the board suggests that the Nigeria market has significant operational challenges, the upside potential for innovative, adaptive firms is substantial.