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Returning to Ghana after a successful career in the USA, Kekeli (Keli) Gadzekpo, co-founder of one of Ghana’s leading financial institutions, speaks to ReConnect Africa about the Databank story and developing Ghana’s capital markets.

As a qualified CPA with a B.Sc in Accounting from the Brigham Young University in the US, Keli Gadzekpo could have opted to stay in the USA and continue his career in Washington DC with consultants KPMG Peat Marwick. Instead, he chose to return to his native Ghana where in 1990, together with Ken Ofori-Atta, they created Databank, making their mark on Ghana’s fast-changing financial sector.

Gadzekpo, a Mason Fellow with a Masters in Public Administration from the John F Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, has been a key figure in various corporate advisory and financial restructuring assignments in Africa over the last decade. In addition to his work with Databank, Gadzekpo also sits on the boards of Enterprise Insurance Company (EIC) and the Home Finance Company of The Gambia and is a member of the Ibraham Index Advisory Council.

RCA: With so many of your peer group choosing to stay in the USA, what made you decide to return to Ghana?

KG: I had the opportunity in 1998 to visit Ghana and I felt that there was a big difference to when I had left 5 years prior to that time. The seed was sown then to return, although I continued to work in the USA for a while. In the early 1990’s, Ken Ofori-Atta proposed to me that we should consider coming home to start Databank. I was single and I had no particular baggage, so willing to take some risk.

RCA: What was the inspiration behind setting up Databank?

KG: I must give credit to Ken when it comes to this, as Ken originated the idea of setting up Databank. ImageMy contribution was to buy in to his energy and enthusiasm for the project, as he was confident that it would work out. I was an Accountant, a function that the company would need, and Ken was ready to take the same leap of faith with me. The Ghana Stock Exchange had been established in 1990 and Ken’s view was that if you have an Exchange, the logical next requirement is research and information on the stock. That’s how we took off - to provide research on the very new stock exchange. The Ghana Stock Exchange needed to be known and needed good research, so we cooperated with them very well on a professional level. However, we always saw Databank as a private company and our work was done independently of the Stock Exchange.

The initial team was three people; James Akpo, Ken and myself. We then took on 2 employees and, today, we have 100 employees based in Ghana, the Gambia and Liberia and we intend to soon establish a physical presence in Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

RCA: What do you think sets Databank apart from other financial institutions?

KG: I think that, as an organization, we’ve tried to maintain our confidence in Ghana and Africa generally and not just given up or been too critical. We constantly ensure we have the right attitude to the region. We also recognize that employing some of the basic human management skills that operate in the West i.e. incentives and fair treatment of employees, work just as well in Ghana and we bring that to the table. We run a very flat organization at Databank. We’re not big on hierarchy, but everyone is aware of their responsibilities.

In terms of our services, our unique selling point is the quality of service we deliver and our professionalism. People have confidence that we do our homework and that we know what we are doing. We always aim for gold standard customer care and courtesy. I would say that what really sets us apart is the rigour of our analysis and the innovation of our approach.

RCA: Since 1990, Databank has been part of Ghana’s rapidly changing financial services sector. What, in your view, have been the major highlights during this time?

Image KG: The Financial Sector Reform that commenced in Ghana in the late 1980’s showed that Ghana was leaving behind the old ways of approaching financial intermediation. That reform brought about non-bank financial institutions which enabled organisations like Databank to have a definition in law. The reform also brought about the Ghana Stock Exchange and that was seminal. More recently, this administration has upped the ante by getting Ghana sovereign rating on the world stage. This has given people outside Ghana a sense of the kind of economy that the B++ rating designates. Critics are hard pressed to condemn investing in Ghana when S&P and Fitch have rated Ghana strongly. In fact, Ghana will be shortly issuing the first sovereign bonds on the international market, a clear indicator of how far we have come.

RCA: What opportunities do you see in Ghana and other parts of Africa today for professionals like yourself who have gained experience overseas?

KG:The first thing I would say is that people need to be fully aware that Africa and Ghana are what I would call frontier economies. So, in my view, every single skill set needed in developed economies is needed here. Of course, there is a case of prioritizing which is the most immediately needed. We are still at a level where the core skills can make a difference, for example, good solid banking and insurance skills. You need to evaluate productive sectors; in Ghana the services sector i.e. tourism, ICT, etc. all offer opportunities and we have comparative advantage in agriculture. New media, marketing and so on are areas where, in my view, Ghana should push forward.

“You need to be able to translate the challenges and difficulties at home into opportunities. That‘s what I believe Ghana has to offer, a diamond in the rough. After all, if it was all shiny and glittering in the street, you wouldn’t come to meet it.”

RCA: If you could offer one piece of advice to those looking to come back to live and work in Ghana, what would it be?

KG: People should keep a very open mind and not get caught up in being a specialist, as the market place is wide open and still developing. The market may not be ready or interested in ideas that are too specialist, so people need to be good generalists and adapt to the opportunities. You may be a day or a decade too early so you need to be flexible and to see the challenges as opportunities as the benefits to breaking into these opportunities are many.

You need to be able to translate the challenges and difficulties at home into opportunities. That‘s what I believe Ghana has to offer, a diamond in the rough. After all, if it was all shiny and glittering in the street, you wouldn’t come to meet it.

For more information about Databank: http://www.databankgroup.com

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