The Databank Group has played a major role in the development of Ghana’s capital market. Among other things, the investment-banking firm pioneered the establishment of the mutual fund industry in Ghana. It also played a key role in mobilizing offshore funds to the Ghana Stock Exchange. The man behind the success of the company is 48-year-old Ken Ofori Atta, its co-founder and executive chairman. From Accra, Voice of America English to Africa Service reporter Joana Mantey tells us more.
There are a couple of things one notices about Databank's headquarters. For one, it's in an imposing three-story building in the capital’s Adabraka neighborhood. Outside, there’s the inscription on the wall that reads “To God be the Glory.” There’s also the diverse clientele: students, workers, and people of varied backgrounds waiting their turns to buy and sell bonds, shares and other investments in capital markets.
Forming an investment-banking firm was initially not one of Ken Ofori-Atta’s goals. He got the idea years ago while on vacation in Ghana after a ten-year stay in the United States.
Afori-Atta’s parents left Ghana in 1990, fearing political persecution because of their opposition to what was then a military government. As he put it, he had wanted to exorcise Ghana from his thinking. However he realized during his visit that the bond to his homeland was intact.
In October of that same year, Ken Ofori-Atta and some friends started the Databank Group.
He says he wanted to contribute to the development of the country’s economy as his father and other relatives J B Dankwa and Akuffo Addo had done on the political scene.
Ofori-Atta was young and unmarried at the time – which he says probably made it easier to take risks, “I think that is the beauty of a child or being naïve because you don’t then calculate the risk and they are not as [threatening] as somebody else would see them. And really I think it’s all about if something went wrong it would just be me and not a family.”
Ofori-Atta started work on Wall Street in 1984 after earning his first degree in Economics from Colombia University in New York. He also holds an MBA from Yale University School of Management.
When he returned to Ghana, he left behind lucrative job work with one of the world’s best known investment firms, Salomon Brothers and Morgan Stanley. He had been working for a total of four years on debt and equity issues for the New York based companies.
Once re-settled in Ghana, he went to work establishing Databank. Its initial focus was to package information on Ghanaian companies for foreign investors.
The opening of Ghana’s stock market in 1995 brought new opportunities. He describes them,“We designed the first stock market index. We began interpreting trading results for people to understand what the market is all about. With time we gained some credibility and gradually built up from there.”
A loan of 25 thousand dollars from CAL Merchant Bank boosted the growth of Databank, bringing expansion in other areas.
He says, “We began to do some corporate finance advisory work and gradually built up the brokerage and asset management company and eventually diversified. We now have 100 employees. We have offices in the Gambia, Liberia and Sierra Leone. We also own a commercial bank in the Gambia and Liberia. We also own an insurance company listed on the Ghana Stock Exchange.”
The company launched Ghana’s first official mutual fund. Ofori-Atta said it and other Databank funds were successful because Ghanaians were willing to invest their monies, no matter how small. He said the company was also able to reach out to people outside the banking sector. Unlike Databank, some local banks at the time demanded minimum cash deposits before people could invest with them.
Databank also managed to have the shares of foreign companies listed on the Ghana Stock Exchange. Recently, the company helped introduce a Ghanaian government bond in Great Britain raising about three billion dollars in the process.
Elsewhere in Africa, the company plays a leading role in investment issues in places such as Uganda, Rwanda and Sierra Leone.
Ofori-Atta was recently quoted in the press as saying Databank is thinking of purchasing a bank in Liberia and also creating a mutual fund that would invest in neighboring countries.
In response to opening a Databank office in Liberia, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said the company’s directors have proven that Africa has young professionals who can compete effectively on the global level. The Liberian president said Ghana was the first African nation to be independent because of its peoples constructive spirit.
Johnson-Sirleaf used the motto on the wall of the bank: “To God Be the Glory” to express her views of the event.
Ofori-Atta explains the vision of Databank for the coming years, “... to have two million people using our products by 2010, to be managing about two billion dollars by 2010 and to do an initial public offering by that year, and to be in six other African countries.”
Ken Ofori-Atta has won a number of awards, including the Marketing Man of the Year, 1996, by the Chartered Institute of Marketing Ghana. He's also the only black African to be listed in the world’s top fifty financial managers for the 21st century. And, the World Economic Forum of Davos has honored him as a Global Leader of Tomorrow.
Ofori-Atta was the first African to testify before the U.S. Congress to support the Africa Growth & Opportunities Act (AGOA). A mutual fund established by Databank began with an initial investment of $25 by a group of five retired bankers in 1996. It’s come a long way. The fund now stands at $78 million with over one thousand per cent rate of return over the period. The number of investors has also increased to more than 65 million people.