The number cruncher

A nose for numbers

Inspired by his passion for economics, Moatlhodi Sebabole has risen through the ranks to become one of the finest in his trade.

With a background in finance, Sebabole’s was a smooth transition to the world of economics.

The former University of Botswana lecturer now works for FNB Botswana where he plays a key role in influencing crucial decisions of the bank.

This week, the Tonata native sat down with Voice Reporter, KABELO ADAMSON where he opened up about his journey to become one of the country’s seasoned economist’s.

Q. As a Chief Economist, what does the position entail?

A. As the bank’s economist, the overarching role is to give or offer market intelligence, in terms of giving insights about the economy of the country and the banking and financial industries.

Market intelligence would mean you look at the trends, in terms of what are the shifting trends and how does the bank position itself, to either take advantage of the trends or survive in a case where the trends are against the industry as a whole.

It also entails looking at your competitor intelligence in terms of understanding what products are coming through into the market and how you can position yourself to do even better.

Market intelligence also involves doing the day-to-day macroeconomic forecasts – forecasts in the sense of where do we think economic growth is going to go and what is going to influence that.

I also look at the interest rate outlook because as a bank one of the things on your income statement is the net interest margins.

Besides that, we also look at inflation because that reflects on the costs of goods and services.

The role entails lots of research as we also engage our services for our clients whenever the need arises.

Q. Sounds like a lot of work! What inspired this career path?

A. Passion! I have never majored in Economics in terms of my academic qualifications.

So primarily it was passion for a career that spans beyond the day-to-day operations, something which gives an opportunity to either influence policy and also offers the chance to engage with stakeholders such as government.

These engagements give an opportunity to influence policy change as well as influencing the economic and investment landscape in Botswana.

This role also allows you to influence and advise on changing the landscape for the betterment of the industry, for the betterment of the country and the economy as a whole.

The primary drive was my desire to change the way things are done.

Q. And how have you found the journey so far?

A. I joined FNBB as an economist in 2014; this October marks my fifth year with the bank.

It has been a learning curve in the sense that at the time I came in, the bank did not have an in-house economist.

Indeed, there was only one player in the industry that had an economist at the time.

So, you have to find your way around it, coming here and starting a new role within an organisation as big as FNB cannot be easy.

Firstly you need to find your footing and the business needs to find value in engaging your services and also earn a bit of professional respect in terms of the advice that you give, the market interaction you have with different stakeholders.

It was a journey in terms of being able to play a key role in advising the bank’s strategy, whether it comes to budgeting, creating credit appetite for the loan book growth or even advising the treasury for management of the shareholder value.

It then takes a lot of learning, a lot of understanding and a lot of convincing to eventually get to a point where your qualified opinion is trusted by your own organisation!

Beyond that, you have to convince the market that as an economist you are as good as your word and your opinion is qualified by facts.

It has been a fulfilling journey, but definitely took some time to get to the point where the industry can trust your qualified opinions and even be comfortable to make decisions based on the outlook you have provided.

Q. Before coming to FNB, you worked for a number of institutions, including the University of Botswana (UB), where I understand you were a lecturer?

A. As I indicated, I have not majored in Economics and my first degree was in Finance from UB.

I also did an Msc in Finance and Investment with University of Essex in UK.

I then pursued a Phd in Finance, which I unfortunately did not complete.

So my journey has been towards the finance field.

That being said, I started with Botswana Stock Exchange and at some point within the portfolio of product development area, eventually going into a financial planning entity.

Then I went to Stanbic, but with the risk management space, then a bit into academia teaching at University of Essex.

I then came back to UB as a lecturer in Finance.

All of that, I think, gives one an all-around perception.

For example, when you are in academia, the research is quite different from institutional research because in academia you have to be publishing papers, journals and have a lot robustness in your models tested against different models.

It is a different playing field altogether!

When you come to institutional research you will find that the board does not have to read through a six-page report, you just need to give them something that works in a page and a half to make a business decision.

Q. Why did you leave lecturing?

A. I think academics are pure academics at heart; you do not have to be doing it full time to lecture.

So when I joined FNBB, I continued to lecture through the Institute of Bankers; you never really quit academia if you have an interest in it!

I still do some engagements with UB students.

For me it was because I wanted to get a bridging between what you learn in class and what you practice because those insights become valuable.

When I go back now and engage with the students, I am also coming from an angle of understanding the industry.

It always creates a valuable case study for the students.

Q. What would you say has been the highlight of your career?

A. I think it was when I had the opportunity to engage with RMB Global Markets in South Africa, where I was in secondment for a year-and-a-half.

It gave me an opportunity to look into other markets outside Botswana such as Ghana, Nigeria and Mozambique as an example and understanding the fundamentals of those markets.

This provided the basics to find out where Botswana stands in relation to those countries, and how different or similar we are.

Q. It can’t be easy dealing with numbers every day.

A. My background is finance. So from an academic standpoint I knew the journey I was embarking on – that is numbers every day.

It is a lot of work when you consider maybe we are not as good as other markets in getting all the data that we need.

So a lot of time you may have to request for something that is not necessarily public and have to clean it up to make sure that it speaks of whatever you are trying to communicate.

It has its ups and downs, but it is always fun to see the story coming through in numbers because numbers give you the ability to speak in facts.

Q. What is your view on President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s policies?

A. I think what is clear with President Masisi is that he is driving more towards an investment led economic growth.

Investment in the sense that the key ingredients are Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).

For example, he was in Qatar this week trying to attract FDI.

He comes in at a time where government has adopted Vision 2036 which seeks to propel Botswana to be a high net worth country from middle income status.

Key to that is also developments than then create linkages that allow business to flourish.

I would say the policies are in the right direction that the country needs.

Q. When you are not busy crunching numbers in the office, what do you get up to?

A. I am an outdoor person and a runner at heart. I also do a bit of hiking once in a while.

That is what keeps me busy.

Q. Thank God it’s Friday, what are your plans for the Easter weekend?

A. I had solid plans up until this past weekend. Last year I did the horse race in Maun and it is something I had planned to do again this year.

But life as it is, I have a funeral to attend in Kalamare on Friday, and I am not sure how Saturday to Monday plays out.

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