FEAS Secretariat spoke with the CEO of Tunis Stock Exchange Mr. Bilel Sahnoun about the present of Tunis Stock Exchange, its key strategic initiatives, traded instruments, financial literacy, COVID-19 impact, and more.
1. Where is Tunis Stock Exchange standing and what are the aims for 2021?
The activity of the Tunis Stock Exchange is overall on a decrease of 8% against 15-20% decrease on other Emerging Markets. However, we hit the lowest decrease equal to 14% during the period of containment and uncertainty of Covid-19 pandemic while our peers reached 35% decrease.
We owe this relatively good performance to the preventive measures that we managed to start early enough, essentially reducing the spread of daily price variations so that the panic does not impact the real fundamentals of listed companies. Knowing that we have a rating made up mainly of defensive stocks. These are distribution, agribusiness, and banking.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of IPO records this year. And even for cases already announced, people are in a ‘wait-and-see’ period because for them the conditions for accessing the stock exchange are not currently met. They even doubt if it will be possible to complete an operation and what to do with the money that will be raised, especially since there is no investment and visibility.
For 2021, we hope to have the end of this health crisis and return of investor confidence in our financial market in order to be able to resume our development.
2. What are the key strategic initiatives Tunis Stock Exchange is working on at the moment?
The Tunisian economic structure is made up mainly of SMEs which are under-capitalized and require a lot of funds. In this regard, we started the revision of the regulatory framework of the alternative market to facilitate access for SMEs to fundraising. But since it is a very risky market, small investors should not be exposed either. So we have redefined the access to the alternative market by reserving it exclusively for qualified investors, such as institutional investors, mutual funds, etc.
In addition, there are projects of networking platforms between investors. Like the “Joussour Invest” platform that was launched collectively by the Tunis Stock Exchange, the Deposit and Consignment Office (CDC) and the Tunisian Association of Capital Investors (ATIC), in partnership with USAID’s Tunisia JOB’s program. The platform is already online since September 24 and it counts to this day more than 300 interested and registered companies, established all over Tunisia, the majority of which operate in the industry.
There is also the “Investia Enterprise” program, it aims to support and bring investors together, as well as to repair for the Private Equity exit after a certain number of years. This can be done either through the stock exchange, or through the alternative market with other qualified investors who take over, or even via an IPO on the main market if the company records a good performance.
In addition, the Tunis Stock Exchange has integrated the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy into its strategic orientations. It was decided to promote the adoption of CSR practices, enforce their disclosure on the environmental, social and governance components, and keep the commitments of Tunisia’s international agreements under the United Nations Global Compact (2000) and the achievement of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
To this end, and with the support of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the Tunis Stock Exchange has launched the project to develop an ESG reporting guide based on the recommendations of the Sustainable Stock Exchanges (SSE) Initiative and adapted to the Tunisian context.
Tunis Stock Exchange has the ambition to get listed companies to integrate CSR into their business strategies, to deploy it operationally and to report to all stakeholders. For this purpose, it recommends relying on international reporting standards, such as the GRI and the recommendations of the WFE (World Federation of Exchanges).
3. What are the most active instruments traded in TSE, have they changed during the last months?
Shares are the most traded instruments on the Tunis Stock Exchange’s markets. Unfortunately, the product offering is very limited in our market.
The Tunisian authorities launched with the support of the EBRD a project to modernize capital markets legislation. Its objective is to improve its attractiveness while ensuring adequate protection and access to local and international investors, knowing the collection and stability of domestic savings and facilitating its channelling towards the financing of the local economy, and to consolidate confidence in the Tunisian markets.
4. Did TSE remain open during the periods of volatility?
Yes, the markets remained open. We put in place preventive measures, which consisted in reducing the ranges of daily price variations so that the panic did not affect the real fundamentals of listed companies. Since June, we have returned to normal market conditions.
5. What is TSE’s strategy in promoting financial literacy in the country?
The interest in financial literacy is now a top issue internationally, to the extent of becoming a priority issue for the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) and the World Federation of Exchanges (WFE). It is indeed crucial not only to facilitate access to financial resources but also to develop the contribution of markets in the financing of the public and private sectors.
Tunis Stock Exchange has focused its promotional activities partly on consolidating its efforts on the dissemination of the stock market culture in the country and on the other hand strengthening its role in the financial ecosystem to become a key and iconic player in the financing of the economy.
Tunis Stock Exchange is among the most innovative and most active in financial education thanks to its Investia initiative to promote the culture of financial investment through the challenge MyInvestia (www.myinvestia.com) and especially through its e-learning platform Investia Academy (www.investia-academy.com), the first of its kind in the MENA region and Africa.
6. Tell us about Investia Academy, what’s the main goal of the academy?
The Tunis Stock Exchange has set up an educational portal with the objective of popularizing the stock exchange and capital market by disseminating stock market culture on a very large scale. This is the first site dedicated to stock market education in Africa.
The popularization effort aimed at everyone. To those who will have savings one day (high school students, students) or who already has (civil servants, employees, liberal professions) can learn how to become a shareholder in a company or how to lend the money to finance its investments. To the entrepreneur who can one day use the market to raise funds. To the major shareholders who can list their company on the stock market.
This effort also aimed to help journalists who constitute an important link in the distribution circuit of market information.
The portal offers self-study courses by target categories. The courses are made up of educational modules developed with interactive multimedia techniques: rapid learning, e-learning, serious games, video testimonials, etc. They make it possible to acquire knowledge, to exercise it in a more or less elaborative way, as in serious games, which put the learner in playful decision-making situations.
With this health crisis, this portal plays an essential role in the development of the stock market culture, since we are in the process of improving this platform in order to be able to make live video conferences and enrich the different modules.
7. On a global scale, where is your country standing in terms of adopting new technologies and new trends in the market? What’s the role of Your stock exchange in this process?
The Tunis Stock Exchange is currently examining the finalization of a project to create a Digital Exchange intended to finance labelled startups.
This project will complete the Startup-Act, which constitutes a legal framework dedicated to startups and supported by the Tunisian Government.
8. Today’s world is facing several challenges and how we all come together as a community will make a difference in moving forward. How are you keeping communication with your members and encouraging them to stay positive and to avoid negativity in their working processes?
For its part, Tunis Stock Exchange continues to offer ideas and with the revision of the laws and regulations of the market, this approach will certainly be followed.
Beyond ideas, our financial market will try to offer many financial services and offer players more sophisticated market instruments for risk hedging, such as the futures market, derivative instruments, etc.
Thanks to the new dynamic culture, our market aims to become the privileged partner for the development of the Tunisian business both nationally and internationally.
Personally, I continue to believe that Tunisia is a country which has enormous potential, particularly in ICT, residential and medical tourism, logistics, agriculture and much more. Tunisia can therefore become a real regional hub.
9. In your personal opinion, what will life look like after COVID-19 pandemic? What are the major challenges that humanity will face in the near future?
In my opinion, the positive element of COVID 19 is the digitization of activities in companies, a very positive step that must continue to be developed.
On the stock market investment component, basically, the stock exchange presents exciting opportunities for investors. And like it or not, the impact of Covid-19 has been relatively unclear. Moreover, we do not know what the bill would be paid, and the quality of the risks that will result from it.
For humanity, Covid-19 has shown how fragile the world order has become. The pandemic came to remind us that we should be more concerned about preserving our planet for ourselves and for future generations. Rightly, the logistics chains have been disrupted. The Earth has finally breathed, and the overexploitation of fossil fuels seems to give way to more sustainable development models.