DLA Piper advises Briq in US$30 million Series B financing

DLA Piper represented construction technology company Briq Technologies Inc. in its recent US$30 Series B financing led by Tiger Global Management LLC.

Briq’s corporate performance management (CPM) platform for construction financial professionals provides accurate and real-time forecasting abilities, automated workflows and interconnected systems that provide contractors with better visibility into their business.

“It was a pleasure to bring together our extensive experience advising emerging growth tech companies on complex transactions and our strong understanding of the construction industry to advise Briq on this financing, which will enable it to continue developing innovative construction technology for the benefit of its customers,” said David Richardson, the DLA Piper partner who led the firm’s deal team.

In addition to Richardson (Sacramento), the DLA Piper team representing Briq included associate Spencer Hodson (Sacramento) and partner Eileen O’Pray (Silicon Valley).

DLA Piper’s Emerging Growth and Venture Capital practice includes more than 200 lawyers in the United States who provide strategic counsel to emerging companies in high-growth industries, including healthcare, insurance, biotech, manufacturing, communications, software and semiconductors. Over the last three years, DLA Piper has completed more than 2,100 financings totalling over US$31 billion.

DLA Piper’s global Technology sector lawyers work across practice areas and offices to support technology clients – from start-ups to fast-growing and mid-market businesses to mature global enterprises – doing business around the world.

DLA Piper advises on all aspects of the fintech sector, representing a wide range of clients, including banks, private equity and venture capital funds, asset managers, broker-dealers, insurance companies, trading platforms and exchanges, and distributed-ledger technology platforms. The firm’s multidisciplinary team around the world offers integrated legal solutions that help clients navigate the increasingly complex environment at the intersection of transactions, technology and regulation. DLA Piper is also at the forefront of providing legal counsel and business support to emerging proptech companies, investors and developers of innovative real estate technology in areas critical to both their short-term and ongoing success.

Opening the Floodgates to Islamic Finance in Kenya

By Walid Khan, Head of Real Estate and General Finance at Africa Law Partners.

In recent years, Islamic Finance has grown rapidly across the world. By conservative estimates, Islamic finance is estimated to have over $2.88 trillion of assets globally. It is offered in over 80 countries and is estimated to grow at around 10-15% a year. Despite a significant slowdown in 2020 due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, the market is expected to grow to $3.69 trillion by 2024.

Islamic finance also commonly referred to as Sharia-compliant finance, involves the delivery of financial services in conformity with the principles of sharia law. The fundamental principles that govern Islamic finance include the prohibition against riba (interest), gharar and maisir (contractual uncertainty and gambling), and haram industries (prohibited industries such as those related to pork products, pornography, or alcoholic beverages). Other central principles to Islamic finance include compliance with the Shariah (Islamic law), segregation of Islamic and conventional funds, accounting standards, and awareness campaigns.

Islamic finance deals with most financial services, including banking, insurance and capital markets. While it has been used to finance huge infrastructure projects, it has also been used to fund small and medium-sized enterprises thus having a positive impact on smaller businesses. In view of the massively important role played by small businesses to developing nations, Islamic finance has a far-reaching impact on the economy. Other advantages of Islamic finance include:

   1. Financial inclusion

World Bank defines financial inclusion as ‘Financial inclusion means that individuals and businesses have access to useful and affordable financial products and services that meet their needs – transactions, payments, savings, credit and insurance – delivered in a responsible and sustainable way.’ (Worldbank.org, 2017)

The conventional banking system is based on paying/receiving an interest which is strictly prohibited by Shariah Law. As such, Muslims refrain from conventional banking. This has resulted in many Muslims remaining unbanked and unable to access financial products and services. Islamic finance permits Muslims to participate and benefit in the financial system.

Despite being based on Shariah, Islamic finance is not restricted to Muslims only and is available to non-Muslims. In fact, there have been innumerable occasions where an Islamic finance product has been attractive to potential investors, even when they are not motivated by religious reasons.

   2. Financial Justice

Financial justice is a fundamental requirement in determining whether a product is shariah-compliant. Islamic finance requires that risk is shared between the bank and the customer. A lender must therefore carry a proportional share of the loss of a project if it expects to receive profits from the project. This brings about equitable distribution of income and wealth.

   3. Discourages speculation

Due to the fact that speculation is prohibited, investments are approached with a slower, insightful decision-making process with thorough audits, analyses and due diligence. This has resulted in reduction of risk and greater investment ability. This was evident during the global financial crisis when Islamic finance products proved less volatile.

While Islamic finance has been vibrant in Muslim-majority countries particularly in South-East Asia and the Middle-East, it has, in recent times, gained traction throughout the rest of the world particularly in the United Kingdom since the UK Government took a keen interest in the industry. Noting the benefits of Islamic finance, the UK Government developed a work programme to make the UK’s financial services regulations compatible with Islamic Finance. One such way was to accommodate Islamic finance products in existing legislation and regulations governing conventional financial instruments and putting Islamic products on the same tax footing as their conventional counterparts.

The latest Islamic Finance Country Index (2019) ranks the UK 17th of 48 countries in terms of its overall Islamic finance offering. This puts it in first place in Europe and in first place among non-Muslim-majority nations. Many firms, Islamic and non-Islamic, see London as an important Islamic finance global centre to such a great degree that products developed in London are being marketed in Muslim majority countries in the Middle East.

Kenya’s Islamic finance industry is regarded as somewhat developed with immense potential for growth. Kenya has made some legislative amendments and new regulatory frameworks that have brought about the development of Takaful Retirement Benefits Schemes, shariah-compliant finance products and taxation exemption for Islamic finance products. However, it seems that Kenya needs to do more to further stimulate the market. Per the Islamic Finance Country Index 2019 rankings, Kenya ranks 24th of the 48 countries. This is a drop from the 2018’s rankings which had Kenya at 21st. This appears to be a noteworthy setback as Kenya, East Africa’s largest economy, would want to position itself as the region’s Islamic banking hub to profit from its apparent benefits and provide its 5.2 million Muslims with better access to Islamic finance services.

Further, in order to meet the Big 4 Agenda and Vision 2030, Kenya should hasten structural, legal and regulatory reforms to further enable Islamic finance services and also begin issuing sukuks at the earliest possible time. Sukuk also referred to an Islamic bond, is an instrument for raising capital and is tradeable on the securities exchange. Sukuk may be used to finance projects around Vision 2030 and the Big 4 Agenda, such as infrastructure and health projects.

Enabling an Islamic finance environment will enable Kenya consolidate its status as the leading trade hub in the region and the gateway to East Africa. Kenya has already made significant strides at enhancing the ease of doing business in the country. The World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index 2020 ranked Kenya at number 56. This is an improvement from 2019, 2018, 2017 and 2016 where Kenya was ranked 61st, 80th, 91st and 108th respectively. Mauritius (13), Rwanda (38th) and Morocco (53rd) are the only African countries ranked ahead of Kenya.

There is need to open the floodgates to Islamic finance in Kenya. Industry stakeholders and regulators ought to collaborate to demystify Islamic finance by way of regular training and workshops on Islamic finance concepts. Kenya also requires supportive Government policies to create a fiscal and regulatory framework to broaden the market for Islamic finance products.

Africa Law Partners is well placed to advise on Islamic finance matters. For any assistance, please contact Walid Khan.

Jay Williams joins DLA Piper’s Structured Finance practice in New York

DLA Piper announced today that Jay Williams has joined the firm as a partner in its Structured Finance practice, based in New York.

Williams represents issuers, underwriters, investors and other market participants in a wide variety of structured finance transactions – including CLOs; secured lending facilities backed by loans, CRE assets and other asset classes; re-securitisations; and synthetic securitisations – as well as swaps, derivatives and repurchase agreements. He has extensive experience with regulatory capital relief transactions and other types of synthetic risk transfers and also advises private funds and their sponsors with respect to investments in distressed assets. Williams is dual-qualified, practicing both New York and English law.

“Jay is a fantastic addition to the firm who will immediately enhance our structured finance capabilities,” said John Cusack, US chair and global co-chair of DLA Piper’s Finance practice. “His extensive experience handling complex financial transactions increases our ability to meet the evolving needs of the market, and our global platform will be of significant benefit to his practice and clients.”

“We are continuing to build our wider finance practice, including structured finance, in New York and across the firm, and Jay’s skillset and experience providing guidance to highly sophisticated clients across multiple asset classes is an important part of that strategic initiative,” added Richard Hans, managing partner of the firm’s New York office.

“The addition of Jay to our structured finance team will greatly enhance our ability to continue to strengthen our position among the market leaders in US and European CLOs, as well as other important asset classes,” said Rich Reilly, head of DLA Piper’s Structured Finance practice.

Williams joins from Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP. He received his J.D. from Wake Forest School of Law, his LL.M., with distinction, from Georgetown University Law Center, his M.B.A. from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and his B.S.F.S. from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

CFOs anticipate return to growth and lasting change in 2021

Finance leaders expect a return to growth in 2021 with optimism rising to a record high, according to Deloitte’s latest CFO survey. Despite the surge in business optimism, half of CFOs do not expect demand for their own businesses to recover to pre-pandemic levels until the last quarter of 2021 or later.

The Deloitte CFO survey for Q4 2020, which gauges sentiment amongst the UK’s largest businesses, took place between 2nd December and 14th December 2020, so before new COVID restrictions announced on 19th December and the Brexit deal on 24th December.

A total of 90 CFOs participated in the latest survey, including CFOs of 12 FTSE 100 and 44 FTSE 250 companies. The combined market value of the UK-listed companies that participated is £308 billion, approximately 13% of the UK quoted equity market.

Revenues, risk appetite and economic landscape

There has been a sharp improvement in CFO expectations for UK corporates’ revenues this quarter with 71% expecting a rise over the next 12 months, up from 29% in Q3 2020, while over half (53%) of CFOs expect operating costs to rise. For the first time since 2015, a net balance of CFOs are expecting corporate operating margins to increase in the next year.

Risk appetite remains weak with only 19% believing it is a good time to take greater risk onto the balance sheet, however this is up from just 3% in Q1 2020.

Consistent with the idea of a return to growth CFOs’ expectations for inflation have risen markedly since Q3 2020. Over half of CFOs (59%) expect consumer price inflation to be at or above 1.6% in two years’ time, up from 36% three months ago.

While still showing a net negative balance, CFOs’ expectations for hiring, capital spending and discretionary spending have increased from the record lows seen in Q1 2020, with a strong uptick in each category in the last quarter. Expectations for hiring and spending are running higher than the levels seen between 2016 and mid-2019.

COVID and beyond

More than three quarters (78%) of finance leaders expect COVID-19 restrictions on movement and activity to continue through the first half of 2021, while 57% expect these measures to be removed permanently in Q3 2021.

CFOs believe that the pandemic is set to trigger a fundamental change in the business environment. An overwhelming net balance (98%) of CFOs expect flexible and home working to increase – with a five-fold increase in home working expected by 2025.

Similarly, 98% of CFOs expect levels of corporate and individual taxation to rise, two thirds (62%) anticipate higher regulation of the corporate sector and 59% see the size and role of government in the economy increasing.

Ian Stewart, chief economist at Deloitte, commented: “Boosted by the prospect of mass vaccination and growth, business sentiment surged this quarter with CFOs taking the most positive view on profit margins for the last five years. This rebound in sentiment occurred despite a backdrop of continued Brexit negotiations and with two thirds of CFOs believing that a no-deal outcome would have a severe or significant negative effect on the economy. In the three and a half years between the EU referendum and the pandemic CFOs have ranked Brexit as the top business risk for all but two quarters. The announcement of a deal after the survey closed is likely to have offered an end-year boost to CFO sentiment. The survey shows that in the first half of December, CFOs expected restrictions on movement and activity needed to combat COVID-19 to continue for the first half of this year. The announcement of further restrictions after the survey will clearly add to such concerns.

“Business leaders believe the pandemic will permanently change the business landscape. CFOs anticipate a five-fold increase in homeworking relative to pre-pandemic levels by 2025 and believe that the state will be both larger and more active in the long term.”

The impact of Brexit

CFOs think a no-deal Brexit would have been a far greater risk to the economy and to business than the actual outcome of a trade deal. Moreover, they saw either Brexit outcome as having a greater negative impact on the economy than on their own businesses. The large companies on our panel are more confident about their own ability to deal with Brexit than the wider economy’s.

Two thirds (66%) of CFOs saw a no-deal outcome as having a severe or significant negative effect on the economy and 18% expected a similarly negative impact on their own business. Just 20% of CFOs saw a trade deal as a major negative for the economy and this dropped to 7% in relation to their own business.

A majority (61%) of CFOs expect the post-Brexit points-based immigration system to act as somewhat of a drag on long-term economic growth. Around a quarter (27%) expect little or no effect, while 6% expect the new immigration system to support growth.

A net balance of 66% of CFOs expect both goods and services trade with the EU to decrease, while 77% expect a decrease in high-skilled immigration from the EU, with only 24% expecting an increase in skilled immigration from outside the EU.

Strategy and spending

CFOs remain in defensive mode with 49% and 46% respectively rating increasing cash flow and reducing costs as strong priorities. Meanwhile expansionary strategies have risen in popularity slightly since Q3, for example, around a quarter (28%) cite introducing new products, services or expanding into new markets as a priority for the year ahead.

Richard Houston, senior partner and chief executive of Deloitte UK, said: “The pandemic has triggered fundamental and lasting changes in business, with CFOs expecting rising levels of home-working, greater diversification of supply chains and increasing investment in technology.

“CFOs are optimistic about operating in this changing world, with a return to growth expected this year. However, with pandemic restrictions expected to be in place through the first half of this year and elevated uncertainty CFOs are maintaining defensive balance sheet positioning.

“The UK-EU trade deal ends over four years of uncertainty for business and is a far better outcome than the alternative of no-deal. Nonetheless, CFOs also recognise the challenges that leaving the EU may pose in the years ahead. The UK deal has very limited provisions for services, particularly for professional and financial services. These high productivity sectors are major UK successes and make vital contributions to jobs and prosperity. UK businesses urgently need additional clarity on key issues including financial equivalence as well as more information on the specific changes to other cross-border trading services.”

Financial institutions are set for a once in a generation change

The primary role of a traditional bank providing financing and capital is set to be challenged further in a post COVID-19 world by non-banks, according PwC’s report, “Securing your tomorrow, today – The future of financial services,” which predicts that alternative providers of capital are set to become an even more important part of the global financial system.

In the last 10 years, aggregate lending in USD by non-banks has outstripped the pace of growth of traditional lenders, with non-banks seeing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of lending of 2.3%, compared to 0.6% CAGR for banks. This trend is likely to accelerate as declining core capital ratios – caused by asset impairments resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic – will limit the lending capacity of banks, particularly in Europe. Non-traditional sources of finance such as private equity, sovereign wealth funds, credit funds and governments themselves will need to step into the breach to finance the recovery and its aftermath.

In 2019, non-banks – including private equity funds and sovereign wealth funds – lent 41 trillion dollars compared to the 38 trillion dollars lent by traditional lenders. In particular, the analysis by PwC shows that private debt has seen substantial growth, which is set to propel the asset class into a significant category of non-bank lending. Since 2010, private debt has been growing with 11% CGAR.

For established financial institutions, the rise of alternative lending brings into question a bank’s role as a capital provider versus an intermediary, according to John Garvey, PwC’s Global Financial Services Leader, PwC US.

“The rise in alternative providers of capital and the impact of COVID-19 on traditional lenders has put a spotlight on how various funding models will evolve in the future. For traditional financial institutions, this shift will have a significant impact on their business model – and ultimately their bottom line. Banks need to rapidly think about alternative ways to participate in the value chain as the industry migrates to a platform-based model.”

For insurers and asset and wealth managers, the challenges are equally daunting.

The report argues that a combination of near zero interest rates and the rise of digital-only players will create tighter margins across product portfolios, thereby emphasising the need to digitise rapidly, gain cost efficiencies and register real gains in productivity. All of this will have to be completed as governments mandate more spending and reporting on ESG initiatives. Those that fail to do so are likely to be caught in the wrong end of the coming wave of deals and restructuring.

“While the financial services industry has stood up well in light of the pandemic, it will likely be hit hardest by second-order effects. The loss of employment, the closure of businesses, the increase in debt and the volatility in markets due to the pandemic and its after-effects, along with the continued low interest rate environment, will be negatively felt throughout the real economy for years to come. The challenge for the financial services industry is in how it is able to navigate this difficult environment while balancing cost cutting and investment. Those that execute best will be the ones to succeed,” said John Garvey.

Pinsent Masons grows its Financial Services offering in Dubai

Multinational law firm, Pinsent Masons, has appointed Banking & Finance partner Matthew Escritt to lead the firm’s Banking & Finance practice in the Middle East, based in Dubai.

Matthew joins from Norton Rose Fulbright, where he has been for the past 19 years, with the past eight spent as partner in the banking and finance team. During this time he has worked in London, Moscow, Bahrain, Singapore and Dubai.

Matthew is a banking and finance specialist, advising on all areas of structured cross border finance, including syndicated lending acquisition, development finance, asset finance, vendor finance, and structured trade and commodity finance. He is familiar with both conventional and Islamic finance funding structures. He also advises on financial restructuring and insolvency mandates. Based in Dubai, he will be leading the Banking & Finance practice in the Middle East (within the Finance & Projects group) and will focus primarily on clients in the Financial Services sector.

Commenting on Matthew’s appointment, Michael Watson, head of the Finance & Projects group at Pinsent Masons said: “Matthew’s reputation precedes him and we look forward to welcoming him as head of our banking and finance practice in Dubai. His experience and expertise will greatly strengthen the practice, enabling them to deepen relationships with existing clients as well as developing new ones. His appointment is another fantastic addition to our growing international capabilities.”

Alexis Roberts, head of the Financial Services sector at Pinsent Masons added: “Matthew’s appointment is a pivotal one in increasing our financing bench strength and will enable us to better support our clients within the Financial Services sector. His breadth of experience and the clients that he’s worked with will allow us to grow our offering across the sector. We greatly look forward to him joining the team.”

Matthew Escritt, head of Banking and Finance in the Middle East added: “I am excited to have been given the opportunity to lead Pinsent Masons’ Banking & Finance practice in the region and to be part of an international team tasked with growing a strategically important practice area to complement the firm’s existing strengths. It will also ensure that we are able to provide vital, full-service support to our clients as they navigate today’s challenging business environment. Given the diverse talents of the individuals involved and the well-known strengths of the existing practice I am confident that we are well placed to achieve our goals.”

Adding to the growing multinational Finance & Projects group, Matthew’s appointment follows that of Anthony Morton in Frankfurt, James Harris in Asia, Jim Hunwick in Sydney and Eran Chivka in Paris.