SA’s Large Unlisted Businesses Cautiously Optimistic About Growth

Written by Craig Polkinghorne, Head of Commercial Clients at Standard Bank’s Business and Commercial Clients.

As COVID-19 restrictions recede and the damage of the July 2021 unrest is managed, South Africa’s large unlisted business segment is well-placed to leverage opportunities in the domestic, regional, and global economy.

Generally, the country’s larger unlisted businesses are either well-capitalised or have secure access to capital. With deep roots in South Africa, these businesses have grown through volatility. Most having been around for a while have weathered negative cycles before. This places their skills and experience in a unique position to interpret and enable economic growth in South Africa.

They also have a distinct culture of resilience and optimism. No matter their size today, most of the country’s larger unlisted businesses are quintessentially entrepreneurial. As such, they retain incredible energy and optimism. These are fundamental to their ‘can do’ business approach. It also makes them particularly adept at pursuing and realising their goals, even when conditions are not ideal.

This resilience stood out during the COVID-19 pandemic and through the destruction of the July 2021 unrest. Businesses across the country quickly pivoted to new ways of working, adopted new technologies, or launched new products and services. What is truly astounding is how many businesses bounced back – with many performing even better today than they were prior to these incidents. The well-resourced, experienced, and entrepreneurial nature of these businesses were key elements determining both their response speed and their ability to pivot.

Being largely family-owned and run businesses, the personal wealth and well-being of their owner-managers are intimately tied to that of their businesses. They are also passionately connected to the communities in which they operate. This deep local investment combined with their fundamental passion for business makes their aptitude for growth and innovation key to developing South Africa’s future economy.

When it comes to African or even global expansion, these businesses’ deep-seated aversion to complexity – and personal sensitivity to loss – means any cross-border expansion is deeply considered and thoroughly researched.

As such, Standard Bank’s local presence and broad networks across African markets are extremely valuable to these businesses as they expand into the region. In addition, Standard Bank’s relationship with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) is important. Along with the bank’s established European and North American operations, these pan-African and global banking ecosystems are critical to South Africa’s large unlisted enterprises as they look cross-border or consider Asia or other international opportunities.

Since so many of the country’s large unlisted companies have the business and operational fundamentals in place, they tend to require support building world-class finance, reporting, forecasting and governance capabilities as they professionalise or evolve into corporates.

Understanding this, Standard Bank assists this critical segment in three general areas:

  • Listening: We take the time to understand businesses. Since we have the people, experience and skills to understand, when we advise, we get it right. In short, because we have listened, we are able to interpret needs and advise solutions correctly.
  • Accessibility: Clients appreciate the accessibility of our leadership. We are engaged and available at the highest level.
  • Networking: Clients find our networks valuable, especially our ability to link clients to quality suppliers, service providers and partners. We help client grow by providing access to our own trusted, quality ecosystem.

Despite this volatility, we can be sure that South Africa’s large unlisted business segment will, true to form, respond to challenges with optimism, resilience and innovation. In these attitudes, this segment reflects the purpose and ambitions of Standard Bank itself. Over 160 years the bank has created opportunity and weathered storms while diligently and quietly contributing to building the economy that has made South Africa possible. Looking ahead, the commitment, experience and ability of the country’s larger unlisted business segment will be critical in achieving the dynamic and broadly inclusive South African economy on which long-term prosperity and social stability will be built.

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