Since its establishment in 1993, consultancy firm, Credinvest International Corporate Finance, has aimed to support client companies by providing hands-on, pragmatic solutions to their finance and management needs. Just two years’ later, in 1995, the outfit started to look outside Malta, at the opportunities which awaited those firms – domiciled locally or abroad – who wanted to expand into international markets. Indeed, for the past 26 years, this has remained at the heart of the firm’s raison d’être, as its founder, owner and CEO, Alain Mangion, explains.
“Internationalisation started way back in 1995, when our (now-retired) senior partner, Filippo, joined the firm, and we started to offer services in the Italian market – which incidentally remains, until today, our main European market. These services were, and remain, debt financing for corporates and export finance packages for clients with contracts in emerging markets. We then identified opportunities in Central and Eastern Europe, where we advised on projects in Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Czech Republic. Today, our clients with export financing requirements are based all across Europe: in the UK, Belgium, Austria and Italy itself, amongst others.”
Mr Mangion is especially proud of the firm’s work on a large Turkey based co-generation energy project, in 1997, and of the consultancy services provided to the Ministry of Transport in Romania over 16 years, during which they worked on “the implementation of structures based on the public private partnership model.” Indeed, the CEO states, “we have always felt that we can and should offer our service package internationally and, from then on, it was a long process of building the right relationships and understanding the respective local nuances.”
However, the world has changed substantially since the firm’s auspicious beginnings, and many challenges have been met along the way. “Credinvest International ‘lived’ through the 2008-2010 financial crisis – hopefully, the worst we will ever have experienced. This was when capital markets went into a coma and venerable names in banking, like the Lehman Brothers in America, disappeared totally. People across the world suffered unemployment, difficulties with their personal incomes and debts, and essentially the anguish that comes from the uncertainty.”
Although the world moved into recovery following the financial crisis, navigating uncertainty has remained a priority, the CEO says. “We live and operate in a marketplace where decisions are not taken unless lenders or investors are comfortable with the economic and political conditions. But, since the financial crisis, there have been many positive developments to increase confidence in the markets: the 2008 crash was caused by the creation of a myriad of financial products and instruments no one actually understood, and now, we find investors keener on actual real, tangible projects such as renewable energy, motorways, and airports. Moreover, the age of digitisation has resulted in communications becoming more facilitated and expedient – but that’s not to say bureaucracy has become any better!”
On company level, the Central and Eastern European markets matured over the decades, leading Credinvest International to shift its main focus to Africa, which Mr Mangion describes as “a wonderful potpourri of diverse cultures but also a fountain of opportunity.” Indeed, he says the firm is driven to aid any Malta-based companies break into the market, with operations shifting to provide advice in this regard.
“We are active in Botswana, Kenya, Senegal, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and Ethiopia. Across the board, there are opportunities for F&B manufacturing as well as in business and leisure tourism. Indeed, you can find some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world in these countries, accompanied by fascinating cultures, and city-based business hotels are also of a high standard,” Mr Mangion insists.
The CEO also sees ample cope for business in financial services and construction. “As the African middle class expands exponentially, you will find immediate potential for personal financial services, such as savings products, insurance, and mortgages. We all know the Maltese build houses, and, although actual construction methods differ, there remain notable opportunities in real estate, especially mid- market. But it’s not only about houses of course: there are roads and bridges to build, as well as huge potential in renewables and other diverse sources of energy.”
There are challenges to growing within the continent, Mr Mangion says, but these go “hand-in-hand” with the possibilities Africa offers. “One has to adapt to the diverse cultures and to the way business gets done. For example, there tends to be a preference for verbal communication over email. Time is also required to build relationships in solid ways, and clients would do well to have several one-on-one meetings,” he explains. “Make no mistake, competition is fierce, and strategies need to be developed and implemented to carve out your niche. But the niche itself – within such critical mass – will always justify the effort.”
Mr Mangion believes success is within reach for local companies aiming to work in these new markets. “I’ve always felt there is nothing us Maltese cannot achieve if we set our minds to it. And I equally believe we are blessed with what the Italians call, l’arte di arrangiarsi – the ability to be flexible until a solution is found,” he smiles.
He credits the firm’s present and future success to its team. “To develop international markets and achieve our objectives, we have a great team of dedicated professionals. It’s a family type franchise, and we play to our respective strengths. We provide a platform of solutions and each of my partners identifies transactions that fit; they, then, go through the bureaucracy to tailor the transaction to fit the appropriate and competitive solution.”
Indeed, it’s this personal approach which Mr Mangion sees as being essential even moving forward, as the world continues to change, and horizons continue to expand. ‘For the moment, we are consolidating the markets we have established ourselves within and we are looking to do more in each of these markets, with our target being to participate in at least one project in each. We are also pushing with our focus on areas we know well, such as transportation, healthcare, and energy. However, ultimately, it’s a personal approach first and foremost,’ he says, heralding the firm’s philosophy: “the world’s the market, so why not go get it?”
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