The CEO steering giant investment co-operative

Safaricom Investment Co-operative (CEO) Sarah Wahogo. [Maxwell Agwanda, Standard]

Sarah Wahogo is clear on her job – to give returns to members and investors.

She was confirmed in March as the chief executive of the Safaricom Investment Co-operative (SIC) after serving in acting capacity since May 2021.

“As long as I’m here, I can assure of consistent returns. If I find that I’m not achieving what I wanted, I’ll just go,” Ms Wahogo tells Financial Standard, tapping her desk to drive the point home.

SIC was born out of Safaricom Sacco in 2009 to pursue joint investments for its members, who are current and former staff of East Africa’s most profitable company as well as outsiders.

Ms Wahogo, a certified public accountant, is quick to identify herself as a turnaround CEO. When she toook the helm, affairs at SIC were not in order and she found an organisation at a crossroads.

“When I came in here, the shocker was finding a very lax culture that I even wondered if I was in the right place,” she recalls her start at SIC in September 2020 as the finance manager.

“I can confidently say that SIC today is not what it was two years ago. We’ve streamlined business processes, inculcated a performance driven culture and we have a more organised and focused staff.”

She is credited with the ‘renaissance’, providing leadership in areas such as revenue growth, resolution of historical issues and improving staff productivity.

SIC has this year set a target of Sh500 million in profits and Ms Wahogo hopes it will be the best period yet.

“Last year was good progress because we were able to grow our revenues by around 800 per cent from 2020, which was the year the pandemic struck,” she says.

“This year could be 300 per cent growth from last year but most importantly, it’s the year that we hit our target and our investors will be smiling all the way to the bank.” 

Ms Wahogo is crystal clear on her focus and vision for SIC, describing herself as a go-getter and optimist.

“I’ve never sat any single day and thought that it’s not possible, including hitting ambitious targets,” she says.

The next step is to guide SIC towards diversification of its investment portfolio. They first had to improve and make business processes seamless and efficient.

“The next thing is diversification; we’ve not been able to do a lot because it’s a tough call as we have to be very sure of the business line. We have to make sure that the business case is sound and makes sense.”  

Safaricom pension scheme's mixed-use development project, Crystal Rivers. [File, Standard]

SIC focuses on real estate, private equity, quotable securities and money market funds.

However, it is real estate driven with its exposure to property being over 90 per cent.

Ms Wahogo says real estate has good returns for investors and also helps increase home ownership.

“It’s a kind of business where there’s capital appreciation. This assures our investors that their investment will not lose value.

“It also assures our investors of owning property and most importantly of owning homes.”

Some of their projects include Mirani Housing at Ruaka, an affordable housing project in a premium location, and also Marina project behind Tatu City.

“One cannot go wrong on residential developments. Whichever way, people have to have a home,” she says.

The co-operative is pursuing property management as part of diversification of its real estate business.

“This means rent collection, managing common area, security and generally managing property for investors who don’t have that experience and time to do it,” the CEO says.

“We get in and ensure that repairs are done in time and professionally. It means that we are removing the hassle from the developer of the property and managing it professionally.”

This would not necessarily be high-end property such as holiday homes.

“Our kind of business looks at bringing the ordinary Kenyan on board. As long as it’s a property that has passed a number of tests such as in terms of construction and documentation, then we can onboard it.”

SIC has a client base of over 10,000, both members and non-members.

“Our typical investor is the average Kenyan, somebody who’d put in their money and expect growth or who would want to invest for a future project or home,” Ms Wahogo says.

To join SIC, one purchases 500 shares with one share currently valued at Sh52.50. To exit you can only sell the shares.

They are currently fine-tuning the process by automating it online to make it transparent and seamless, and buyers can easily see sellers online.

Before the interview, we had to wait for Ms Wahogo to attend to two things – a morning devotion and her birthday celebration.

The investment field is largely male dominated, and FS sought to find out about her leadership style and inspiration.

“I’m an early bird. This gives me a lot of time to reflect in the morning, read a book and just plan for the day,” she says.

“Most important is being able to track what every department is doing, their achievement and what needs a quick fix.”

Ms Wahogo was born and raised at Haraka, a sleepy village in Nyandarua County where her parents were farmers and strict disciplinarians.

Safaricom Investment Co-operative (CEO) Sarah Wahogo. [Maxwell Agwanda, Standard]

She has her off day on Monday when she takes time to reflect about her personal life and family.

The rest of the week she’s out meeting stakeholders such as land registry officials and developers. She also listens to and handles investor complaints.

The mother of three also takes some time to grow her personal brand and is active on social media.

“I have a strong leadership team and I delegate a lot so that I’m able to focus on the business growth and deliverables, which is extremely critical for me,” she says.

One of the biggest challenges working in the real estate sector has been the land acquisition process that has left many investors scarred.

“We’ve had our share of challenges where we’ve acquired land and it wasn’t genuine. Most importantly, we never left our investors hanging,” Ms Wahogo says.

“Land acquisition to date remains the most risky aspect to this business and we’ve been able to reduce the exposure by ensuring proper due diligence is done.” 

There are gaps in the real estate market that SIC has seen. Demand is high and the supply low, especially for the average Kenyan seeking to own a home.

Getting a trusted real estate developer is also challenging, notes Ms Wahogo, while financing is also a big headache to owning a home.

SIC has captured all these through their projects and has also partnered with top Saccos to enable financing. 

Nairobi metropolis remains one of their top premium locations. However, they have members seeking to invest in other cities such as Kisumu Nakuru and Eldoret.

Others want agricultural land with SIC having interests in areas including Nyandarua, Kitale and Nyahururu.