Jibran debunks myths about African economies

Wednesday March 18 2020

Stanbic Bank East Africa regional economist Jibran Qureshi during an interview at Stanbic Bank Offices in Westlands, Nairobi, on August 31, 2018. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Jibran Qureishi is currently the Regional East Africa Economist at Stanbic Bank. He is part of a larger team conducting macroeconomic research on African countries, aimed at identifying potentially profitable trading opportunities in the growing African Eurobond market.

Through formulating macroeconomic research, Jibran provides insights to investors, senior bank management and policymakers. He was rated the top analyst for Sub-Saharan Africa excluding South Africa in the prestigious Financial Mail awards in 2016.

Why did you choose a career as an economist?

In school, my father wanted me to study accounting. I however excelled in economics and just found the subject relevant to life.

I spoke to career counsellors who gave me a clearer vision into what a career in economics looks like. I also went to university at a time when there was a global financial meltdown so everything I studied in university was quite relatable.

I was at the University of Kent for both my undergraduate and graduate courses, where I studied economics and econometrics in undergrad and economics and finance at graduate level.

At the time though, I never really saw myself as an economist working for a bank but here I am.

My work gives me a lot of satisfaction as I get to debunk myths about African economies and contribute to their development.

There is typically a lot of noise about economies in the region and we tend to help investors read in-between the lines and avoid viewing the continent as a homogenous block in order to identify opportunities.

Which other profession would you be into if you were not an economist? Why?

This is a hard one. I am a movie buff; I enjoy analysing films (definitely NOT sci-fi or rom-coms!) the same way I analyse economies so I would probably be a scriptwriter or a producer/director, probably the documentary type. Who knows, I still may produce something on the African economy in the near future.

We keep reading about the heavy debt Kenya is in. What is the effect of this to our economy?

When we get ourselves into debt for borrowing for something like infrastructure, the argument normally is that the debt can be repaid by the returns from the said infrastructure.

The challenge here would be ensuring that the infrastructure will boost export earnings, increase employment and improve productivity. If this is not happening, then we need to question the infrastructure that we are spending on and re-assess whether it would be justified to accumulate external debt for it.

I would go with reducing our expenditure by taming our spending appetite. Authorities also need to reassess projects and ensure that public investment has a positive spin on exports and jobs. It’s all about setting priorities right or else, hard-working tax payers will feel the pain.

What was the most difficult undergraduate study unit for you?

A unit called financial econometrics. It reappeared in my masters as advanced financial econometrics. I got panic attacks, got sick and sometimes even threw up on the road -this happened once.

I wondered why I was studying so many statistics modules and I was a bit sceptical about the relevance of all that in my career. But this turned out to be very useful in my career!

What is the most difficult feedback you have received in your macroeconomics research?

It came from my boss, when I was about eight months old at my job. I presented a research report and after going through it, his response was: “English may not be your first language but you have to improve on your writing.” I was a junior economist at the time. That was the most helpful feedback I ever received because I was challenged to deliberately work and improve on my writing and public speaking skills.

Later when I was promoted to become the regional economist at the age of 26, some colleagues hesitated to take me to clients because of my youthful looks, Which is why I probably have a beard now.

I think this is an attitude that needs to change in the region, especially if we are to harness the potential of youth. Also, the culture and values at Stanbic Bank is one of meritocracy which made it easier for me.

What advice would you give an economics intern?

Be passionate and enjoy what you do. Do not have a half-hearted approach to your goals because if you lack conviction you will never give your dream enough. Your intention to be good at what you do has to be clear and firm from the beginning.

Always take your time to be a good listener and remember people with 20 years’ experience do not always know all the things that we think they do. Always take notes and most importantly remember that hard work and a bit of luck always beats skill.

At Stanbic bank, we offer internships in all departments so keep checking on our website, on the careers page, for when these positions are announced.

We also have a one and a half year graduate programme. We have also partnered with Strathmore Business School to provide a scholarship programme for undergraduates taking finance-related courses.

Did you date while in campus? How did that go?

I did date but it became challenging when I started my masters because the course was so demanding. All I can say, especially to economists, is that if you apply economic theories in your dating life, it will fail – abstract economic theories such as using the least resources to get the most output, will not work.

What do you think is the greatest misconception about a career in economics?

Economists are wrongly viewed as fortune tellers or crystal ball readers. A lot of people think that with a degree in economics, you can only work for government or become an academic.

The reality is that there are utilities for economists in many areas and banking, where I am now, is just one of these areas.

There was also the feeling that economists complicate simple things and it was better to work without them; or hide them in a dark room. In the past, many economists in Africa were foreigners.

But now more and more institutions are beginning to see the relevance of home-grown economists and I can say Stanbic led the way here back in 2008 by having a resident economist as opposed to having an outsider tell the story of the Kenyan economy from an ivory tower back in the US or UK after a once in a year visit.