Since July 2020, Casper Sikkema from REM Capital has been setting up a location in Johannesburg. We took this as an opportunity to conduct a detailed interview with him and ask about his future plans in South Africa. Fortunately, Ines Woermann and Nils Driemeyer also joined us for the interview. The three tell us about REM Capital’s future goals, how the African market differs from the German market and they give us an insight into their projects on site. The result is a very exciting and dynamic conversation with very different perspectives and experiences.
„My name is Casper Sikkema and I’m the head of international finance for REM Capital and the head of business development for the African subsidiary of Hypoport Netherlands. I’m working for Hypoport since July 2020 and based in Johannesburg, where our office is already three people strong.“
„My name is Nils Driemeyer. I’m in the company since January 2021 and global head of energy, infrastructure and international finance.“
„I´m Ines Woermann. I started four weeks ago and I’m head of marketing and my task is to bring this raw diamond to shine.“
Casper, how did you come to work for the REM Capital in South Africa?
Casper: „I got introduced to Hypoport five years ago while working for my previous company Solarworks. Hypoport was providing IT and software solutions for banks for monitoring systems for portfolios and that was of interest of our company. That’s how I started working with Hypoport Netherlands.“
How did it happen that REM Capital opened a location in Johannesburg?
Casper: „It was connected to the fact that Hypoport already had an office in Johannesburg, from which they were already providing services to the local South African banks. It was considered to be a good fit and synergy between two subsidiaries of the Hypoport group to start working together and utilise capacity.“
What does your typical working day look like?
Casper: „The responsibility of the REM Capital team is to support projects concerning renewable energy here in South Africa. This means, that we need to continuously interact with project developers, banks and capital providers, to make sure that projects are being pushed in the right direction. Furthermore, we support European corporates that are willing to expand their operations to the African or Asia Pacific continent with either debt advisory, locating acquisition targets or divesting their operations. That’s where we step in. It also means, that a part of our operation is not only to find capital but also to find people who want to buy or sell assets.“
What is the goal for the new location in South Africa?
Casper: „I want to say conquer the world 🙂 – but no, Nils and I have a clear ambition. We want to be the industry leader when it comes to corporate finance, project finance and PPA advisory related services for companies wanting to operate in Africa and Asia Pacific.“
Ines: „I can remember one slide in your presentation which outlined that you want to help companies become the best version of themselves.“
Casper: „Yes, it’s true. I think it’s quite clear that there has been a lot of movement in the financial sector. To give you an example: I had a meeting today with one consultant, who is typically engaged by banks when they are investing in power plants in Kenya. 15 years ago, they would normally only do a technical due diligence. Over the years, more scrutiny took place: “Okay, it’s nice that you’re building something there and that it’s technically feasible, but what does it mean for the environment?”. And after the environmental study they said: “Okay, it’s good that it’s not harming the environment, but does it actually help the surrounding villages? Does it actually create jobs or are you only importing high-skilled labour?”. So, it became a more holistic thing, where it’s not just about a financial asset that has to have some return on investment, but also how do we make sure that everyone gets the most out of it?“
Nils: „Casper, you told us that our goal is to be among the best project finance consultants, but how are we going to achieve that? What definitely helps us is the combination we have in the Hypoport group. On the one hand, we are project finance, debt and M&A experts. On the other hand, we have a strong connection to the REM Capital industrial client base, which has a strong need for everything that goes into being ESG compliant and going greener. Moreover, we are part of the Hypoport universe, which brings digitalization forward with platforms like Fundingport.
I think that was also a bit of your question: Why South Africa or why the African continent? Especially for us, the African continent is very attractive because it is a growth area. And, especially in the sector of renewable energy, the markets in Europe and North America are pretty mature with a limited growth rate. That is why for most of our clients the South African and APAC region is an attractive region – and it’s important for us to have somebody on site.“
How does the South African financing market differ from the German market?
Casper: „Where shall I start? Let’s just take an example: I’m not very familiar with the housing market in Germany, but I can probably say, that the market for mortgages and everything related to that is probably 50 to 100 times bigger in Germany than it is in South Africa. For one reason, there are not a lot of homeowners here and the house prices are a lot lower. In Germany or the Netherlands for example the mortgage market could be seen as one of the pillars of the financial market because it contains so much capital. The mere fact that it is so small in South Africa, tells you that this market still needs a lot of development. The efficiencies that you get with this sheer size are not there yet – so that would be the main difference from my perspective.
Just to be clear: That is also where the potential lies here. The fact that there’s still a lot of development that needs to be done. If you would ask me what Hypoport stands for, I would say: efficiency and transparency. That’s what the South African market could use a bit more of and that is where we come in.“
Nils: „I also think that normally, when it comes to project finance, a very big element is to enable investment under poor conditions. For example, because contracts are not safe and people cannot trust the legal systems. That’s normally something that doesn’t allow large project financing, such it might be needed for a large farm. But with our experience from the European market and the experience of the national finance team, we can enable those kinds of important projects. We want to bring education and the concept of project finance to the bigger and smaller banks in the South African region ensuring that there will be a sufficient banking market.“
Ines: „Another really good example is a project in Kenya concerning water hyacinths. It could be interesting even though it doesn’t relate to the financial sector. At the Lake Victoria 75% of the surface was covered with these plants, so it became an environmental problem for the region. A few years ago, a group of scientists supported by REM Capital invented a way to use the water hyacinth as a source of renewable energy. It helps to provide the residents with energy as well as it lowers the need of deforestation for the purpose to gain firewood.“
Casper: „This is exemplary for some of our more holistic projects. It’s about converting an environmental problem into something positive.“
Is there anything else you want to share with me?
Ines: „Casper, you really gave me something to think about, because I understand the point that the future is going to be more complex. That is something that everybody feels every day right now, and it can also be applied to energy. New forms of energy are more complex, so you really need an expert who can deal with that complexity.“
Casper: „I have another thing to say: I think that REM Capital, Hypoport and its subsidiaries have a lot of synergies which make the group so unique. We can see that there is a need for transparency and trust in order to enable capital to come into the market – and that is what the Hypoport group stands for. It is important that we have to combine forces at the Hypoport group to achieve the greatest possible success.“
Bildquelle: Coworking Space Johannesburg WeWork