What Equity did to the Banking Industry in Kenya

Kenyan Banking

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That day has never left the mind. Was perhaps ten, eleven or there about. Mum she sold roasted groundnuts at her cereal shop in denominations of one and five and every village kid knew that delicacy. On this day she handed me a bulky green polythene bag. It housed what appeared like a year’s savings of coins. She tasked I exchange them at a local bank for notes.

I queued. Queued just like everyone else.  The queue consisting of sparkling suit clad men wasn’t as long. Unlike them, I clung to my luggage that I felt drain all the energy from my feeble hands. Then the worst happened. My hands gave up on the weight and it interacted with the floor with a thud letting loose its contents that went sprawling on the floor. Everyone turned and stared. It felt awkward. It destroyed the peace and silence that had engulfed that place. I felt sorry as I bent over to collect the coins. Some people helped. Others just stared. Stared with bewilderment. “How does a boy of eleven manage to bank such a huge amount of coins?” I imagined of them. One guy kneeling next to me helping alongside whispered into my hell scared ears “What business do you do?”

That was long ago, considering more than ten years have trended on. Banks weren’t as common those days. As a matter of fact, mum never banked. Her business model was vicious simple. She re-invested most of the money in the business, paid school fees with a fair majority and bought households with the remainder. By way of confession, we ate more of the cereals for supper than she actually sold. Salute to her!

Talking of banks, banks were a preserve for the financially endowed. I mean you took money to banks not dead-beaten notes that had been in circulation since independence but rather sparkling clean notes! The type that will easily pierce the soft part between your thumb and index finger.  Money was banked in denominations of a thousand perhaps. So banks weren’t for every Tom, Dick and Harry on the street. Not until some campaign ravaged our spaces…. “Na mimi ni member” Courtesy of Equity bank; a little known banking services provider by then. They went viral on vernacular radio stations, main stream radio, on television, news prints, dailies and billboards alike and the message sank squarely deep. It was received by multitudes. For instance, an excerpt would go “Am a farmer…na mimi ni member! Then a farmer clad in farm attire sticking out the index finger solidarity support sign like a Mwamba-level scout would stand by say on a towering bill board across a busy street or flap by as the case with TV ad.

The psychological mindset of the masses shifted.  “Ahem! Banking is for everyone, not what we thought?!” So everyone walked the Equity way. Everyone in context means the unbanked. Strategic they were. They made getting a bank account as easy as just walking into a banking hall with your personal details and walking out a registered member. Alas Easy! The mimi ni member effect in action. This was sustained by the fact that banking was thus as simple as strolling into a banking hall with say some coins in whatever denominations, filling a simplified palm-size banking slip and your sweat earned funds were safe with the bank. Not under your pillow with the looming fire breakouts. Not in your pockets with the enviable robbers and the tempting sales guy. Not at the village shop that survives economic recession only to succumb to organized crime closing shop courtesy of burglars. Not with your elder brother who would convert it to food and bore you with piercing lectures of how he insured your custody when mum was tilling the fields and you were barely out of diapers. Who knows whether that was a stage-managed lie? Of course a kid in diapers can’t tell. A better haven to leave your money; Bank.

With such paradigm shift in the banking sector, banking became key and central among the masses. So on and on Equity grew at a pace that can be termed as rapid. Along the way, they incorporated low-end user tailored products that over the years have been in congruency with the clientele needs. Equity bank thus has stood there a tower; voice of masses. Better put a bank for the unbanked poor! At the center stage, other players watched. Players in context will constitute competitor bankers who had ignored the unbanked low-end masses; majority of which probably fall far below the less than a dollar earning UN connotation of poor. As perhaps the rule of the game might be its competition that puts businesses on toes and smiles on customers’ faces as everyone struggles to serve better. As just as everyone else having ran out of speech would say, the rest is history. It is indeed History. I bet you can’t count the number of banks on Kenyatta Avenue or down River road in a minute! Can you?

 

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