Banking History in Colonial Kenya

This morning there was a talk given by Christian Velasco of Warwick University on A Colony of Bankers: New Approaches to Commercial Banking History in Colonial Kenya. He said there have been very few books written about the early banking history of Kenya and East Africa and he had sourced information from the Kenya National Archives in Nairobi, and scattered bank archives in the UK, South Africa, or Australia, but that many records were now lost.

Excerpts 

There were the banks that came before the first World War and a raft of banks that started after the end of the Mau Mau war – and the banks could fall into three categories: Colonial banks (state-supported banks that were the only ones that could handle government accounts, and which disappeared after independence), Imperial banks (less dependent on government business, and who focused more on trade and agriculture) and multinationals (who had most of their business abroad).

The story is of Kenya’s colonial banking era is really about three banks – the National Bank of India (NBI), Standard Bank of South Africa (SBSA) and Barclays. The arrival of Barclays in Kenya changed the banking sector greatly as it sought to end the long relationship that the National Bank of India had with colonial government in Kenya. Also when Barclays arrived, they found that the Standard Bank controlled many of the white accounts, so they set out to include more Africans as customers. Africans had bank accounts from around 1926, and by the 1950’s Barclays had more African accounts than settler accounts. 

Banks were mostly found in urban areas and with the ending of the Mau Mau uprising, there was an expectation that Kenya would remain a British colony for many decades. This resulted in several new banks setting up in Kenya in the 1950’s. Meanwhile, NBI, SBSA, and Barclays all expanded by 100% opening up in new places around the country, even with mobile bank units to attract customers. Despite the arrival of the new banks, the main competition remained between these three established big banks, and in 1954, Barclays sent a memo to the colonial government complaining about the unfair practice of them favouring the NBI who retained a monopoly of new business that dated back 60 years. 

All banks eventually had to break with colonial past and the British empire, and a big loser in the period was SBSA which had concentrated on the white settler population. Kenyan politicians tried to engineer boycotts of businesses related to South Africa due to the Apartheid regime and African customers now shunned it. Officials at the bank wrote to their headquarters about the problem and as a result, the name was changed by dropping “South Africa” from the name, and SBSA became “Standard Bank.”

However Africanization of staff did not start until quote late – Barclays had 1,000 employees, and just 70 were Africans with many more who were Indians. There was a hierarchy in banks of having whites being top managers, middle jobs were done by Indians and Africans, the clerical jobs – and this was because customers did not want to deal with African staff.