Digital App Loans: Understanding Borrower Behavior

An Interesting conversation was started by a tweet by Francis Waithaka on the true borrowing of costs of app loans that hundreds of Kenyans take every day by making a few clicks on their phones.

It elicited a lot of comments on the cost of finance offers to Kenyans, since an interest capping law passed in 2016 that restrict banks to lend at a maximum of 14%, the lack of regulation of app loans who may be taking advance of Kenyans by charging usurious rates etc. It also led to a mention of a research report from Micro Save about the digital credit landscape in Kenya that was shared by one of the authors.

The Microsave Report (PDF) titled “Where Credit Is Due: Customer Experience of Digital Credit In Kenya”  had lots of insights. It was drawn from feedback from 1,009 farmers located in 50 villages, equally split between Central Kenya and Western Kenya, and also with an equal number of men and women in the study.

At the end of it, the report makes some recommendations to the Communications Authority of Kenya and the Central Bank of Kenya – such as to control the type of messaging sent by text to consumers, and to require app loan companies to share information and to list all defaulters, respectively.

Habits of Borrowers 

  • There is a preference for Chama’ s, SACCO’s and M-Shwari as a source of funding. App loan amounts are too small for significant investments.
  • Majority of the customers took up loans to smooth consumption, emergencies or to boost business.
  • They don’t understand terms and conditions of app loans and they don’t understand credit reference.
  • There are three types of borrowers: repayers (who pay loans on time), defaulters  (who don’t understand the consequences of being listed), and jugglers who take both traditional and app loans – but if they are financially stretched, they are more likely to repay the traditional loans.
  • Customers have learned to game the system through timely repayment of loans and juggling multiple borrowers.
  • There is no extra “PIN” required to request and withdraw an app loan and some family members have done this in secret leading the phone owner to default on a loan.
  • Digital credit usage doubled in Kenya between 2015 and 2016, with awareness and usage of digital credit by far lower in rural Kenya.
  • Digital credit, which offers privacy, is replacing shop credit and family/ friends as financiers.
  • The simplicity of the loan application procedures matters;  too much information requested or if there are too many variables that make it confusing, makes potential borrowers drop off.

Phone Types 

Download a loan app or use USSd

  • App usage is rather low – and this probably related to lower usage of smartphones as their batteries rarely last a full day as compared to cheaper feature phones that retain battery charge for several days of use.
  • Phones are mainly used for money transfer,  deposits, and withdrawals. There is little usage to get information or to browse the internet
  • 64% of respondents in the survey had a basic phone (57% in 2015). Smartphones were 14%, growing slightly and off-setting feature phones which declined slightly to 26%.
  • Loss of a phone may result in a  borrower defaulting on repayment.

Credit Reference Bureaus

  • Formal lenders require clearance from a credit reference bureau (CRB) which costs $22 (i.e Kshs 2,200) and that may exclude borrowers from formal finance. App loans don’t require this, e except that borrowers have not been black-listed.
  • One concern is there is little understanding of credit reference bureaus, and of channels for redress of any disputes.
  • Not all fintech’s report loans to credit reference bureaus.

App loan costs

  • High loan/interest charges are not a concern as they are comparable to other informal money lenders

At the time of the survey, M-Shwari issued 62 million loans (worth Kshs 1.3 trillion), while Equitel and KCB about 4 million each. In comments to accompany the release of their 2017 bank results last month, KCB had 13 million mobile customers, Equity Bank has 12.1 million, while a  CBA statement noted that the bank also serves 33 million mobile savings & loans customers, in East Africa, in partnership with mobile money operators.

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