Category Archives: bank service

KCB to Unveil a Digital Finance Future in Q2 of 2017

KCB is working on revolutionizing their banking strategy that will culminate in a digital finance rollout in a few weeks. This was revealed by KCB CEO Joshua Oigara at a financial technology forum at the Capital Club in Nairobi that featured futurist & author Brett King. Oigara said that in their 100 years of existence, KCB had gained 5 million customers, but in the two years since launching KCB M-Pesa, that number had doubled.
KCB is working with King and Deloitte, on new digital finance products and strategy, which they had already shown to the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK), who have to approve banking products and changes in the country.  Oigara said that customers are adaptable and don’t mind the changes, but that it is banks that have resisted innovation, and that said he has met many young KCB customers who have never been to branches (mobile is all that matters for them).

Numbers from KCB’s last Investor briefing (Q3 2016) show that 73% of KCB transactions were done outside branches (up from 62% a year earlier). Also, 75% of customers use mobile phone banking services and 91% of loans transactions are processed this way – and they averaged 80,000 loans per day after adjusting bank loan terms in line with the banking amendment law late in 2016.

Digital banking was worth Kshs 641 billion ($6.4 billion) to KCB and of that Kshs 332 billion (52%)  was from mobile. 18% (Kshs 116 billion) was from internet channels, while ATM was responsible for 17%, 9% from agency banking, and 4% (28 billion) from merchant channels.

Rumours are that the bank’s strategy would be akin to Equity Banks’ 3.0 strategy .  This would enable KCB to manage customer accounts, cash, loans, insurance, as they send money or buy airtime, and sell them other products at a lower cost than agents and branches, while also integrating better with their customer lifestyles.

Writing in the Business Daily on the financial technology revolution that’s coming to East Africa, Oigara cautioned that, currently, a lot of the innovation in finance is happening outside traditional banking and finance institutions and beyond the sphere of regulators to manage risk in banking.
KCB will be having more fintech forums in the coming months.

Banks Close Branches as they go Digital

Branches are the customer face of most commercial banks, But yesterday Bank of Africa Kenya announced the closure of its 12 branches. This is almost 1/3 of its total branches in Kenya, with those targeted located in Nairobi (Githurai, Gikomba, Monrovia, Gateway, South B, Outer Ring Road, Likoni Road, Thika Road), Nanyuki, Embu, Kitale and (Mombasa (Digo Road branch)

This comes after Ecobank Kenya also announced earlier the closure on nine branches in Nairobi (Chambers, Ongata Rongai, Gikomba, Embakasi, Thika Road), Meru, Kitale, Busia, and Malindi.

Both banks attributed the closing of branches moves to reducing costs as they invest and offer more digital services to customers.  This may bring back bad memories of the 1990’s and early 2000 when large banks closed small or unprofitable branches, many of which were in rural Kenya. But unlike that time, banks are not completely abandoning their customers but leaving customers with a taste of their services through digital platforms, mainly by mobile phones as well as electronic and agency ones.

This comes at a time when banks like Equity have frozen new branches and other like Coop Bank celebrate that only 25% transactions are done at branches, as customers have the choice to use other channels like mobile phones. 

Still, it leaves many traditional customers wondering how they can connect with their bank without nearby branches. Many banks also have agents in rural and densely populated urban areas to handle cash deposits and withdrawals, but will their customers lose touch without physical branches that they can visit?

Shared Branches are the Bank Branches of the Future?

Despite new mobile, ATM, and internet channels, customers still need to come into bank halls quite a bit, as seen by the queues at beginning and end of each month. A lot of this is because customers need to bring and remit payments that end up going to other banks either via direct deposit, cheques, or RTGS. Does the money need to physically move? No But the customers do, going from building to building to do single transactions at many banks.

It helps if you have a building like Sarit centre which is an attractive banking destination because it has many bank branches under one roof, with much more in adjacent buildings.

New malls (the Hub, (remodeled) Westgate put bank branches upstairs and  have one corner where they put all the ATM’s . Presumably, banks are nice tenants at malls as they pay for space over many years and the branches bring in a lot of foot traffic to other shops.

zeepo-agent

A Zeepo agent handles a dozen different payments.

But for banks, there is a lot of redundancy. Every bank that has a branch network incurs a repeat of the same costs of staff, security, cash handling & transit, advertising signs, stationery, surveillance & alarms, insurance, etc. They also have building leases, insurance, and fees per branch or outlet – such Kshs 65,000 (~ $650) per year for an ATM license in Nairobi County.

Big banks have invested in big branch networks, but can smaller banks share halls in new neighborhoods or towns like Eastleigh and Kiserian that experience rapid growth, and the banks have to catch up?. Shall we see a bank hall or post office hall in such a place with 20 desks, and 20 sets of staff for 20 different banks? Can banks share a hall like a Huduma centre which houses several different government departments in one hall who each second some staff there to serve their customers in such a centre. Agents like Zeepo do it and there are shared branch halls in the US for cooperative societies.

It is certainly possible. They already share ATM’s (through Kenswitch), payments switches, card networks (Visa, MasterCard) – so why not building space? his way they can share the cost of security, which can be handled by armed guards outside, and leave a friendly customer –facing interface inside that is devoid of bullet-proof glass (like some Uganda bank halls)

  • This piece (h/t @AgostaL) which highlights that bank products will always be around, also has some stats on bank branches in the US ..The United Kingdom, the United States, Spain, and a host of other countries are seeing the lowest number of bank branches in decades.
  • While here in Kenya, CBK’s 2015 annual report notes that ..(while) the number of bank branches increased from 1,443 in 2014 to 1,523 in 2015 .. the slowdown in physical bank branches expansion is partly attributed to the adoption of alternative delivery channels such as mobile banking, internet banking, and agency banking.
  • What does it take to open or close or share a branch? Section 8 of the banking act requires that No institution shall open in Kenya a branch or a new place of business or change the location of a branch or an existing place of business in Kenya without the approval of the Central Bank.

Kabura’s Peculiar Banking Habits

Last week Josephine Kabura got to testify about her banking transactions before a televised Parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC) hearing of an ongoing investigation of the National Youth Service (NYS), and she made some rather startling claims about having tens of millions of shillings from the NYS deposited into her company accounts which she instantly withdrew in cash to pay her suppliers. But in the absence of closed circuit television (CCTV) footage, which banks typically don’t keep for too long (the security companies erase them over if there are no security incidents), the documentation and bank rules covering cash handling risks, fraud, and money-laundering simply don’t support these claims.

While MP’s asked her about the physical improbability and difficulty of her carrying that money out of the bank (sums of Kshs 40 million in paper bags) to go pay suppliers at a quarry, the possibility of this is unlikely. A vault at an obscure bank branch is unlikely to have more than Kshs 10 million shillings sitting around. Banks allocate money to branches based on their usage (average daily deposits and withdrawals) and it is unlikely that such amounts of money in paper currency would ever sit idly around as there are insurance and cash handling costs and risks. 

Kabura testifies at PAC  (pic from Standard)

Kabura testifies at PAC (pic from Standard)

Within the bank, risks managers and systems would have noticed patterns in her company accounts, previously empty, and now suddenly receiving millions of shillings per day, that she immediately withdrew in cash. Also when someone tries to send, transfer, or withdraw over $10,000 i.e. ~Kshs 1 million, it triggers an extra form at the bank that must be filled out and later sent to the Central Bank explaining the purpose of the transaction. Usually, the head office of a bank will ask for extra documentation, such as invoices or contracts to support the processing of such a transaction. A similar case with suspicious payments received from the Youth Enterprise Development Fund at Chase Bank showed how such account activity triggered alarm bells within a bank and subsequently with the regulators.

When Kshs 100 million is wired to your bank, it does not mean that Kshs 100 million magically appears at your bank branch to be withdrawn as cash. At any branch, the tellers and cash managers have limits of cash they can handle or approve at any given time. They have to get approval, or witnesses to do larger transactions and those are in exceptional requests. Bank systems are set up not to allow suspicious transactions that exceed pre-set limits and daily  thresholds.

For more money to be allocated to a bank branch, a top decision would have to be made by bank directors to allocate and transport more money to serve the enhanced needs of customers at a particular branch. But it is more probable that such a customer would be “upgraded” and transferred to another branch for premium customers with better security and with higher cash limits. Such a customer would also be assigned a relationship manager to help them manage their liquidity (in this case – Kshs 1.6 billion in 14 months) even better and cross-sell them other bank products.

It is more probably, as MP Abdikadir Aden, postulated at the PAC hearing, that the cash was never really there. When large sums were wired in, withdrawal transactions were initiated to show that cash was being withdrawn, but that the reality was that, simultaneously, other transfers were done and cash deposit slips were filled in to reflect cash deposits for the exact same amounts, into other accounts, a few minutes later.

Finally, earlier this year, the Central Bank issued new rules that further restricted deposit or withdrawal of cash. Could this have been due to the same Kabura activities that happened over a year before?

How banks are innovating around interest rate caps

With the capping of interest rates at 4% above the CBK rate comes an opportunity for banks to innovate and protect their income streams. They can do this through increased focus on mobile-based short term credit facilities as well as non-funded income streams.

More people can now afford loans. However, banks are reluctant to offer loans to existing customers who previously met their criteria. More requirements need to be met by customers in order to access the same services. Customers now have a tough time accessing credit cards and (un)secured loans. Perceptions on risk determine who gets the facility with riskier clients getting the short end of the stick.

An F-Type Jaguar at RMA Motors, Kenya

An F-Type Jaguar at RMA Motors, Kenya

Fixed and call deposit facilities are also now accessible to fewer people. New requirements such as that you need to hold an account for a certain amount of time with the bank in order to access fixed deposit services are restricting customers. Long tenures for fixed deposits have also been halved. Call deposits have been put on hold in some cases.

Banks are moving towards shielding themselves from the risk of default that will be brought about by a flood of people who can now afford to take out a loan. Collateral will become a requirement for credit facilities that did not have this requirement before. This is based on the real assumption that there will be a significant degree of default from this windfall.

Banks have also started investing more in Treasury Bills that are risk free and offer roughly the same return that they would by loaning funds to individual customers. This may be a short term move as banks wait for the waters that have been stirred up to settle. It is telling that the 364-day T-Bill is getting the most attention.

Mobile applications that increase accessibility and convenience for bank customers are currently not a significant source of funds. However, they offer an opportunity for lenders as they try to leverage on the volume of loans they have the potential to advance. MShwari-type loans could be the answer to protecting the banks’ funded income. More banks will be willing to join in advancing MShwari-type loans. This will keep people with low credit quality within the formal banking industry. Since most of them are from the unbanked population, they will be afforded some protection from predatory lending by shylocks as has been feared. Only people from selected (read known and established) companies are able to access the same loan facilities that were available to everyone. Likewise, entrepreneurs classified as less risky won’t see a significant change in their access to the facilities that they are used to. Banks have had to cut down on staff that was needed to sell credit facilities. With MShwari-type loans, some of these jobs can be saved.

More focus will be given to non-funded income streams that exist such as prepaid cards. Prepaid cards are touted as a secure way to carry cash. KCB and NIC Bank are two institutions that have put a lot of effort in making these cards mainstream.

Bankers also have the option of contesting this legislation using KBA. They can do this if they can prove that the new rates are making their business unprofitable. This could see interest rate revisions on new and existing credit facilities once in a while. An unseen consequence of this is the Monetary Policy Committee might lose its independence since they have to take into consideration bankers.

In summary, more focus will be given to customers who meet new requirements set by banks. Innovations will also be necessary to drive income growth going forward. After all, operating in white water creates opportunities in making great leaps.

Newton Kibiru, Business Development at Grant Thornton Kenya