Category Archives: SACCO

How to Get and Understand your Credit Score

Have you ever seen your credit report? It is often a requirement for job applicants in Kenya to obtain a “clearance certificates” from a credit reference bureau (CRB) as one of the half-dozen source documents to be considered in their vetting.

Kenya has three licensed credit reference bureaus; Credit Reference Bureau Africa (trading as TransUnion), Creditinfo CRB, and Metropol CRB. The initial law on credit reference means that every Kenyan is entitled to get a free credit score every year, but that is not quite the case.

I tried to obtain a report from all of them and here is a review of the three services, in order of ease of access.

3. Metropol Credit Reference Bureau says that you can get your first free credit report by dialing *433# and by paying Kshs 100 via M-Pesa. Prompts indicated that a payment was required and I entered sent the amount via M-Pesa, but the payment transaction bounced back. Did this twice, and nothing ever came from Metropol and this needs a fix.

2. TransUnion: Credit Reference Bureau Africa was Kenya’s first credit reference bureau and now trades as TransUnion. Registration is Kshs 50/= for you to get your first free credit report. There are two ways of interacting with the service by SMS or by downloading an app.

The SMS route (number 21272) led to a prompt to pay Kshs 50 by M-Pesa. I did that and was led to a mini-menu to choose and receive more text messages. However, each SMS cost Kshs 15 – 19 each to proceed to the next screen and at some point, the TransUnion site gives advice that it is better to download the app and save on SMS transaction costs.

I did that and for the TransUnion Niapshe app from the Google store through which one can request a credit report and a clearance certificate. After payment, it now says you will be getting the free report annually. Also, that as a subscriber, you will get FREE SMS alerts in case of a new enquiry by a lender, new loan information submitted, when a loan goes 60 days into arrears, as well as when a loan is fully repaid.

Since I had already paid the 50, I asked for the report to be emailed. It came behind a password protect for me to enter my national ID (number) to unlock, but that did not work. I emailed a few times back to customer service and got an unlocked report in an email two days later.

TransUnion also sells “clearance certificates” at a cost of Kshs 2,200 (~$22)

1. Creditinfo CRB Kenya. On their site, you enter your name, ID, email, phone number and that leads to a sign-in prompt to pay Kshs 50. Did that, and within five minutes, got my credit report, a four-page PDF with a numeric score, risk classification and the number of credit queries in the past 12 months.

Findings from the Credit Reports

There are similarities in the two reports obtained from CreditInfo and TransUnion including:

  • They have some personal information, but the range and detail vary. TransUnion has more tries to add all your known locations and post office addresses. It reads information from your national ID including home location.
  • They have bank borrowing – loans, credit cards, and bank loan apps (in my case Timiza from Barclays and M-Shwari from CBA/Safaricom).
  • Both collect information on borrowers such as loans that are performing and non-performing loans, fraud, bounced cheques, credit applications, length of credit history, number of disputed record, court disputes etc. 
  • While CreditInfo gives a score (presumably between 0-1000), TransUnion also does but also gives a band to show what its 0-1000 scores mean. The top band being AA being (700 to 1000), followed by BB is (690-697), CC (675 – 689), and a few others up to the bottom (score of 1-489). There is also a star ranking of four kinds; with two dreaded categories of “***Adverse Action Reasons” and “**** Probability Of Default”.

Missing from the reports are:

  • Other loan apps – It appears that the many loan apps Kenya are not subscribers, nor are they sharing their information with the CRB’s.
  • They do not appear to have savings and credit society (SACCO) loan data – despite the numerous ads that various SACCO’s have shared about posting loan defaulters to CRB’s.

Lessons for borrowers

  • Watch the use of your borrowing; while you won’t have a credit report unless you borrow, borrowing too many times, even if it’s small loans that you repay quickly, may be a red flag. Those emergency loans you take on an app stay on your report for five years after repayment.
  • Information posted on different dates can overlap and give conflicting data. But is it in your interest to update the database? E.g. it may have your old employment history or lack your latest address.
  • There is an attempt to collect all phone numbers and relations associated with your ID.
  • Microfinance institutions and SACCO’s are not benefitting from the credit reference data.
  • TransUnion sent an email with some explanations of transaction items – a key to explain e.g. Performing Account with a default historya loan that you defaulted and later repaid/ you are still paying. Although updated as cleared or closed, the default information will remain in the credit bureau for 5 years from the date of final settlement. Also Non-Performing Accounta loan that you have defaulted (90 days) and is still outstanding. It impacts negatively on your credit score.

Summary

In 2014. banks requested a total of 1.6 million credit reports and that jumped to 6 million in 2015 and then declined to 4.9 million and 4.3 million in subsequent years. Meanwhile individuals requested 33,000 of their own reports in 2014, 75,000 in 2015, 84,000 in 2016 and 131,000 in 2017. The Central Bank of Kenya attributed this to people seeking credit bureau clearances to contest for Kenya elections in 2017, but it is worrying that banks are requesting fewer new reports as they work to build profiles of existing borrower.

Accurate credit scoring remains a holy grail in this economy where so many transactions are in the informal sector, and in cash. Credit reference is here to stay, even though many Kenyans don’t understand it or the consequences of not having good credits. Banks have now always been honest brokers, and they have been accused of not sharing information and offering good rates to good borrowers, but only posting defaulters into the credit reference bureau pool. My search proves that this is not the case, but the perception has led to a petition to Parliament to end credit reference bureau practices in Kenya over listing people for owing frivolous balances.

Still, there is no harming in getting your report and knowing what is out there about you.

EDIT : What does your score mean?  This article from South Africa is applicable:  

The different credit bureaux in SA all have slightly different ways of calculating your credit score, but in general scores range from around 350 to 999, and what you should be aiming for is a score of 600 or more…at this level, you should not have any problem getting a loan, provided it is within your means to pay the monthly instalments…and the higher your score is above 650, the more likely you are to be able to negotiate interest rate concessions…

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.

Spire Bank Capital Injection

Spire Bank shareholders will hold an extraordinary general meeting at the end of November 207 to approve an increase in bank capital that has been eroded by recent losses at the bank.

At the November 27 EGM, shareholders will approve the creation of 100 million new shares, worth Kshs 500 million that will be allocated to Equatorial Commercial Holdings. Kenyan banks are to have a minimum core bank capital of Kshs 1 billion, and as at June 2017, Spire’s capital was down to Kshs 1.6 billion and the bank had a half-year loss of Kshs 307 million coming on the back of a 2016 loss of Kshs 967 million. Spire had Kshs 13 billion assets, Kshs 6.4 billion loans, and Kshs 7.6 billion deposits as at June 2017. But interest income and total income at the half-year was sharply down from that in June 2016 which could point to their performance trend for the end of 2017.

In 2015, Mwalimu SACCO one of the country’s largest credit societies bought out and rebranded the former Equatorial Commercial Bank as Spire. Equatorial had itself been formed from a merger between Southern Credit and Equatorial banks in 2010. 

Mwalimu SACCO has Kshs 37 billion in assets and Kshs 3 billion profit in 2016 and has over 70,000 members as owners.  This is the second bank capital injection by Mwalimu at Equatorial after another with the buyout. The shares will be allocated among Equatorial Commercial Holdings which owns 98% of Spire bank has shareholders including Mwalimu National Holdings (75%), Yana Towers (10%), A.H. Butt (8%), Yana Investments (6.75%, and who also own 11% of CBA) and N.N. Merali (0%).

M-Shwari, Equitel, and Mobile Lending Apps in Kenya

Just 24 hours apart, Equity Bank and Safaricom, which arguably have the most financial connections with Kenyan citizens, through m-banking, both made financial results announcements. Equity released their Q3 2016 results while Safaricom, whose year ends in March, was announcing their 2017 half-year results.

Safaricom has M-Pesa and also powers M-shwari at CBA and KCB M-pesa while Equity has Equitel a bank in a SIM card that gets around the barrier of the M-pesa. At the beginning of the year Equity had 8.8 million customers and the country’s largest bank – KCB had 3.8 million . They are surprisingly topped by CBA with 12.9 million customers, largely due to their partnership with Safaricom called M-shwari which allows savings and lending directly from a phone SIM card.

In the results this week, Safaricom reported pre-tax half-year profit of Kshs 34 billion derived from their 26 million customers solar-2Bphone-2Bchargerand their CEO said that they process about 21,000 M-pesa transactions per minute and that 2 loans are processed every second. M-pesa revenue increased by 33.7% to Kshs 26 billion, and message revenue grew by 8.1% to Kshs 8.6 billion (with the increase in premium rate SMS revenue probably attributable to sports betting /mobile gaming)

They now have 50,000 merchants using their cashless platform called Lipa na M-Pesa, and announced a waiver on person-to-person and Lipa Na M-Pesa transactions under Kshs 100 (~$1)  “We have done this to empower the people who support this company the most – the mama mbogas, the small businessmen, and the micro-agents who form our network.”

As at September 2016, Equity had a Kshs 15.1 billion pre-tax profit, an 18% increase over last year.  The Q3 results also showed a second straight quarter of reduction in loans at the bank from Kshs 222 to 221 billion. Whether this is due to the recent interest rate-capping bill or an absence of lending opportunities, or an economic pullback is not clear, but the deposits raised by the bank went to government treasuries which grew by Kshs 21 billion in the quarter.

Equity reaffirmed an ongoing commitment to shift in customer service channels from physical branches to phone and agents. In the first year of Equitel (their telco), it did 151 million transactions in the quarter 142% more than the year before. Equitel is now the second largest move of mobile money in Kenya – at 14%, being M-Pesa (84%)  but ahead of Airtel Money, Orange Money and Mobikash.

Equity Bank has also released a series of Eazzy banking solutions and tools including (an)  Eazzy App, Eazzy Chama (investment group/SACCO management tool) and (an) EazzyAPI (for developers to build on).

Away from the two, the World Bank’s CGAP blog recently highlighted and compared several phone-based borrowing / m-banking solutions and apps available to Kenyans. They are easily accessible but unregulated, and they vary their terms, credit scoring methods, limits (which range from ~S1 to $10,000) interest rates, duration,  and the ultimate cost to the borrower. They include;  Branch, Equitel (Eazzy Loan and  Eazzy Plus Loan), Jumo/ Kopa Cash, KCB-M-Pesa, Kopa Chapaa, Micromobile, Mjiajiri, M-pawa-Sacco, M-Shwari, Okoa Stima, Pesa na Pesa, Pesa Pata, Pesa Zetu, Saida, Tala, and Zindisha.

$1 = Kshs 101

Why SACCO’s Won’t Replace Banks

The banking interest rate cap came into effect last week and some banks, like Coop and KCB have set out to comply with the new rates for new loans. But some people have been saying that they will shift to SACCO’s if banks cut back on borrowing that they consider too risky to make at below the 14.5% set by the new law.

SACCO magazineBut SACCO’s won’t really replace banks.  SACCO’s (savings and credit society societies) in which members register, save, and borrow are very good vehicles for customers who understand their needs and have definite investment goals. They are able to borrow loans, at lower rates than banks and often without the need for collateral, usually by having other members guarantee each other.

But the amount members can borrow is  limited, usually by how much they have saved (you cannot borrow more than five times your savings, how much they have outstanding or how many loans they already have. Also you can’t borrow until you have been a member and built up savings for about six months. They require regular deposits, usually each month so this work with salaried people or disciplined savers. They also work well with rural societies and farmers, though some in sectors like coffee have been plagued by debts following crop failure or society mismanagement.

Finally, some SACCO’s uch as Mwalimu, Harambee, Kenya Police, and Afya have over ten billion shillings in assets, but most SACCO’s are smaller than banks and don’t have the credit to lena or range of products that banks do to lend to millions of borrowers. While some SACCO’s have bank-like services like cheque books, and debit cards, they also don’t have the range of financing – trade finance, overdrafts, credit cards that  bank customers are used to.