Category Archives: SME solutions

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.

After Office Hours with Kris Senanu at the Nairobi Garage

Last Friday, Nairobi Garage hosted an “After Office Hours ” chat session with Kris Senanu, the Managing Director- Enterprise at Telkom Kenya. He is also a successful venture capitalist with diverse investments and is also a judge on KCB Lion’s Den, a televised local version of the Shark Tank show, in which entrepreneurs pitch for investors to fund their companies.

Excerpts from the Q&A  

Balancing Work and Investments: He has a fun day job at Telkom, but he’s an insomniac and is able to do investing work from 6 PM to midnight. He started investing as a “terrible hobby” when he was 21 and he has a high appetite for risk.

He’s Not Just Invested in Tech: “Investments depends on what is the value to me, the community, country and profitability.” He started his first business Yaka Yeke which was about bringing West African fashion, which he liked, to East Africa. Later he got a partner and started Mama Ashanti restaurant because he wanted to eat West African food and saw there was a demand for that.

He doesn’t own any company. He created Blackrock, with his partners, which he doesn’t manage, to consolidate and oversee his investments. They take a maximum of 33% of equity and let the other shareholders deal with the heavy tasks of managing companies while they provide guidance.  He puts in money based on plans, and milestones and has people who check on those. While he may go serve drinks at one of their bars, he does not dwell on the daily numbers but will read reports late at night.

Funding Decisions: He said a key thing for any entrepreneurs seeking funds from investors was to know what type of money to seek. It was not about “do I need equity or debt?” and what amount to ask for, but also about what you need at any particular time – one is for operational expense, the other is for long-term expense. if you go for equity, there is some money that is good for you, and others to avoid – and some companies get money and right from month one of the new funding, the business or environment changes.

He invests $10,000 to $500,000, and takes on riskier investments – and if it is an area he can add value and scale, it will get investment. He also looks at how passionate an investor is  “are they willing to do this for 10 years or is it just a side-hustle?”. Spreadsheets are powerful tools that guide, but also confuse with numbers that can obscure real basic business. Investment decisions take up to six months as they use evaluate, build relationships with, and get to understand the entrepreneurs.

Scaling Companies:  His main challenge in the last few years has been scalability – as he says there are good businesses around, but they don’t have the ability to scale. While many do okay in a single market or single country, when numbers are good, investors want to see the businesses go multi-market or multi-country.

He said Nairobi has a lot of venture capital, angel funders, and private equity investors – all with money and who are willing to invest in businesses, but that the lot of money is chasing the few businesses that show scalability, and the ability to be sustainable and profitable in the long-term.

Foreigners Getting Start-Up Funding in Nairobi: On this, he said capital will flow to places and spaces where the capital feels comfortable, and entrepreneurs in Nairobi are going to have to make people more comfortable investing big money with us – and to change that narrative about “capital flowing to foreign faces in local spaces.” He said that it could be a case that some local businesses seeking investors were not fully baked and were perhaps at a stage where they were better off going of debt (convertibles/loans) rather than equity funding. He mentioned an episode of the Lion’s Den where someone mentioned Cellulant in a way that offended him. He said that many managers at Cellulant were former colleagues of his and he had watched the company grow for many years, overcoming many tough times as it ventured across Africa. He said entrepreneurs have to, know when to raise capital, know what to ask for, and that Cellulant was now attracting big funding rounds because of their strategic funding decisions and people have to get better at that in Nairobi.

His Work Philosophy: “if you work your whole life for money that is sad; you have to find purpose.” His is to invest in someone else’s visions and help them grow their companies – At Swift, he was employee number 7 and the company grew to 150 staff, while at Access Kenya, he was employee number three, after the founders. He endeavours to grow businesses, create employment, make profits, then exit and move on to the next one.

Night Club IPO? “I have a philosophy is to create one million jobs” but he Knows that is not going to happen through companies, but if he can enable, through his cash, other entrepreneurs to create 10 or 20 or 50 jobs, he will do it. From 2009 he was saving $200 per month, along with some friends who planned to attend the World Cup in South Africa. But he really had no interest in watching soccer and after his wife persuaded him to meet with a young entrepreneur, he ended up giving him the money he had set aside for the World Cup. “I liked the guy, his swag and ideas.” That young man was Amor Thige and the idea was to put money into a nightclub called Skylux Lounge. It later became the top club in Nairobi for several years and changed the nightlife scene.

The Skylux experience led him to invest in another group Tribeka which went on to open five nightclubs – Tribeka, Rafikiz,  Zodiak, Fahrenheit and Natives, and they later added Ebony and Marina Bay at English Point, Mombasa. At its height the group had a turnover of Kshs 87 million a month, rounding out to a billion shillings a year – but what mattered to him more was that the chain was employing 472 people, which was more than the 380 jobs at Access Kenya, a listed company. They also considered doing an IPO for the group, seeing as Kenyans who liked drinking would also like to own a piece of the company, and some of their clubs cost as much as Kshs  60 million to build out. 

Where to Find Investment Information and Data? He said there’s so much diversity in Nairobi and cited a few conversations in sports bars about agribusiness that are leading him into investing in macadamia nuts. He is now doing research, scouting for companies and the best places to grow macadamia over the next few years – “it all depends on who you hang with and the conversations you are having”. He said you can get data on private companies from the right people who have no reason to embellish data, and added that even public companies in Kenya and South Africa audited by top firms are later found to have cooked their books.

Why Telkom Kenya?: He said he entered the telecommunications business while there was a giant monopoly, the Kenya Posts & Telecommunications Corporation (KPTC) – that had low-quality, high prices and poor service – and which constricted the growth of communications at the time. So when Access Kenya was sold to Dimension Data he saw working to revamp Telkom Kenya as his next challenge – to grow a viable challenger that disrupts, gives choice and opportunity in the era of another dominant company (read Safaricom). He sees this as his national service to give back to the people of Kenya, through the government, and the ecosystem, and that while people in the room may not appreciate it now, they will in five years.

Decision-Making:
  • Most difficult decision; firing the smartest person at the company, but who had the worst attitude. it was tough but it was for the greater good of the business.
  • Best decision; sticking to technology. Tech brings change and motion process every day, He’s never bored, he wakes up to have fun. It started while he was selling clothes and Wangari Mathai’s niece asked him to join her at Swift Global and use his sales skills to also sell devices and he’s never looked back.
  • Kris Senanu on his worst decision/regret; not having children earlier.

Barclays Kenya expands Enterprise Supply Development (ESD) programme

Barclays Kenya has announced an expansion of the support initiatives and resources available to small and medium enterprises (SME’s) through their Enterprise Supply Development (ESD) programme in Nairobi today.

Karen Kiambi, the Head of ESD Programme, said that while banks in the Barclays Africa group are all rebranding to Absa by 2020, Barclays Kenya was well on that path and it was using the rebrand to launch products like Timiza. She added that it had been the first Absa member, out of South Africa, to launch the ESD programme for SME’s.

She said SME’s were vital to the economic growth of countries and yet they continued to face challenges access financing especially in low-income countries, but that in the early phase of the ESD programme, Barclays had managed to avail unsecured financing to SME’s who supply goods and services to corporates such as Allpack, EABL, Kenya Wine Agencies, Unilever, Nairobi Hospital, and Gertrude’s Hospital. She said they now aimed to add more resources and reduce the processing time for financing requests by having an online web page for loan applications.

James Agin, the Barclays Director for Corporate Banking, said the ESD had three principles of easy access to finance, enterprise development and access to markets. Besides training in the ESD entrepreneurs, can also join the Barclays Business Club and from next year, the SME’s with high scores will have a higher profile to market themselves to other corporations. The event featured Barclays staff and guests including Peter Mungai (Head of Tax at Barclays), David Logongo (Procurement Manager, Kenya Revenue Authority) and Francis Murabula (Head of Supply Chain Management, Safaricom).

A statement released after the event indicated that SME’s seeking LPO financing and invoice-discounting through the programme would only need to have six months of bank account history and a supply contract, and that there would be no requirement to provide audited accounts.

Individual Pension Schemes – Zamara Vuna AGM

Members of the Vuna pension scheme by Zamara met at their annual general meeting (AGM) in Nairobi this week to get updates of the previous year during which the fund grew by 10% to Kshs 2.37 billion. It was a year in which they rebranded from Alexander Forbes Kenya and one in which, the Nairobi Securities Exchange, which had its last good year in 2013 (when it was up 44%), managed to rebound in 2017 to 28% after dipping in the years in-between.

Zamara’s Vuna takes the view that saving for retirement is not a priority among many Kenyans who are juggling many financial requirements every day – so they have designed products for people to save what they can, when they want – people such as the self-employed, small business owners, individuals, overseas workers, and those  who work in organizations that don’t have formal retirement pensions plans. They also accept lump sum contributions and M-Pesa payments.

Vuna has over 5,000 individuals and 180 small companies as members and they give different options for savers according to their risk tolerance, for them to be pooled in the conservative, moderate or aggressive investor portfolios and members can switch their investor profiles once a year. They added an online portal for members to track their contributions and an app that helps members do projections about their retirement savings. This year they are adding a new group life assurance scheme.

They updated members on changes to their schemes, tax rule and answered questions  such as on how to deal with employers who don’t remit deductions and how they decided on making payments to families  of members who have not updated their beneficiary list-  and they cited a study that showed a higher proportion of women do not list their husbands as their beneficiaries, compared to husbands who list their wives. The meeting ended with an advisory caution to members that the only person you’re 100% sure will take care of an “older you” is a “younger you”. 

FSD Kenya Insights on Youth and Agri Finance

FSD Kenya, which aims to create value through financial inclusion, have just released their 2017 Annual Report which contains findings from ongoing research projects around Kenya.  

Some excerpts 

  • The unregulated digital credit space in Kenya, mainly phone loans, has overtaken other forms of credit in the country with 19% paying digital loans, much more than 17% repaying family/friends or 14% paying shopkeepers for goods taken on credit. 
  • 45% of borrowers through mobile phones are now female. Usage has shifted from day-to-day to investing in businesses, but 14% are (900,000 individual) are juggling multiple loans, and half have defaulted or delayed loan repayment.
  • Tweaking Agri-Finance: There is lack of access of credit to agriculture which receives just 4% of banking credit. This could be partly due to lack of data so they are partnering with M-Kopa Labs to research other models. Hall of M-Kopa customers make money from agriculture and buy solar products so the research aims to see of if the pay-as-you-go model can be applied to other products like farm inputs, water tanks, fertilizer, animal feed etc.
  • Youth Finance products: 40% of the population is under 15 years but youth are underserved by the banking sector. They see money as a means of survival and savings as being for buying something not long-term or unanticipated needs. There is a lack of appropriate financial products for the youth, and this could be because older adults are the ones developing financial solution for the youth. One outcome of this research, funded by Funded by SIDA and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation could be a new class of lending to the youth, a development by FSD Kenya and the Kenya Bankers Association. 

  • They are also involved in the Kenya Hunger Safety Net program in which the government transfers Kshs 20 billion ($200 million) a year to people over 70 years.
  • Visiting economist John Kay gave a lecture where he advised that Kenya should develop local financial solution and not adopt western financial models.
  • Smartphone uptake still low, but USSD is how Kenyans can access robust banking services with cheap handsets.