Which way the bank branch?

This month saw Family Bank open a branch in Eastleigh, its 92nd in the country. Family is one of the pioneers of paperless branches and had opened another branch in December near the large Wangige market to serve traders. Eastleigh is an important cog of Kenyan supply chains and is estimated to have the second-highest density of traders, second only to the Nairobi CBD. Despite advances in mobile transfers, small traders are still heavy users of cash for transactions.

Then today Diamond Trust announced the consolidation of six branches that are adjacent to each other: Oval and 9 West (both to Westgate), Eastleigh to Madina Mall, Garden City to TRM mall, Jamhuri Street (to Malindi) and Kago Street (to Eldoret). The bank asked customers to continue using alternative channels while staff will be redeployed to other branches and business units.

We can probably expect to see more branch consolidations or closures as two groups KCB-NBK and NCBA (CBA & NIC) continue to refine their new operating structures. CBA and NIC did some closures last year.

When KCB announced their third-quarter 2020 results, they shared some interesting details about branches and the march to digital. KCB branches did 2% of transactions in Q3 2020 compared to 5% the previous year. Also, there was a 16% decline in transactions done per day by branch tellers from 60 to 50, while customers did 43% fewer transactions (5.8 million compared to 10.2 million) than in the previous year. KCB customers did 77% of their financial transactions on mobile phones, 17% at agents / internet / point of sale (cards), and 4% at ATM’s. More ATM’s now accept cheque deposits, not just cash, and also act as 24-hour M-Pesa agents.

The Central Bank of Kenya’s Supervision Report for 2019 shows KCB with 203 branches, followed by Equity with 171 (and 12 sub-branches), Co-op Bank 152, Absa 107, Family had 92 in 2019, NBK 78, and Diamond Trust 70. Between 2018 and 2019 there was a drop of 16 branches from 1,505 to 1,490 with 7 of them in Nairobi that ended 2019 with 593.  NCBA has 37 branches but serves the largest number of bank customers in Kenya by far, 31 million thanks to M-Shwari, its partnership with Safaricom.

Outside the country, there is growth as Kenyan banks operate 316 branches in the region, up from 207. They are led by Equity that has 44 in DRC and 39 in Uganda,  Equity has a total of 116, followed by Diamond Trust with 68 (36 in Uganda, 28 in Tanzania, 4 in Burundi)  and KCB with 60.

During Covid-19, foot traffic has reduced at malls, offices shopping centres and bank branches. This has also been due to the growth of online shopping that has taken off exponentially, and many facilities now have dedicated desk and parking spaces for motorcycle delivery riders.

No sign yet of banks moving to share branch spaces with each other but there is less need for banks to be on the ground floor of buildings, which is usually more costly. Also, shopping malls tend to have a banking floor (top of Garden City mall) or ATM corner where several bank services are grouped.

Absa seedlings promote food security in Kitui

At Yatta today, Absa Kenya donated Kshs 4 million at the launch of a partnership between the Kitui County Government and World Vision.

Chronic food insecurity is a challenge for households and families in many parts of Kitui County and this has increased during COVID-19 which has impacted the economy as people in the area lost their jobs. Caroline Ndungu, Absa’s Marketing Director said being a force for good in society was one of the strategic pillars for the Bank which celebrated its one-year anniversary in the country last week, after completing a four-year brand transition.

Jame Agin, Absa’s Corporate Director said the Bank will seek to collaborate with the County Government of Kitui, which is a largely agricultural and pastoral region, but with perennial hunger and water problems, to finance commercially-scalable agriculture projects, as a solution to the community’s problems while deriving value for Absa’s shareholders.

The funding from Absa will be used to procure drought-resistant seedlings of green grams, sorghum and cowpeas which will be distributed by World Vision to 2,000 households in the Yatta area. This is part of a county food security enhancement program called the “Ndengu Revolution” led by Governor, Charity Ngilu, that aims to address the perennial food shortages in Kitui.

Kenya Tourism Signature Experiences

This week saw the unveiling of the Magical Kenya Signature Experiences collection for 2021-200, by the Ministry of Tourism that is meant to showcase the country’s diverse attractions aside from the traditional wildlife safaris and beaches.

The MKSE program began in 2019 when fifteen experiences were selected. The first group had pricey traditional tourism attraction like the Karen Blixen Museum, Finch Hattons Luxury, the Tamarind Dhow, Il Ngwesi, and helicopter trips to Suguta Valley, which music legend Madonna did a few weeks ago.

MKSE has now added 29 signature experiences in an ongoing process from 59 entries, and the ones that didn’t make it, also get mentorship to improve and qualify. Joining starts with completing an application questionnaire, and one criterion for selection includes that the investor/operator has been offering the experience for over two years. Tourism officials then do a desk audit to shortlist the promising ones, followed by a physical visit to check out the experiences. The Signature Experiences facilities will be marketed by the Kenya Tourism Board at local and international trade fairs.

The second group of MKSE experiences is more diverse and probably more accessible, though price rates were not shared. The big winners on the list are the Watamu coastal area and Nanyuki, with multiple experiences, while operators Watamu Treehouse and Savage Wilderness each feature three unique activities for visitors and tourists to try. 

Some unique additions include: 

  • Bicycling in the Maasai Mara and at Diani.
  • Watersports: Rafting/kayaking at Watamu, Sagana & Tana River and floating adventure at Mida Creek (Watamu).
  • Camel walking safaris with Karisia.
  • El Karama Lodge experience for children. 
  • Warrior Academy with Saruni. 
  • Climbing Mt Kenya and Mt Kilimanjaro with African Ascents. 
  • Golfing at Great Rift, Naivasha. 
  • 16th century stone ruins at Thimlich Ohinga Migori, now a World Heritage site.
  • Interacting with rare rhino: treks at Borana, extravaganza at Solio, tracking at Saruni,
  • Also, two unique experiences are farm ones: At Ololo in Nairobi, there is a farm experience package in which guests can tour and dine on food from the farm. They can partake in picking eggs, vegetables, visit the orchard, milk animals and buy handmade furniture. Then at Olepangi, farm guests can milk cows, make bread, collect vegetables, ride horses, do yoga, and get massages.

The new list also had some of the traditional pricier offerings that draw tourists to Kenya, including Breakfast with Giraffes (sometimes a hot topic), In the footsteps of Elsa (inspired by the story of Joy Adamson’s adopted lioness), and humpback whale watching at Watamu, that controversially featured on CNN recently.

Investing: Use Social Networks, don’t be used

All data indicates a new age of interest in retail investing. Across the world more people than ever are starting to trade for the first time, with reports of retail participation in the US stock market, for example, increasing from 10% in 2019 to 25% in 2020. Even during a public relations disaster, Robinhood- the U.S retail-focused trading app- onboarded 600k new clients in a single day. Our brokerage, Equiti Group/ FXPesa, saw volumes and client numbers increase by multiples across all our key markets and this will continue through this year.

The pandemic created an environment where people were looking for an income in the safety of their own home and, logically, that trading/ investing answered that need. Anything that brings a heightened awareness of financial literacy is a great thing, but it’s also something that we need to nurture. With millions entering the financial markets for the first time, unfortunately, scams, misinformation and false promises follow, and we must increase consciousness of this.

Social Networks: Most of the world has been following the journey of a supposed war between those on a Reddit forum called r/WallStreetBets and hedge funds betting on the demise of American electronic games supplier GameStop (going ‘short’). This battle was trending on all major social networks, such as Twitter, Facebook, Telegram and Instagram. These networks are powerful, Reddit has 160 million unique visits to its site each month.

People that had never invested before frantically set up trading accounts and placed trades with as much capital as they could put their hands on. Some naïve first-timers often had very little notion of risk or what they were doing, but instead paid full attention to the latest funny meme or influencer that told them that this stock was ‘going to the moon’. It did, and then it came back again leaving a lot of people losing a lot of money.

Ignoring Fundamentals: Social networks and online personalities have an increasing amount of influence over investors. Recently, Elon Musk the CEO of Tesla added 12% to the value of Bitcoin simply by changing his bio to the bitcoin Twitter hashtag. With the wave of memes, online ‘experts’ and celebrities pushing their agendas, the fundamentals of great companies are becoming secondary. We need to acknowledge this and attempt to educate differently.

A perfect example of this was the recent movement in the Silver price. Silver is widely regarded as an undervalued metal, mainly because of its increasing utility in ‘green technologies’, such as solar panels. Various reports declare solar panels and wind turbines will require three times more silver than what is used today. Silver is also used in electric car production and other tech of the future. When the silver price jumped 12% (its biggest intraday rise since 2008), it was not because of these fundamentals. The price jumped primarily because social media declared the same war with hedge funds and decided to try to do the GameStop ‘trick’ again, making the Twitter hashtags #shortsqueeze and #silvershortsqueeze trend across the world. The silver market is huge and not as easily manipulated as a relatively small stock such as GameStop, and so this attempt was doomed, with silver retracing back very quickly and lots of retail traders losing more money. 

All this focus away from fundamentals, meant that the market was quite late to understand the stellar Q4 earnings shown by some great companies, especially Big US Tech firms. Amazon posted $126 billion Q4 revenue and shows no sign of slowing. Google saw a 23% revenue growth in Q4. Unfortunately, the circa 4-6% share price increases these saw due to these results aren’t considered attractive enough to those only seeking the 16x returns GameStop gave some in just 2 weeks. There is so much real opportunity in the markets, especially now.

Scams: If you were to investigate your junk mail (don’t!), you would have probably been sent a scam email within the last 24hrs. It is most likely centred around cryptocurrencies, where it is promising huge returns from trading obscure crypto that you have never heard of. Some of the recent scams are from hackers sending out tweets from reputable, businessmen like Jeff Bezos and even former presidents such as Barack Obama’s certified accounts. They ask for the trusting public to send bitcoin to a wallet and then wait for 2x back.

Unfortunately, as unlikely as these scams may seem, the public is losing millions of dollars to them daily. In today’s ‘at once’ society, many aren’t thinking of growing knowledge and wealth over a long period. Instead, they want instant gratification and huge profits, as is the expectation in most walks of life now. Now, if you want something, you want it immediately- but my experience of wealth generation is the very opposite of this. It takes time to do it right.

Long-term side-effects: Social media has been an excellent source of information for new traders, keen to improve their financial futures. However, there is cause for concern if these young and new entrants blindly follow investment ideas that they do not understand, just because the herd are doing the same thing. We have a huge wave of first- time traders ignoring great companies that have incredible distribution channels and solid, multiple revenue streams, instead opting to follow a funny meme of Elon Musk and a Shiba Inu dog (DogeCoin).

A glaring issue is I don’t see how it can work out for these traders. If they make money in these pump-and-dump Reddit schemes, for example, they will invariably put more into the next one and continue until they lose everything. In this search for increasing returns, they are also susceptible to false promises and scams. On the flip side, if they lose their money in the first attempt, they are likely to shut their accounts and never think about their financial futures again. That is a tragedy.

It is far better to work with a brokerage to diversify your investments across global asset classes, regions and short and long-term plays, concentrating on sound fundamental and technical analysis…improving your knowledge day by day, year by year. Understanding this gives you a great chance at achieving real wealth. This has always been exciting enough for me, no meme needed. 

A guest post by Brian Myers (@bjmyersUK), the CEO at Equiti Capital UK.

Absa Kenya One Year Anniversary

Absa Bank Kenya celebrated its one-year anniversary at its newly-redesigned Queensway Branch in downtown Nairobi today. It has been a strange first year for Absa which completed the transformation from the Barclays brand in February 2020, three weeks days before Kenya was enveloped by Covid-19 and underwent a shutdown that, while it has progressively reduced, still affected thousands of business, jobs, and customers, as well as the bank itself.

Speaking at the event, Absa Kenya Managing Director Jeremy Awori said the bank had a great strategy to grow and expand, then Covid-19 hit and the year turned to be one of the challenges for the bank, industry, local and global economy. Absa also began to see opportunities for impact and to demonstrate its humanity and innovations to enable the bank to serve customers as they worked to rebuild their livelihoods. They adjusted to have half their staff work from home and instituted a shift arrangement for front-line workers and these enabled 100% of branches to remain open, while the digital platforms had 99% uptime.

Absa offered financial relief to help customers navigate the pandemic after many lost jobs and businesses. They restructured Kshs 62 billion worth of loan repayments, extending relief to over 59,000 customers. They also continue to lend a sizeable amount to SME’s to stay afloat and provide employment, and also committed to paying small suppliers of the bank within seven days to boost their cash flow.

He added that the bank was cautiously optimistic that 2021 will be a better year, with news of vaccines giving confidence to business and governments to relax containment measures and turn to boost economies. Absa Kenya will invest Shs 1.6 billion in 60 technology projects to enhance customer experiences. One will be to automate loan top-ups, allowing people to get loans on top of existing loans, and another will be a new online business-banking platform.

Absa Kenya Chairman Charles Muchene said the bank contributed Shs 50 million to the Kenya Covid Fund, invested Shs 30 million in initiatives led by partners, and donated 210,000 masks for medical workers, with another 20,000 to boda-boda operators. The bank is now asking Kenyans to join and to help underprivileged. They launched a “Wall of possibilities” for people to write suggestions or ideas on the bank’s social media pages or at the Queensway branch on ways that the bank can assist communities to benefit. Absa may fund each idea with up to Shs 2.5 million.