The oft-told story of Kenya’s thunderous success in deepening financial access to the poor never loses flavour.
Few would recall that, just 10 years ago, having access to financial services differentiated the rich from the poor. Only the privileged few had access to banking services.
Today, more than 80 per cent of Kenyans have, thanks to rapid financial innovation and evolution of mobile money, agency banking and other captive financial products.
The transformative impact of access to financial services is captured in a book launched in Nairobi on Monday, which features Equity Bank as a unique high-impact enterprise that has revolutionised banking and changed people’s lives.
Developing Africa’s Financial Services: The Importance of High-Impact Entrepreneurship, edited by Dana T. Redford, features the Equity Bank Group alongside Atlantico Bank of Angola, Fidelity Bank of Ghana and Banco Unico of Mozambique as undisputed market leaders in high-impact entrepreneurship in Africa.
Although Equity has been extensively profiled as one of the most inspiring stories of African entrepreneurship and financial innovation, there’s always a fresh flavour and interest in its character.
The book intertwines Equity’s contribution to financial services access, economic growth and equity with the vision and high-impact entrepreneurship of its leader James Mwangi, credited with transforming it from an insolvent building society in 1993 to the top banking group in Eastern and Southern Africa.
The biggest story isn’t really about Equity as an institution but more about how entrepreneurs take huge risks to turn challenges into opportunities even in the worst of times.
The first challenge that Equity turned into an opportunity was to shelter low-income Kenyans who were being kicked out of imperial banks in the early 1990s. The latest FinAccess survey, of February 2016, showed that only 26.7 per cent of Kenyans enjoyed formal banking services in 2006 but, a decade later, that had tripled to 75.3 per cent. Most of the hitherto desperate “unbankable” Kenyans are some of the leading micro-, small- and medium entrepreneurs.
Equity has made the greatest contribution to deepening financial access. It has more than 12.1 million clients, or 56 per cent of all bank customers — meaning the other 42 banks share 44 per cent of the customers or one per cent each.
Equity also survived through the political and economic shocks that Kenya has gone through in the past two decades, including several banking crises that shook the financial sector to the core. It built a balance sheet of over $5.5 billion — eight per cent of Kenya’s gross domestic product — created more than 350,000 direct and indirect jobs and turned small investors into millionaires and billionaires.
High-impact entrepreneurship can transform financial services, manufacturing, agriculture, healthcare and the other pillars of the economic growth and shared prosperity. The private sector has a great opportunity to shape Kenya’s future by taking investment risks that will pay off when the tide turns.
Kenyans are ambitious. They have an opportunity to drive Kenya from a sluggish economy stuck in a five per cent growth rut to a high-growth middle-income economy sustaining a medium- to long-term growth rate of 8-10 per cent a year.
Equity has achieved a ten-fold growth every five years; Ethiopia has sustained a double-digit growth rate for a long time; and China has been growing at a consistently respectable rate, churning out millionaires with ease.
The government has a responsibility to support risk takers by removing constraints to enterprise growth and providing a conducive environment for expanding opportunities for innovative, high-impact ideas to be converted into wealth and jobs.
Mr Warutere is a director of Mashariki Communications Ltd. [email protected]