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Regulate digital loans sector to reduce borrowers’ risks

Friday July 6 2018

M-Shwari

M-Shwari. Digital loans lenders should use nuanced credit scoring mechanisms based on the “balance". This would allow lenders to vary interest rates and loan sizes according to the credit history or risk profile of the borrower – as M-Shwari already does with loan sizes. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

ANUP SINGH
By ANUP SINGH
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Recently, Central Bank of Kenya Governor Patrick Njoroge noted that the risks to Kenyans showed there is a need for regulation in the booming digital credit sec-tor.

While many of these small digital credit loans are immensely valuable for people facing emergencies, managing cash flow problems or for small scale trading, there are significant downsides that deserve attention.

I sympathise with his concerns about Kenya being “a guinea pig” for new technology deployed by foreign companies. However, the three largest digital credit lenders (M-Shwari, EazzyLoan and KCB-M-PESA) are Kenyan entities.

DIGITAL CREDIT

It is fair to say that in Kenya, as in many other African countries, the development of digital credit was sponsored by international development agencies.

This was done with good intentions, with little foresight of the unintended consequences. The continued celebration of the quantity of loans issued without reference to their quality is alarming.

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There is growing evidence that a worrying proportion of these digital credit loans used to finance the sports betting epidemic that is sweeping the continent. Perhaps as a result, a recent study noted that borrowers default on a third of first cycle loans and are negatively listed on the credit reference bureaus (CRB).

NEGATIVELY LISTED

By March 31, 2017, about 10 per of the adult population of Kenya was negatively listed on the CRB – nearly a million of these for amounts less than Sh1,000.

More than a year later, the number of people negatively listed exceeds 3.5 mil-lion.

Many remain negatively listed because of the Sh2,200 required for a clearance certificate to remove their names from the CRB lists.

There has been much discussion of the interest rates associated with these loans.

The effective interest rates for many are even higher than those published by many of the lenders. This is because many borrowers (for example day traders) repay well in advance of the monthly duration of the loans.

The typical month-long digital loan, with a fixed interest rate, is simply inappropriate for these borrowers.

REPAID IN A WEEK

Small wonder that 36 per cent of these loans are repaid within a week – and sad that these borrowers receive no interest rebate.

Clearly, there are many opportunities to re-engineer these loans to make them much more fit for purpose.

Relatively small tweaks to the structure, marketing and pricing could increase transparency, reduce delinquency, help borrowers and thus actually increase the returns for the lending institutions.

Given the alarming number of Kenyans now carrying the “negatively listed” stamp, it is time for policymakers and digital lenders to act.

GIVE INCENTIVES

CBK might consider introducing and enforcing incentives for auto-submissions from bank databases to CRB to improve accuracy of the bureau data and amend digital credit to the Credit Reference Bureau Regulations (2013) to incorporate a minimum loan amount for the listing.

As CBK has already stressed, lenders should use nuanced credit scoring mechanisms based on the “balance” (value of the loan outstanding) and “number of days in arrears” fields in the CRB’s database.

This would allow lenders to vary interest rates and loan sizes according to the credit history or risk profile of the borrower – as M-Shwari already does with loan sizes.

The CBK should consider introducing and enforcing regular audits of the CRB digital credit database for accuracy and completeness.

It should also consider curbing the aggressive, SMS-based push marketing that is so common in order to reduce predatory lending.

Anup Singh leads banking and financial services domain for MicroSave.

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