Money Markets

Safaricom takes on banks with micro-loans product

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Safaricom CEO Mr Bob Collymore.

“It is simple. There are no ledger fees, no limits on the frequency of withdrawals, no minimum operating balance and no charges on deposits for M-Pesa to M-Shwari account,” said Bob Collymore (pictured), the Safaricom chief executive officer. PHOTO/ FILE  Nation Media Group

By Mark Okuttah and Victor Juma

Posted  Monday, November 26  2012 at  22:28

In Summary

  • Daily M-Pesa transactions stand at two million and are valued at Sh2 billion. M-Pesa users now stand at 15.2 million, having grown from 52,452 at its launch in April 2007.
  • Revenues from the service rose 32 per cent to Sh10.4 billion in the first half of the year ended September 30, making it a critical growth area compared to the voice business, which has been hit by a vicious price war.

Safaricom’s foray into the financial services market is expected to deepen on Tuesday morning with the launch of a mobile banking service that allows users of its revolutionary M-Pesa platform to save and borrow money using their phones.

The service, which mainly targets micro-savers and borrowers, requires users to open a mobile bank account, M-Shwari , into which they can deposit as low as Sh1 in savings and borrow up to Sh100,000 payable with a one-off interest rate of 7.5 per cent.

All loans are payable within a month of disbursement.

People familiar with the product told the Business Daily that deposits in M-Shwari accounts will earn a graduated interest up to a maximum of five per cent per annum.

Safaricom is offering the service in collaboration with Commercial Bank of Africa (CBA), which has been the primary banker for M-Pesa, Safaricom’s mobile money platform.

Users of the mobile banking service will remotely open the M-Shwari account by simply clicking on their phones. This will spare them the pain of filling application forms as happens with traditional banking.

“It is simple. There are no ledger fees, no limits on the frequency of withdrawals, no minimum operating balance and no charges on deposits for M-Pesa to M-Shwari account,” said Bob Collymore, the Safaricom chief executive officer.

Safaricom is positioning M-Shwari as a groundbreaking financial service that promotes a culture of saving among ordinary Kenyans and allows those with no collateral to access loans through their mobile phones.

Mobile money enthusiasts declared the service another revolutionary product with the potential of taking the ongoing convergence between telecoms and banking sectors higher but critics warned of the dangers that lie in the high interest rates and the one-month loan term.

The M-Shwari service is designed to act as a rudimentary credit facility for those who have been locked out of the loans market for lack of collateral and credit history.

“M-Shwari will attract a one-time facilitation fee (read interest rate) of 7.5 per cent of the borrowed amount,” Safaricom said in a statement.

Though the 7.5 per cent interest looks competitive compared to interest charged on commercial bank loans, that advantage is severely eroded by the one-month lending period that will mostly require borrowers to pay a lump sum amount to settle the debt compared to smaller monthly instalments paid by those who borrow from commercial bank.

For instance, a loan of Sh100,000 from the mobile bank account would attract a Sh7,500 interest charge, which means that the borrower pays back Sh107,500 within 30 days, including the principal.

A similar bank loan attracting interest at the current average rate of 20 per cent, would be repaid at the rate of between Sh9,150 and Sh9,200 per month for a year on reducing balance.
This would translate to an interest burden of Sh11,161 spread over 12 months – compared to Safaricom’s Sh7,500 interest payable in a month.

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