The Commercial Bank of Africa (CBA) has for about five years now built a strong reputation for M-Shwari, the mobile phone based savings account.
Millions of Kenyans have either saved or borrowed on their M-Shwari accounts small amounts of cash that cumulatively add up to billions of shillings.
There is no compelling reason why Kenyans should stop trusting the robustness of the M-Shwari system, but CBA owes its customers an apology and an explanation.
For the past five days or so, the M-Shwari system has experienced operational downtimes.
Customers have specifically reported problems with the M-Shwari Lock Savings Account, which is an interest-earning account in which users put their money for a fixed period.
The main problem reported appears to be delayed or denial of withdrawals for customers who had locked in their cash and intended to access it during the Christmas period.
The other problem has been error messages that appear to deny otherwise legitimate customers access to their M-Shwari Lock Savings accounts.
To its credit, CBA released a statement on Monday acknowledging that its system had a problem. It promised customers that the problem had been fixed, but that appears not to have been the case.
CBA and Safaricom’s social media accounts continue to be inundated with numerous complaints by customers who are unable to access their cash days after the Monday promise.
That is why CBA owes its customers a more detailed explanation of what went wrong, why it took so long to rectify it and what is being done to forestall future recurrences. Mobile banking, like indeed any other system of banking, is built purely on trust.
Users of a banking system must have reasonable belief that they will access their savings whenever they need them.
Anything short of that erodes confidence and could lead to panic withdrawals.
The bigger danger here is that lack of a transparent and comprehensive response could have a contagion effect, especially in the nascent mobile banking space. This needs not be the case at all, as long as the current issue is addressed comprehensively and transparently.