When KCB flew to the bush to serve Maasai herders

National and Grindlays Bank along Government Road (Moi Avenue) in Nairobi in the 1960s. [File, Standard]

In the last 60 years, Kenya has been free from colonial oppression and domination. It has earned more than just political freedom. One of the most profound developments has been in the area of finance.

Gone are the days when a Kenyan had to know a bank worker or a reputable person to be allowed to open a bank account.

Every mobile telephone handset has the capacity to be a mobile bank. This is a departure from 1966 when serving pastoralists in far-flung rift valley areas demanded special attention.

At the time, the leading bank in the country then National and Grindlays Bank (now KCB) had realised the potential Maasai lands held, owing to the lush pastures and roaming herds of cattle.

It had started as National Bank of India but later changed to National Grindlays Bank in 1948 after acquiring Grindlays Bank in 1948.

That is why on October 4, 1967, there was a lot of excitement when Assistant Minister for Commerce and Industry Stanley Oloitiptip was invited to preside over the historic opening of the Kajiado branch. This was followed by the opening of the second branch in Narok in a ceremony officiated by Rift Valley Commissioner Simeon Nyachae.

Opening a branch in these two ‘remote” areas was an easy task.

The bank had to devise ways of reaching its nomadic customers scattered in areas where road network was nonexistent.

When it was time for the Maasai to sell their livestock, the bank had to fly into the area in an aircraft to offer banking services. The novelty of banking at that time is captured by Kangema MP, Mwangi Njagi who was overly excited when a branch was opened in his area in February 1969.

“At one time, we believed that wealth lay in cattle and women... but now we know that wealth lies in money which cannot be damaged by fire or death or disease.” If Njagi was alive today, he would be shocked by how his village mates have taken his words to heart, for Kangema is just a few kilometres from Rwathia, the cradle of Mt Kenya billionaires such as James Mwangi and Peter Munga, the founders of Equity Bank among other super-rich entrepreneurs.

By the time the National and Grindlays Bank was mesmerising Njagi and the Maasai herders by offering “bank on wings or aerial bank services,” the lender had made another milestone when it started using a computer in 1968.

At the time, the bank had been in operation for 72 years. When the bank adopted new technology in April 1968, the lender’s chairman Lord Aldington explained that a new computer meant to improve the quality of service to customers was to be installed in Nairobi. 

This came to be in 1968 when President Jomo Kenyatta was taken to view the new computer in Industrial Area. Today, banks rely on technology, which has taken over most staff roles.