The small dimly lit room where the multi-billion dollar dream was born remains largely unchanged 35 years later.
The room in a single story building on the Kangema-Kiriaini road in Murang’a County is now unoccupied, but still stores the rich history of Equity Bank, which grew to become one of the biggest banks in East and Central Africa.
It is here that the incoming bank Chairman David Ansell came to start his journey at the helm of the financial behemoth.
In establishing Equity Building Society in 1984, in a structure at the centre of town where a white rectangular sign hung above a glass door, Peter Munga set on the path to founding Equity Bank.
Yet 35 years later, the roof, now with a golden brown layer of rust, is still the same.
To get a feel of the history that Equity Bank carries, Munga last week took Ansell for an orientation on the origins of the bank in Murang’a County.
Ansell is taking over as Equity Bank Group Chairman from retiring Munga.
For Munga, the beginning is as important as the destination. Thus, the former chairman took his successor down memory lane, to the town where the bank started.
“To a person not privy to its history, the shop is merely one of several similar stores clinging stubbornly to a small piece of real estate in Kangema town. But for residents of a certain generation, that perception would be considered a travesty at best, treasonable at worst,” Equity Bank said about their first office in a July 2015 newsletter.
“As the first Equity branch - and in all practical ways, the original head office -- the small shop in the heart of town -- represents rekindled dreams, financial freedom and most important of allempowerment.”
Then known as Equity Building Cooperative Society, a low tier mortgage provider, Munga begun operations with a capital of Sh5,000 and five staff members, all who shared the small room in 1984.
“We started from nowhere and that’s why I have decided to take the new chairman to where we began for him to understand the bank’s philosophy better,” Munga said in Murang’a.
The duo then visited Equity Bank Murarandia which was the second branch and to its third branch in Kiriaini. Currently, the bank has 294 branches. The Kiriaini branch was opened in a small kiosk that is today an electronics shop.
Equity came up at a time when banks had put their minimum deposit at Sh10,000. Most residents in rural Murang’a did not own a bank account.
“The women from my village would bring me cheques they received as tea payments since they would not be accepted in big banks,” Munga said.
Munga said he won the confidence of tea farmers who entrusted him with their tea bonus payments and supported the cooperative in a big way.
“Due to the confidence the villagers had in me, they entrusted me with their tea bonus payments and supported the cooperative in a big way. In fact, we were overwhelmed by the numbers we got at Kangema,” he said.
From those humble beginnings where the chairman and the institution’s manager all worked from a room which was also a boardroom, the bank now has a customer base of 12.5 million spread across six countries - Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Sudan and DRC.
Munga, who rarely speaks in public, introduced the new chairman to residents outside the first branch in Kangema.
Nonetheless, Mr Ansell is not a stranger at Equity Bank. The American has been at Equity since 2012 when he was appointed a director and has served as Munga’s assistant.
He has served in various assignments at Citibank in the Emerging Markets, including 16 years in Africa. His last assignment before retiring was as President of Citibank Russia. From 1989-1991, Ansell served as Managing Director and the first CEO of Ecobank Transnational Inc, located in Lome, Togo, but rejoined Citibank thereafter, his executive profile on the Equity Bank website says.
He is the man that Munga has pegged his dream of taking Equity Bank all the way - listing at the London and New York stock exchange.