Peaks and valleys of Equity’s 35 years expedition

Equity Bank Founder Chairman Dr. Peter Munga (Center) and other board members cutting the cake. The bank was celebrating 35-years success at KICC, Nairobi on Wednesday 2. [Photo Courtesy]

It all started with Dr Peter Munga's dream, then a step, followed by a thousand miles of a thirty-five-year-old success journey of Kenya's leading bank, Equity.

As the financial institution turned 35-years-old on Wednesday, long and short of its success story was resilience, determination, and focus.  

Dr Munga, the Founder Chairman of Equity Bank, chronicled how the institution was initiated.

He was working in the Ministry of Agriculture then and when he visited his village on weekends, he would find his mother with many cheques. Her fellow villagers had asked Munga to cash them on their behalf. 

"I and a few friends of mine had grown up in a rural Kenya and we had witnessed how poverty had undignified our people. I saw men and women picking and selling tea leaves but when they were paid, they had no way to cash in their cheques. It's from this circumstance that I thought of starting Equity bank," he narrated.

Equity bank was founded in October 1984 when it started as a provider of mortgage financing for the majority of customers who fell into the low-income population.

There were no significant profitable money dealings between its birth year and 1990.

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Despite registering Sh22 million deposits in 1990, the bank operations deteriorated and they registered losses throughout from 1984 to 1993. In 1993, it was declared technically insolvent by the Central Bank of Kenya.

Game changer

Something had to be done to salvage the bank, then wet behind the ears, from sinking.

Business strategy was changed from mortgaging services to a more babbling money lending strategy - micro financing.

Opening a bank account required referees who had functioning accounts and for one to withdraw money from the bank had to issue out a seven-day notice. 

It took three weeks for a cheque to mature. 

In 1994, the bank registered twelve thousand customers, most of them predominantly tea farmers who were excluded from the banking sector. 

The new business strategy proved worthy as the bank immediately started registering positive deviations in profit growth and 1994 the bank registered Sh7 million profit before tax. 

Since then, their figures accumulated almost ten times in a span of four years until in 2016 when the Interest rate capping law was introduced. 

The law stated that a maximum interest rate a lender could charge a client is 4% above CBR i.e 13 percent. Equity's interest income declined by 40 percent. 

By June 2019, Equity had registered a profit of Sh17.6 billion. Their 2018 profit was Sh28.5 billion.  

Equity bank now brags a large customer base in Africa with over 14 million clients who have deposited a total of Sh458.6 billion and borrowed Sh320.9 billion. 

The bank has total assets of Sh638 billion. 

On the secret behind the huge success of Equity in just a generation, Dr James Mwangi, the Managing Director and CEO said that the institution capitalized in solving the problems of the society.  

"When society makes you successful, give back and invest in society. Ignore society and society will ignore you," said Dr Mwangi. 

Dr Mwangi revealed that two per cent of the total revenue of the bank is used to give back to society through the Equitel Foundation. 

Equity Bank has successfully implemented the Wings to Fly program that helps in paying secondary school fees and meeting other learning needs for students who come from poor backgrounds and have excelled in their national examinations.

Dr Mwangi said that Wings to Fly program has overtaken the Equity bank's main plan.

"People want to bank with the Wings to Fly, but Wings to Fly is Equity bank."

Despite the huge success already witnessed in 35 years, the eagle is determined to soar higher as Dr Mwangi made it plain that Equity's goal is to control a Sh1 trillion balance sheet by the end of 2019 which is equivalent to 10 per cent of Kenya's economy. 

"Together by the end of this year, we will be controlling one trillion shillings balance sheet ," said Dr Mwangi."

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Dr Peter MungaDr James MwangiEquity Bank35-years