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KWFT wins big for banking on women

NEWS
By Peter Kiragu | May 21st 2015
By Peter Kiragu | May 21st 2015
NEWS

Nairobi, Kenya: It is hard to celebrate the achievements and growth of the microfinance industry in Kenya without associating it with the Kenya Women Microfinance Bank.

Indeed, this is why for the third year in a row, Kenya Women Microfinance Bank has been rated the best Microfinance Bank in the country in the just concluded Think Business Banking Awards 2015 themed innovating banking for greater financial inclusion.

For a Microfinance Institution having a presence in 45 out  of the 47 counties, with 248 branches across the country and with over 1.1 million account holders (majority of them women),  it is not hard to understand why the bank scores highly among other banks. In fact, KWFT boasts of an asset base of over Ksh29 billion, competes favourably among leading financial institutions in the country in terms of the social and economic impact it has made.

The Managing Director, Mr. Mwangi Githaiga, attributes the growth and success to the fact that, the bank has remained focused on fulfilling what its founders sought to do when they set it up in the 1980s from the realization that then it was extremely hard or impossible for women to open and operate bank accounts. He says through innovations, the bank continues to empower its members which in effect has positively impacted millions of Kenyan families.

“The awards just confirm what we know…we are the best in what we do,” says Mr. Githaiga, adding that the Institution does not go out of its way to win the awards, “they happen”. “We just do our job to the best of our ability,” he explained during an interview pointing to other accolades in his office that the bank has won over the years. “We don’t need any special effort,” he proudly adds.

 How we keep on top

But that does not in any way mean that no hard work has gone into play to ensure the Microfinance Bank remains at the top in a very competitive environment. For a start, KWFT has one of the most committed and experienced workforces in the country backed by a strong and committed Board. This has seen the Institution consistently ranked among the top best employers in Kenya by a survey conducted by consulting and audit firm Deloitte. The MD himself is closing his 19th year at the Institution.

To ensure a double commitment to the success of the organization, the company is now 23% owned by the employees from the MD’s level to those in the lowest cadre. Githaiga says the fact that the Board is comprised of mostly professionals and go-getter women has seen the Institution record tremendous growth as the Institution gives a special focus on vulnerable women particularly in rural areas.

 

The decision to primarily focus on the rural areas has seen the institution grow and nurture one of the most trusted and committed clientele base across the country. In fact number researchers have shown that low-income earners, mostly based in rural, generally service their loans more faithfully. And in an effort to further cement the Institution's relationship with its clients, this year, KWFT gave an opportunity to over 60,000 women members to own 25% of the company, 52,000 of these coming from rural areas. “Our clients know that what they do also increases their wealth, “explains Githaiga.

 More on the way for women

According to the organizers of the Banking Awards, the objective of the awards is to encourage prudence and stability in the banking sector by recognizing, awarding and celebrating exemplary performance in the sector and aimed at drawing the attention of the banking public to the performance of the various players in the sector thus encouraging competition.

And in Mr. Githaiga’s own words, the Institution has only scratched the surface arguing that KWFT has not even done half of what it has the ability to do in as far as empowering women is concerned promising that more products and services are on the way. “In the next 10 years, we shall still be expanding,” he points out in a statement indicating that the many awards the bank has won will act as an impetus to work even hard to deliver value to shareholders and other stakeholders.

With this assurance, the women of Kenya have a reason to smile. On the frontline of the products and services lined up going forward, the bank will this year start participating in the clearing house and as such commence in the issuance of cheque books. This in a bid to address the growing demands for its diverse consumers as more and more of them become economically empowered. The institution has also pledged to start helping women open and operate foreign exchange accounts to enable them participate in international trade. This is in addition to the introduction of more mobile banking and agency solution.

The bank also plans to grow the number of Agent Banks from 150 currently to over 1400 by the end of the year and over 5,000 in five years, mostly using their clients as agents to reach more customers even in the remotest parts of the country where other banks fear to venture. For instance, the institution has vowed not close operations in insecurity prone areas like Garissa.

“There are women and families in those areas that need to be economically empowered as one way of fighting insecurity in this country,” explains Mr. Githaiga.

Challenges

With the growing cases of insecurity and poor infrastructure in some parts of the country, some of the operations of the microfinance bank have however been affected. This is not forgetting the on-going heavy rains around the nation that have made many roads impassable thereby hindering outreach to clients who have great need of the services. This challenge has also been compounded by the fact that there are other parts of the country not well served with mobile phone companies.

 

Mr. Githaiga also regrets the tough regulatory environment in the country, which is not business friendly. “When you over-license and over-regulate the informal sector, then you kill innovation,” explains Mr. Githaiga urging that the Government should encourage the growth of small and micro enterprises if Kenya is to be in the same league with emerging markets. Resource mobilization also remains a key concern for the microfinance sector in Kenya due to the misconception that they operate high risk businesses.

 Opportunities still abound

These challenges notwithstanding, KWFT still sees numerous opportunities ahead. Some of these include rural housing improvement where the Institution is giving loans to help rural communities transform their grass-thatched mud houses to brick ones with iron sheets, installed with solar power and modern cooking stove.

Mr. Githaiga is strongly convinced there is a lot that need to be done especially in the rural areas to raise the current level of financial inclusion in Kenya.

In the next two years, the Microfinance Bank plans to venture out of Kenya into the regional markets with two countries eyed. “In the many years to come, we shall still be on the top,” he assures.

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