How AI is helping mobile loan apps avoid defaulters

Tala General Manager, Annastella Mumbi

Digital credit is rapidly growing in Kenya, with 51 service providers approved by the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK).

These loan apps, which do not require collateral, risk accumulating bad loans that could force them to shut down. This risk has contributed to their popularity.

Recently, clients have accused these credit facilities of using unconventional methods to ensure repayment of loans, including contacting close associates and family members of defaulters, often creating embarrassing situations.

Tala General Manager Annastella Mumbi, appearing on Spice FM on Thursday, May 23, stated that technology plays a major role in managing such risks.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning promptly profile customers using their data before approving or rejecting loan requests.

“When giving credit, you check the client for three things: fraud, ability to repay, and willingness to repay,” she said.

95 percent of Tala’s issued loans are repaid, leaving only about five percent as non-performing loans.

This contrasts sharply with the government-administered Hustler Fund, which reported a 30 percent default rate last year.

“We consult the Credit Reference Bureau (CRB) for reports on lending patterns for different customers,” Mumbi noted.

She added that digital lending apps have democratized access to credit. Many Kenyans use quick loans to support their Micro, Small, or Medium-sized business enterprises.

Several lenders have capped the amounts that can be borrowed, with a fixed repayment window usually not exceeding 60 days. The demand remains high due to lower interest rates compared to major lenders, including banks.

“We have about a 2 billion credit deficit. 6 out of 10 borrowers in Kenya borrow from more than one lender. Even at Tala, we are not fully satisfying the needs of one customer,” she added.

The Tala GM attributed many default cases to inflationary pressures, business layoffs, and income shocks from unplanned expenditures.

The National Assembly is currently investigating complaints from the public, following an outcry that some lenders charge punitive interest rates that violate consumer protection laws.