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Consumers win as Interest capping opens horizon for Kenya banks

by Bedah Mengo NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Kenyans seem to be emerging the biggest winners following the introduction of interest capping as banks strive to outdoor each other to lure consumers to their sides.

The law that came into effect Wednesday has ushered in a new regime that has intensified competition between the banks, with some capping their loans rates at the recommended 14.5 percent rate while others are taking them lower.

Other institutions have announced that they will also lend money via mobile phones at the capped rate and pay an interest of up to 7.5 percent on savings, what some banks argue was not captured by the new law.

It is an interesting time for the financial institutions as they interpret the law differently to advance their own courses, but the biggest winners are certainly the citizens.

"Customers borrowing loans through our Eazzy platform (a mobile phone-based credit offering) will be charged at the maximum rate of 14.5 percent per annum on a reducing balance.

|You can’t partner with a non-bank institution and pretend you can be outside this law.

"The issue of mobile loans is clearly spelt in this law," Equity Bank chief executive James Mwangi said Wednesday.

The 14.5 percent interest rate translates to approximately 0.65 percent per month, a charge that would hugely shake up the market.

Before the law, banks have been disbursing money on mobile loans at annual rates of between 60 percent and 100 percent. The services have been a huge source of income for the lenders, shoving up their profits.

Equity Bank, for instance, has so far disbursed over 267 million U.S. dollars through their mobile phone loans platform.

Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) and Commercial Bank of Africa (CBA), on the other hand, have disbursed 112 million dollars and 400 million dollars respectively through the platforms.

KCB and CBA have, however, said their mobile phone rates would not be readjusted according to the new law.

KCB, which charges 6 percent a month, has argued that mobile loans are unique products that fall under micro-lending and, therefore, are not regulated by the law.

Similarly, CBA, which offers loans at 7.5 percent interest rate a month, said the new law is inapplicable to mobile micro-loans.

And in another interesting interpretation of the law, both CBA and Equity Bank have declared they will offer 7.5 percent interest earnings on mobile phone deposits as other banks remain mum.

Outside the mobile phone loans, CBA broke the ranks with other lenders and announced that it would cap all its existing and new loans at 12.9 percent, which is 1.6 percent lower than what the law recommended.

According to a Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) advisory, lenders should cap their loans based on the CBK rate of 10.5 percent and not the Kenya Banks Reference Rate of 8.9 percent.

"These are interesting times for borrowers because what is happening favours us. Myself I have been borrowing loans on mobile phone at over 7 percent a month but with the rate coming down to 14.5 percent per annum, I know where to borrow next," grocery seller Grace Mutuku Thursday, capturing the position of millions of Kenyans.

Analysts noted that consumers are now spoilt for choice as banks work hard to outdo each other.

"It is a battle for numbers among the top banks.

"The banks want to lure consumers to their sides and the new law has provided that opportunity.

"The law has only put a cap on interest charges, but it does not set the minimum level.

"Lenders seeking to outdo their peers will maximize on this," said Henry Wandera, an economics lecturer in Nairobi, adding the battle will go on for some time until the new regime takes shape.

             

 

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