kenya:Rise in mobile loan defaults calls for action

Recent data shows that uptake of mobile loans is increasing fast, with many subscribers having one or multiple loans. The increase can be attributed to the fact that they are easy to set up and run, and there is high mobile penetration in the country for lenders.

Subscribers on the other hand find the loans fast, convenient and relatively hassle free to get. These mobile loans are usually short-term i.e. monthly and have a high interest rate especially when compounded per year.

This is moreso considering that mobile customers repay a loan and immediately take up another one. Or pick from one lender to repay a due loan from another lender. The loan charge for mobile loans is yearly.

Sadly reports reveal that default rates are high and more than half a million people have been blacklisted by credit reference bureaus (CRBs).Mobile lenders are right to charge rates that reflect the risk exposure and potential returns expected. But they are missing the big picture.

The potential market for mobile loans and mobile banking is huge. In the formal employment sector, banks are discouraging brick and mortar engagement and pushing their clients towards internet and mobile banking.

Moreover, the bulk of workers in Kenya are in the informal sector. So mobile banking is sort of the next frontier.

To start with, lenders should not push their mobile loans clients to take risky loan amounts. They should tamper aggressive marketing goals with responsible credit control. Though the client will suffer when blacklisted, the provider will also incur bad debts, and lose out on future profits from lending to the client had he not been blacklisted.

Educate the clients on the dangers of defaulting since some of them are new to the formal banking experience and will think they ‘got’ away with it.It takes less than five minutes to apply and get a loan on mobile. For the lenders, this is cheaper to run and manage, while convenient for the client. But that should not excuse the providers from providing excellent service. In fact, let lending loan be the bare minimum. Use that to know your customer and build a relationship.

For instance, if you knew that the customer belongs to a sacco or a chama, or has a business that pays the county rates every week, one can invite or refer them to the bank for a bigger more long term financial partnership.

Staff can be retrained so that they now focus on the mobile customers and their needs. Right now, very few lenders give their mobile loans customers an avenue to voice their concerns eg ask for an extension of the credit period.

Blend both the mobile digital data driven approach with the social human interaction wherever possible to set yourself apart. As it is customers change from lender a to lender b, in the blink of an eye and can’t really differentiate them. Add value to the client and not just by disbursing loans.

Partner with the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) to pay for the clients the rates and recover the money in the course of the month at no extra charge. This will help both the government via NHIF to increase health coverage, and the lender since most informal business collapse when the owner gets sick and withdraws capital to pay medical bills.

Have the loans insured and work out ways with the customers so that in case the client defaults, the insurance can repay the loan without being blacklisted. Clients can default and even change their mobile lines. But they will try their best to survive the rough times and get back on their feet. As mobile lenders let’s not be the first to free and forsake them. Instead let’s nurture them as they will turn out to be the goose that lays the golden egg. / Kariuki Gathuitu Nairobi.