Of Penny-wise and pound foolish Banks

In Kiswahili folklore there is a story about a mischievous monkey (why were they always called mischievous?) that went to steal from a homestead and found a bottle of sugar. The clever monkey opened it and took a scoop.

In Kiswahili folklore there is a story about a mischievous monkey (why were they always called mischievous?) that went to steal from a homestead and found a bottle of sugar. The clever monkey opened it and took a scoop.

Then there was a problem; the monkey’s fist with the scoop of sugar was too big and he could not get it out of the bottle. He struggled but the bottle would not budge and there was no way he was going to let go of a little of the sugar.

The clever monkey- now-turned-foolish did not let go even as the owner of the home came back, and still struggled to get his hand out with his loot. He died a painful death. The monkey was ‘Penny-wise and pound foolish’.

This expression in the English language is interesting; it indicates the shortsightedness of hanging onto little when you could invest (read spend) the same and gain much more.

In this modern internet age if you want to know about a service provided by a bank where would you start? Internet, of course! Well, I did just that. There are twelve banks in Rwanda. I checked out the websites of the five banks.

This, as any good statistician will tell you, constitutes a representative sample. The results were very interesting and, I hate to say, depressing.  Allow me not to name the banks.

Only two of the banks gave some detail on the services they actually provide. Only one had a specific contact person (name and number) from whom you can get guidance. Another had a number which does not work. The others .. well, nothing. Only one bank mentioned something about mortgages. Incidentally it was the one that gave contact information.

Let us use figures. Rwanda currently has a population of about 11 million. Of these, roughly 2.5 million have a bank account. That is slightly above the 20 percent penetration mark. Over 65 percent of the population is below 35 years old—about 7.15 million people. You can look at this two ways; 1. We have 7.15 million mouths to feed. 2.

There are 14.3 million hands to work (each person having two hands, no?). Now let’s think out of the box. With all the weddings that we have every Saturday what do young couples need the most? A decent house, definitely.

We all want to own a house, sorry, a home. 14.3 million hands need to have jobs. The best way to go about this is to train and guide them to begin their own businesses. But then just as entrepreneurship is the engine that drives the economy, banks are the oil to that engine.

Credit creation, a key function and the main function of commercial banks is very weak in our banks. Go and ask for any credit facility and you will most likely get blank stares or you will meet someone who wants to be a wall instead of the bridge between the customer and the bank that they are meant to be.

When the banks do KYC (know your customer) they should not only look for the risk factors, they should seek opportunities. Prudence, risk aversion and due diligence are no excuses for the lack of creativity.

Stop these little prohibitive fees and attitudes that stop you from creating credit, stop doing things traditionally and in a pedestrian manner, start thinking entrepreneurially and creatively. Be transformational before time catches you with your fist in the sugar bottle just like the mischievous monkey.

sam.kebongo@gmail.com

 

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