Equity Bank Shows the Courage of Common Sense

Award-winning African Entrepreneur and CEO of Equity Group, Dr. James Mwangi, is a man of phenomenal courage. He expresses an exceptional power of vision and matchless wisdom. In the brutish, poor world of Finance, he is a refreshingly rich soul.

Mwangi’s personal courage is not accidental or occasional; he seems to have honed it to be his guiding post in the turbulent seas of finance. And it shows in his works. He must have realized long ago that great action is of little consequence if it lacks a constituency of beneficiaries.

First, he strove against all odds to bring affordable banking to Kenya’s millions of poor households, long declared ‘unbankable’ by the society’s capitalistic elite. It is to James Mwangi, that we owe the explosive growth in formal banking outlets in every market and hamlet in Kenya.

Perhaps later, when our political lenses will have cleared, we shall credit his vision and engagement, for preparing Kenya’s rural areas for the tectonic structural shift to devolved government. With banks in our village squares, everything else suddenly seemed possible!

Second, as a philanthropist and responsible corporate citizen, Mwangi has single-handedly provided education to more Kenyan students than any other individual, since Starehe’s Dr. Geoffrey Griffin. If other institutions have emulated him and thrown scraps here and there for the sons and daughters of their contacts at the grass-roots, Mwangi has been unrelenting and indiscriminate.

The top five KCPE students in each district in Kenya – 290 districts exist to-date – are automatic qualifiers for his beneficence. He will educate them through four years of high school, and upon qualification, offer them four more years of university bursaries, together with uninterrupted stints of holiday work experience in his bank.

This initiative, dubbed ‘Wings to Fly‘ is so transformative, it has won the partnership of several international partners and supporters. It is here that Dr. Mwangi’s legacy as a Kenyan patriot will be engraved on the sands of time. Those hundreds of beneficiaries, as future leaders in all spheres of national life, will raise Mwangi into the Kenyan pantheon, celebrated in the same breath as independence hero Joseph Thomas Mboya, of the 1960s airlifts fame.

Now, he has decided to tame the beasts of mobile money transfer. As a banker in Kenya (admiring him from elsewhere), this is a task I always wished he would turn his attention to. Banking and money transfer genuinely belongs to banks – but our bankers are a timorous lot. They slumbered and left mobile telecommunications operators to invade their turf and steal away the goose that lays shillings and cents. Only now are some waking up to the magnitude of their incompetence and market dissonance.

Kenyan banks are lethargic, slow and prone to too much greed. Where there is a shilling to be had, they extract eleven – the extra ten being an unnecessary grab from the long-suffering customer. A salaried client will lose up-to ten percent of their insufficient, hard-earned wages to fixed salary processing fees, and to ATM fees, and to statement fees and withdrawal fees and whatnot fees… It is cruel and immoral, at the very least.

So, when Mwangi proposes to shake things up a bit, by entering mobile money transfers with the cheapest fees structure: 1% capped to the maximum of Sh. 25 on a transaction, I can only howl and applaud him. It is courageous, compassionate common sense. No one, except the taxman or a robber, has the right to take away more than one percent of hard-earned income.

That some banks still insist on charging clients upto 100% of the value of a transaction, is not only immoral, but blood-thirstily psychotic. And I would love Dr Mwangi to take them back to class – on the essence of co-operation, humanity and compassionate capitalism… yes, understanding the bakers will yield a bigger cake than wringing them dry would.

Congratulations, Dr. Mwangi. Your are more than a courageous Moran of the Burning Spear; you truly are an Elder of/with the Golden Heart.

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