Fast growing sacco leverages on technology, good corporate governance and a rich pool of human resource to grow its membership and profitability
By George Gichuki
The co-operative movement in Kenya is one of the most developed in the entire African continent. Grounded on the principle of pooling resources in order to achieve an economic goal, the movement has assisted many people to break the chains of poverty. In the rural areas of Kenya (where agriculture is the major economic activity), many co-operative organizations have been established in value chains like dairy and horticulture. By the same token, professional bodies, people working in the same organization or engaged in the same economic activity have established savings and credit co-operative societies (saccos), platforms through which they save and borrow money in their quest to uplift their living standards.
It is against this background that a group of tea farmers from the larger Kiambu region (now Kiambu county), joined hands in 1992 to establish Kiambu Tea Growers Sacco. During its humble beginning, the sacco operated as a back office service activity (BOSA), whereby the farmers would save their earnings from tea and access credit depending on their level of savings. In 1999, it launched front office services activity (FOSA), allowing members to save and withdraw their money, besides borrowing. Come 2004, the sacco achieved a key milestone through the acquisition of a robust information management system. “This development enabled us to computerize our operations hence enhancing our efficiency in service delivery,” says Mr. John Mwangi, the chief executive officer (CEO).
In 2009, the sacco added another feather to its cap when it undertook an elaborate rebranding exercise. Consequently, it changed its name from Kiambu Tea Growers Sacco to Tai Sacco. “Tai is the Kiswahili word for eagle and upon adopting it, we started embarking on an ambitious journey of flying high and staying focused on our strategy just like the famous bird,” says Mr. Mwangi. This heralded a drive by the sacco to open branches in other parts of the country like Murang’a and Kiambu. By the same token, Tai Sacco also opened its common bond to farmers from other fields (like coffee and dairy), civil servants and the business community.
Come 2011, Tai Sacco started being regulated by the government through the Sacco Society Regulatory Authority (SASRA). Effectively, the sacco started complying with SASRA’s daily liquidity requirements, quality of loans and assets’ management, qualification of directors and staff members and any developments pertaining to good management practice in public finance.
In line with its 2015-2019 strategic plan, Tai Sacco restructured its human resource in 2016. Consequently, it created new departments and recruited their substantive heads – for instance, human resource manager, head of operations and customer care as well as head of credit. In addition, the sacco migrated to a new and versatile enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. “After this migration, our members started being served from any of our branches – the need to visit their mother branches would only arise when they required financing,” Mr. Mwangi observes.
By the same token, the sacco has embraced mobile banking technology and members can deposit and withdraw cash using their mobile phone handsets. Moreover, they can purchase airtime and borrow as much as Kshs.10, 000 electronically.
In partnership with the Co-operative Bank of Kenya, Tai Sacco offers automated teller machine (ATM) services to its members, besides issuing cheque books to them. The members can also send or receive money internationally through the sacco’s partnership with Money Gram.
Through its paybill ( 644700), members are able to mobilize savings and purchase more shares. “This platform is very useful to groups ( chamas) because they can easily make their deposits, without having to visit our branches ,” says Mr. Mwangi. “We have also established a redundant link for our wide area connectivity services and in the event that our primary services are down, the link is able to provide us with a back up,” he adds.
To manage its default rate, Tai Sacco has partnered with Metropol Credit Reference Bureau. To that end, it is able to access information regarding the credit status of its loan applicants.
Tai Sacco has developed an innovative array of products which it offers to its members based on their needs. The products include : business loans, agribusiness loans, salary loans and asset financing. It is about to conclude a partnership with the Teachers Service Commission ( TSC) which will enable it to offer loans to employees of the said organization through the check off system.
Tai Sacco is governed through the delegate system. “We have subdivided our area of operation into nine electoral areas and each elects ten delegates and a director,” says Mr. Mwangi. The apex decision making body is the annual delegates meeting which oversees the functions of the board of directors and the advisory committee. The board of directors on the other hand has committees including : audit, finance, administration, credit, business , education and development which report to it. Below the board is the chief executive officer who in turn oversees the heads of department. The sacco has six departmental heads : finance manager, head of ICT, internal audit manager as well as the head of operations and customer service ( who also doubles as the deputy CEO). Reporting to the deputy CEO are the branch managers. Currently, the sacco has nine branches namely : Githunguri, Gatundu, Kiamwangi, Kagwi, Kigumo, Ruiru, Thika , Githurai and Kimende ( which was opened this year).
“Going forward, we want to re-energize the micro credit section and to that end, we have already aligned our structure with our strategy,” avers Mr. Mwangi. “We have therefore recruited microfinance officers who are currently reporting to the head of credit, but ultimately, we want to have a fully fledged micro credit department considering that the field is very dynamic,” he adds.
The current loan book of Tai Sacco is Kshs. 1.5 billion, while the asset base is Kshs. 2.1 billion. In the same breath, the fast growing sacco has a very rich human capital base. “Most of our staff members are graduates of the Co-operative University of Kenya and they are therefore well versed with matters regarding the co-operative sector,” Mr. Mwangi says adding that : “ We also have professionals in information communication technology ( ICT), finance, marketing and banking.” Undoubtedly, investing in a rich pool of human capital gives organizations an edge over their peers since that is a key driver of the overall growth in business. Tai Sacco is an equal opportunity employer.
Doing business with a human face
Tai Sacco is a responsible corporate citizen. Consequently, it engages in various corporate social responsibility ( CSR) initiatives. For instance, the sacco has an internship programme for students from tertiary and higher learning institutions pursuing various disciplines. Secondly, it participates in various environmental conservation activities like tree planting. “This year, we partnered with the Nairobi Water Company in planting different species of indigenous trees on a quarter acre piece of land that the company has allocated to us within the Ruiru dam premises,” says Mr. Mwangi. The sacco also supplies coffee co-operative societies in Kiambu county with seedlings for their nurseries as a way of giving back to the community. Moreover in 2017, Tai Sacco supported the renovation of the Thika School for the Blind.
By and large, majority of Tai Sacco’s members are farmers. In that breath, when the weather is unfavourable ( for instance when it is extremely sunny or cold), the production of their crops and animals is adversely affected. “ In the event that we have financed such a farmer, then servicing his or her facility becomes a challenge,” observes Mr. Mwangi. Fluctuation of commodity prices ( especially in the world market) also adversely affects the members’ ability to save and borrow from the sacco. By the same token, members operating businesses may also encounter challenges in servicing their loans if their customers delay making payments to them for goods supplied or services rendered.
To address the challenges above, Tai Sacco has developed policies including : credit, operations, risk management and whistle blowing. Most importantly, it organizes education forums for its members so as to equip them with knowledge and skills of managing their businesses or farming enterprises.
The road ahead
With a membership of 50,000, a network of nine branches and a robust ICT platform , Tai Sacco is on a firm road of steady and sustainable growth. “ We closed 2017 with a turnover of Kshs. 288 million and we expect in 2018, this figure shall rise to Kshs. 350 million,” Mr. Mwangi avers. In 2019, the sacco will develop a new five year strategic plan and among other things, it is planning to open a new branch every year and to substantially grow its loan book.
Tai Sacco has partnered with the Youth Enterprise Development Fund in order to offer attractive and innovative products to the young people. It has also partnered with the Women Enterprise Fund in its endeavour to finance women. In the same breath, the sacco has partnered with Postbank and KCB in offering the Inua Jamii product , a cash transfer programme for senior citizens ( aged seventy years and above) in the country. Lastly, it has partnered with the Micro Enterprises Support Programme Trust (MESPT), in offering green financing solutions to its members including: improved cook stoves, solar energy and biogas.