By being innovative , far sighted bank successfully fights back technological disruption
By Agnes Mbithi
Kenya has one of the most developed microfinance sectors in Africa. Over the years, the key sector has played a pivotal role in enhancing financial inclusion in the country by offering innovative products and services. Licensed by the Central Bank of Kenya ( CBK), Maisha Microfinance Bank ( MFB) is one of the major players in the vibrant sector.
The agile MFB that heavily relies on technology to deliver service and offer products was established back in 2014. Subsequently, it received its operational license from CBK in 2016. Its main target market comprises : entrepreneurs, salaried individuals , organizations as well as their respective customers. “ We are in the microfinance space in order to offer our customers tailor made solutions based on their feedback,” says Mr. Ireneus Gichana, the Chief Executive Officer. These solutions include savings products as well as personal and business loans.
Currently in Kenya, most lenders rely on the brick and mortar delivery channel, which they complement with technology. Maisha MFB has defied that trend. It only has one physical branch – the headquarters at Nairobi’s central business district. It serves the rest of the country effectively and efficiently through technology. “ By partnering with M-Pesa and Airtel money, we offer mobile based savings and loan solutions to all our customers countrywide,” says Mr. Gichana. This is a first in the country.
To further strengthen the digital model, Maisha MFB has developed an innovative mobile app dubbed M-Fanisi. It is available on Google app store and iPhone operating system ( iOS). The M in this product stands for Maisha while Fanisi is the Kiswahili word for prosper. This is tied to the lender’s tagline – ‘prosper with us’. Through this app, customers are able to borrow money, besides saving and fixing deposits through their mobile phones. One of the unique features of this product is that customers can have fixed deposits of as low as Kshs.500.
The other innovative product is a mobile application app dubbed M-DOH. Through this application, customers are able to deposit and withdraw money at the comfort of their homes and workplaces as well as to check balances among other functions. M-DOH came in handy when the country was experiencing the Covid-19 pandemic and people’s movement was restricted. “ At the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, our customers were able to access money using M-DOH ,enabling them to purchase household items, masks and sanitizers,” says Mr. Gichana adding that customers also used the money to pay for medication.
By embracing technology, Maisha MFB has helped its customers to save a lot of valuable time that they could have otherwise spent to visit its physical branch for banking services. Additionally, putting up brick and mortar branches is a very expensive affair, hence the bank has saved on expansion cost.
Mr. Gichana further says that customers can access small ticket loans through their mobile phones. They only visit the physical branch when they need big ticket loans that necessitate a thorough appraisal process.
By being bullish in adopting technology , Maisha MFB stands out in the microfinance field. Besides lending, the bank is also keen on inculcating a savings culture among Kenyans as they strive to attain financial freedom and create wealth. Customers can for instance lock their fixed deposits using the M-Fanisi app up to a maximum of Kshs. 1 million at very attractive interest rates.
One of the major milestones of Maisha MFB is the successful use of technology to grow its business. “ We are able to serve far flung areas in the country – including Moyale, Mandera and Turkana by using technology,” Mr. Gichana says. In that regard, Maisha has clinched a number of top awards including the 2018 Think Business Award second runners up position for being the fastest growing microfinance bank. Additionally in 2019, the bank got the Gold Mark Award CIO 100 (CIO East Africa) for excellence in adopting ICT in business. In the same year, it also won an award for being the best microfinance bank in product innovation in Kenya courtesy of the Think Business Banking Awards. By the same token in 2020, during the Think Business Awards, Miasha emerged the fastest growing microfinance bank. In the same year , it also won a silver mark award for excellence in adopting ICT in business courtesy of CIO 1OO (CIO East Africa).
Moreover in 2021, Maisha MFB excelled in the Think Business Awards by clinching : the overall best microfinance bank in Kenya ( first runners up position), best microfinance bank in digital banking ( number one) and finally, the best microfinance bank in product innovation.
Keen on strengthening its performance, Maisha MFB will soon bring a strategic investor on board. To that end, it has already got an approval from the Competition Authority of Kenya. The other approval in this exercise according to Mr. Gichana will be from CBK .