Interesting times these are – after the enactment of the Banking (Amendment) Bill 2016 late last year, most of the Kenyan banks’ profits went southwards. Actually, for the financial year closing June this year, a bank known to have zero loans at risk of loss (PAR), Victoria Commercial Bank, recorded a loan on default, to underscore the dire situation facing the industry.

But even more amazing is one bank that went against the tide – Commercial Bank of Africa (CBA) which posted improved profits where even its more heavily capitalized bedfellows failed. Last week the bank reported a net profit of Kes. 2.7 Billion up 14.1% from the previous year.  It would be interesting to study their business model to find out why.

The underlying reason for this resilience is their association with another powerful brand – Safaricom’s Mpesa product. Safaricom is East and Central Africa’s most profitable blue chip entity; with a valuation that ranks it as the fourth most valuable brand in Africa. Mpesa is a mobile phone based wallet that enables the public to do financial transactions at their convenience.

By linking up with Mpesa, CBA developed a mobile based banking service called Mshwari that has become a hit with the unbanked. As such, anyone, as long as they are subscribers of Mpesa, can borrow and repay funds through their mobile phones. Additionally, subscribers are able to save their funds at a fixed rate of return to be withdrawn later with some interest. It is literally a bank without a physical vault. As at the end of last year, Mpesa had on boarded slightly more than half of Kenya’s population – over 47 million customers.

By compensating for the fall on revenues due to regulatory restrictions through enhanced revenues from Mshwari, the bank was cushioned adequately. It is observed that revenues rose by 16.3 percent year to year to close at Kes. 5.5 Billion.


The Hint

According to the World Giving Index published this year, it was observed that Kenyans are the third most generous people in the world. It underscores the social cohesion that exists amongst Kenyans and their sharing habit. It is this social value that the developers of Mpesa chose to ride on and develop their product, thereby aligning their product with a truly Kenyan value. This is the main reason why Safaricom and Mpesa to be specific have enjoyed dominance for the last ten years of its existence.

And this brings out two very important lesson most of us entrepreneurs purposely ignore: synergy and values.

Robert Kiyosaki said that networking is the business of the 21st Century. Networking is about leveraging relationships, within and without the firm. Smart firms, like CBA as explained above, chose to take advantage of the readily available market by Mpesa subscribers to offer their services – banking. As an entrepreneur, ensure you create linkages with other players in the sector and related sectors to ride on their associations and operations. Be it supply chain management, production, knowledge exchange, etc. ensure you find a suitable partner to establish a mutually beneficial relationship. For CBA, Safaricom Mpesa provides them with an already established market. In turn, Safricom earns from the lending expertise from the banking partner. The days when a firm would exist on its own are gone and synergistic interactions are the way to go.

Values, I say, are the most important element in a business. I always ask people- what does their business stand for?  I opine that any great business is built on the foundation of their organizational beliefs. Its product offerings are only accepted once their value system is in tandem with the societal belief systems of their target markets. Considering this example, Safaricom realized Kenyans like sharing. Our national philosophy is Harambee, literally meaning to pull together. Whenever someone has an enormous project, people would come together and contribute towards helping in the realization of the project. These gatherings are called Harambees. In the west, it is known as crowd funding. It is an embodiment of our giving spirit.

A Kenyan who lives away from home would always send home some cash to help his kin back at home. Mpesa’s launch, coincidentally, was done at the onset of the infamous 2007/2008 Kenya Post Election Violence (PEV) period when banks and other financial systems ground to a halt. With the service, stranded populations were able to send and receive cash at the convenience of their homes. Additionally, as opposed to banks which had locations majorly in urban centres, Mpesa had a huge network of agents that permeated all the areas of the country. The footprint covers more than 70% of the nation, with a huge concentration in the rural areas. Add that to the convenience of only requiring an ID to be registered, Mpesa became an instant hit with users all over the country.

Much more can be said about this success story of Safaricom but one thing stands out: values. This is what made them to be acceptable and build a loyal client base that has proven hard to break. Airtel Kenya Limited, then known as Zain, launched a competing service nicknamed Zap. It waived its fees altogether but the population could not accept it since it did not resonate with its ideals and values. To many, Zain was for the urban rich and elite. It was also not used by the majority as almost all phone owners had Safaricom lines.  Safaricom hence passed off as an authentic Kenyan brand that was deemed cheap (even when it was not).

Well, there you go: what will you do as an entrepreneur to replicate a success story like CBA’s? It is not too hard to go against the grain and disrupt the ideal and become dominant. It just needs a little tweaking of the obvious to stand out.

And indeed, you can!

Author: pblafrica
Passionate about personal branding and entrepreneurship. Wana be influence!

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