Feature: Kenyan banks' shift to digital spurs boom for other businesses

Source: Xinhua| 2018-12-01 01:10:31|Editor: Mu Xuequan
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NAIROBI, Nov. 30 (Xinhua) -- Bank House, the building at the intersection between Kenyatta and Moi avenues in Kenya's capital Nairobi, was synonymous with Barclays Bank because the institution had occupied the space for as long as many Kenyans could remember.

Many citizens would use the bank as the reference point because it was well-known and would easily be located.

Today, however, sitting pretty at the space the bank once occupied before it closed the branch last year is Naivas Supermarket.

Not far from the location on Moi Avenue, down the street, a clothes store, Mr Price, took up prime space on the ground floor of Campus Building, which was once occupied by Standard Chartered Bank.

And at Development House, within the central business district, an eatery targeting the middle-class is currently flourishing at a space initially occupied by another Barclays Bank branch that was also closed last year.

The story is no different in different parts of Nairobi where supermarkets, restaurants, night clubs, colleges and clothes stores have taken up prime space once held by banks for years as the latter shift services digital.

The move that has seen the Kenyan banks reduce their brick and mortar branches as they embrace digital channels has spurred boom for other businesses that are taking the prime locations.

Most Kenyan banks have aggressively pushed their services online from 2016 following the introduction of a law to cap interest rates at no more than 4 percentage points higher above the Central Bank rate, which currently stands at 9 percent.

Out of Kenya's 42 banks, 11 publicly announced they were laying off their staff or closing branches to remain afloat, among them Barclays Bank, Standard Chartered Bank, Bank of Africa and Eco Bank.

Some 2,000 bank workers were retrenched since 2016 as banks closed at least 39 branches out of the over 2,000 they had across the country, according to the Central Bank's 2017 report.

All the banks in the east African nation now have digital channels accessed via mobile phones, through which Kenyans can apply for loans, deposit and withdraw cash, pay bills and even transfer huge volumes of money.

Some of the banks with vibrant digital services are Kenya Commercial Bank, Equity Bank, Commercial Bank of Africa, Barclays Bank, Standard Chartered Bank and Cooperative Bank.

The banks not only offer loans via the mobile loans, but one can also check their account balance and withdraw cash into the mobile money account.

"You can shop anytime at this branch," said an attendant at the branch of Naivas, the supermarket that took space where a bank exited. "We introduced the 24-hour shopping a month after opening," he added on Friday.

That business is booming for the supermarket is no secret going by the number of people flocking in and out of the facility.

At the eatery where Barclays Bank once sat, dozens of patrons sat on Friday morning taking tea and other beverages.

The peak time for the eatery, however, is at lunch time and in the evening, with boom in business seeing the outlet open until midnight, according to an attendant.

Henry Wandera, an economics lecturer in Nairobi, noted that the move by banks to close some of their branches was strategic as they maximize on digital channels.

"Banks certainly went digital to cut costs as most services can now be accessed via the internet, and their agents," he said.

The move, according to Wandera, has paid off for the institutions as in the period leading to September, the east African nation's 42 banks declared 59 billion shillings (578 million U.S. dollars) in profit.

"Some banks closed their branches because they were uneconomical but in this space, the other businesses are raking in fortunes," he said.

Kenya's hospitality and retail sectors have been isolated as fast-rising, with both forecasted to be bullish this year.

The bullishness has seen foreign-owned outlets taking up space in malls in the capital Nairobi, where banks have closed shop.