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Interest rate capping drives Kenyan loan sharks out of business

05 October 2016, 08:05

Nairobi - Sitting in his shop hosting some old electronic gadgets at a backstreet in Nairobi, Kenya's capital, Peter Mogaka looked pensively at the people passing on the streets.

He put his right hand on his chin, and after a few minutes stared at his mobile phone expecting a call to come in, but it did not.

Months back, Mogaka's phone would not stop ringing as people in financial distress called him seeking for loans.

The shylock would then ask them a few questions that included the collateral they would hand him before inviting them to the shop.

The collateral included electronic gadgets like TV, music system, car logbooks and mobile phones, some that are gathering dust in his shop.

"Business is bad. It has now become difficult to find someone to lend money to because people are going to banks. I have reduced my rate to 20 percent but things are not improving," he said Monday.

As many other loan sharks in Nairobi, Mogaka's fortunes have changed for the worst ever since the East African nation capped commercial bank's interest rates at 4 percentage points above Central Bank rate (currently 10 percent).

At 14 percent, commercial banks' lending charges have halved making them become the first point of call for citizens seeking cheaper loans.

The financial institutions have recorded a five-fold surge in personal loan applications ever since the law to cap interest rates came into effect last month.

The Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB), for instance, said last week that it lent out 63 million U.S. dollars in three weeks, mainly to individuals, casting away initial fears that the law would deter banks from lending to ordinary people, who are deemed high risk.

"We were issuing out 10 million dollars a month in new personal loans in the old interest rate regime, but that has now risen to 63 million dollars in three weeks," said KCB chief executive Joshua Oigara.

Commercial banks have also reduced rates on mobile phone platforms to less than 2 percent a month based on the capped charges.

Similarly, the institutions have recorded a surge of loans on the platforms that initially had disrupted the loan sharks business.

With the new developments in the banking industry, many shylocks in the East African nation now stand no chance to get customers.

"The last time I went to a shylock, that is early last year, I lost my television set worth 247 dollars for a loan of 99 dollars which the loan shark said it had more than doubled in two weeks. All I do now is to save some money in my mobile account to enable me borrow when I am in financial distress," said Peter Mutie, a primary school teacher in Nairobi.

And like many other employed people, Mutie applied for a bank loan of 1,980 dollars last week to take advantage of the low bank charges.

"I am still waiting for feedback and I am hopeful that it will be positive. I want to use the money to build a house," he said.

George Kiarie, a shylock in Kayole on the east of Nairobi, like Mogaka and many other loan sharks, is contemplating changing his business to shore up his fortunes.

"I have several electronic gadgets and furniture I was offered as collateral by those I gave out my money and they failed to pay. I will sell them and get capital to start a new business. I am thinking of banking agency or selling cooking gas."

Analysts noted that shylocks stand little chance of survival under the current interest rates regime and advancement of banking technology.

"Consumers now have several options from where to borrow cash without many restrictions. They can borrow on mobile phone or from banks at low interest rates, so why should they go to shylocks?" said economic lecturer Henry Wandera, noting that most shylocks were operating illegally, with the banking law failing to reign on them but the changes in the sector would now eliminate them.

- Xinhua


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