In Summary
  • The advancement of technology-enabled digital finance has given forward thinkers and innovators leeway to experiment with leapfrogging the pace of infrastructure development.
  • Despite the many issues that plague nascent digital credit, innovation in the credit market is about reducing uncertainty and transaction costs brought about by information asymmetry.

Finance is the flow of resources through time and space, between individuals and organisations, so that members of the society can optimise managing day to day, mitigate risks and invest for the future. In an ideal market, this would happen seamlessly with everyone becoming better off.

INTERMEDIATION

The past two years have seen an increasingly alarmist conversation arising over the “Wild West” nature of the latest kid on the block — digitally delivered loans. The explosion of digital credit in Kenya since the CBA/Safaricom solution M-Shwari in 2012 has raised a concern in policy, financial sector development and consumer protection circles.

These largely legitimate worries centre around over-indebtedness, credit reference bureau (CRB) reporting of defaulters, high interest rates, lack of regulation, source of funding and other concerns. But the singular focus on the potential and real risks of digital credit could take our eye off the wider credit market, which has a much more significant impact on Kenya’s economy.

Financial credit involves the intermediation of resources (cash, goods or services) from those who have a surplus (savers) to those with a deficit (borrowers). Key conditions are that borrowers productively use the resources now to generate enough value and be willing and able to repay in future.

In simpler terms, credit is one way in which finance moves money through time.

LOAN SHARKS

The credit market, then, can be thought of comprising all the individuals and institutions who originate, package, structure, price, deliver, receive, use, monitor, repay, collect and report credit transactions. For the supply side (savers) in the credit market, the incentive to invest their money in this way is to earn a return while exposing their capital to as little risk as possible.

Although some savers (particularly those giving credit in the form of goods or services) decide to take on many of the functions of the credit market, most give up this right to intermediaries, for a smaller but surer return and more security of their capital.

The formal (un)regulated intermediaries include banks, saccos, microfinance institutions, risk funds, some investment groups, savings groups, financial service associations and development finance institutions. The informal ones include family and friends and “loan sharks”.

Various state regulators oversee the stability of the intermediaries and the safety of consumers — both borrowers and savers.

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