Millennials don’t like banks, at least not in the traditional sense

Compared to any other channel, the new bankable millennial in Kenya today overwhelmingly prefers to use their smartphone for making financial transactions of any size.

With a simple handset and Mpesa, one can literally withdraw money, make seamless payments and even borrow cash from any of the forty-two banking halls in Kenya without the assistance of a single teller.

Being the first digital natives, their priorities are a little different. Millennials would rather go to their parents for financial advice than to a banking professional. To them, their smartphone is a wallet as much as it is a communication device. They want to do their transactions without necessarily talking to people.

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This millennial obsession with mobile banking is part of a digital revolution that has swept through the Kenyan banking establishment, eclipsing traditional retail banking – and is primarily the reason why Kenya has been labeled the Silicon Savannah of Africa.

But while millennials, including this writer, may be tempted to assume that these thrilling technological milestones that have revolutionized banking as we know it – were achieved via a sudden flight, it’s been a long time coming. Other generations before us have a different story to tell.

In fact, thirty-five years ago, opening a bank account in Kenya was as much a headache, as it was a stressful and an overly tedious process.

To have a fully functional account, some lenders required at least seven referees in addition to piles of grody paperwork. Worse still, to withdraw a dime, one was required to give the bank a seven-day notice. This writer can bet that if such conditions were re-imposed today, some customers would rather die.

It is no wonder that financial inclusion in Kenya, thirty-five years ago, was a mere four percent compared to today’s eighty-three percent.

The few lucky ones who had bank accounts were considered elite. ATM cards were a sacred thing, they were a status symbol. But even with these precious possessions, obtaining a loan required a miracle.

Compare that with current times where you can literally access a loan of up to one million shillings with your eyes closed, on platforms such as Equitel.

Thirty-five years later; staggering financial inclusion, the democratization of credit and opportunities to save on costs and time have largely been underpinned by a thriving technological landscape in the country, driving overall economic prosperity.

But these successes are as a result of an ‘instinctive empathy’ towards the ordinary Kenyan customer, a movement that was first pioneered by Equity Bank which will also turn thirty-five years old this October.

When Equity Bank started its operations thirty-five years ago back in 1984, unlike other lenders at the time, it adopted a different approach. Equity presented a unique, simple and tailored offering to suit the common mwananchi.

For instance, to open a bank account, Equity required customers to produce only a national ID. To operate the account, there was nothing like minimum account balances or registration fees of any kind required. It was free and simple and customers could also access small or unsecured loans with minimum collateral.

Also, Equity was able to penetrate to the last mile thanks to a banking on wheels approach, where the bank’s agents would hop on to a cart transversing village to village to enroll customers. Kenyans quickly fell in love with the bank, to them Equity was perhaps the equivalent of Moses rescuing the Israelites.

Those days, the only credible competitor to Equity was the mattress, where Kenyans who had not yet received the gospel of hustle-free banking stored their wages.

It comes as no surprise that thirty-five years later, more than fifty percent of banked Kenyans are with Equity bank, whose current balance sheet is fast approaching a trillion shillings and whose stock has become an investor magnet.

The lender prides itself; a loyal customer base that trusts it largely due to its efficiency and its prioritization of the customer journey at heart.

In addition to this, the bank has a buffet of digital goodies that are in sync with the taste buds of today’s bankable millennials who make up much of the country’s population. These digital goodies have now become the industry benchmark, essentially setting Equity up as the ideal millennial bank.

During its half-year results announcement for the year ended June 30th, Equity Group CEO, Dr. James Mwangi revealed that ninety-seven percent of the lender’s total transactions were happening outside the branch, with mobile and agency banking gobbling up the lions share.

Further, ninety-three percent of all its loans were being consumed through mobile channels; indicating just how agile Equity’s digital offerings are.

To further entice the country’s millennial population, the bank is currently rolling out new ATMs on steroids; a customer will be able to start a transaction on their smartphone and in case of a hitch, they can complete the same transaction on these new ATM’s… how about that.

Early lenders like KCB and Barclays have also reported colossal transactions happening on their digital channels. Somehow Cooperative Bank is still lagging behind. Lenders are now investing heavily in the digital space with the millennial customer in mind.

Thirty-five years later, technology has become a leader in lifestyle, underpinned by the country’s growing acceptance of digital money, not only by millennials but other generations as well.

Nonetheless, the millennial generation remains a gold mine of untapped potential for all lenders.

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