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For Equity’s Mwangi and teachers, love is blind

After four years of whirlwind moves by top executives of troubled Spire Bank and its parent Mwalimu Sacco looking for a suitor, teachers who constitute majority savers in the microlender can now breathe a sigh of relief following its acquisition by Equity Bank.

All through Spire Bank had been bleeding money and putting the top leadership of giant Mwalimu Sacco at loggerheads with its members who wanted out of their marriage with the cash-strapped subsidiary.

Equally, the banking industry regulator Central Bank of Kenya and well as Parliament heaped pressure on the microlender bosses demanding answers on the viability of the business.

In what Dr Mwangi described as “a transaction of empathy”, Equity Bank Kenya has acquired at least 20,000 customers mostly teachers with Kes1.322 billion worth of deposits and 3,700 loan accounts with outstanding loan balances of Kes945 million.

The bank plans entering into new repayment structures with former Spire Bank borrowers to enable them service their loans while retaining their securities.

The regional lender seeks to further this decades-old relationship by helping Mwalimu Sacco still realize its dream of bringing banking services closer to its members.

“We also thank Equity for opening its doors to Mwalimu Sacco should they need new lines of credit,” Mr William Rahedi, Spire Bank Chairman, said.

For Equity Group CEO Dr James Mwangi, the deal was payback time for the trust and a mutual relationship that he has enjoyed for decades with teachers that saw him agree to acquiring certain assets and liabilities of Spire Bank.

Equity Bank has had a long history with Teachers dating back to the days the Bank was founded as Equity Building Society (EBS) in 1984 offering mortgages for majority of customers who fell in the low-income population bracket in rural Kenya, dominated by teachers.

Read also: In Spire Bank buyout deal, Equity fortifies domestic footprint

“The decision to acquire Spire Bank was not difficult for us, because we started as a building society and our success especially in rural Kenya was because of the support of the teachers,” Dr Mwangi said on Wednesday at the completion of the acquisition deal.

“We deepened our relationship with teachers through many programmes… I remember for 12 years we sponsored drama festivals and through that grassroots movement we became very close with the teachers,” added Dr Mwangi.

What’s more, for Dr Mwangi teachers have also been very instrumental in bringing to reality Equity’s signature scholarship programme—Wings to Fly—which is now providing an avenue for secondary education to 60,000 students across Kenya.

“As we speak, the teachers are taking care of over 40,000 Wings to Fly scholars… 10,000 students in Form Four, 10,000 kids in Form Three, 10,000 children in Form Two and in the immediate class of Form One we have 13,000 kids. That is the bond we have with the teachers,” he noted, underscoring his trust and healthy relationship with teachers.

At the moment, and in step with deepening the relationship with teachers, Equity Group has partnered with schools to transform their kitchens into environmentally friendly and energy efficient cooking by replacing wood fuel with Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) systems.

Mwalimu Sacco bought Equatorial Commercial Bank in 2014 from billionaire Naushad Merali before rebranding to Spire Bank. At the time, Mwalimu Sacco used Kes2.4 billion to acquire 75 percent of the shares in the bank owned by Mr Merali before later buying the balance or 25 percent stake at undisclosed fee.

Spire Bank’s net loss dropped to Kes626.3 million in the nine months to September 2022, down from Kes818.8 million during a similar period in 2021.

The microlender has been frayed by financial woes, often times struggling to get cash from other banks only leaving it with its parent, Mwalimu Sacco, and the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) as the only source of help to meet expenses, recover huge losses and earn income.

Amid the unravelling crisis, deep-pocketed Mwalimu Sacco, which has over 75,000 teachers, had pledged to support the bank financially if it gets into trouble since the regulators, auditors and stakeholders trust teachers and their word.

With Spire Bank out, Mwalimu Sacco expects to firm up its operations efficiency, cut down future losses and enable the Sacco to utilize its capital to provide enhanced credit facilities to members.

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