I was desperate for a loan. It was one of those moments when anything and everything that can go wrong, does. A bitter clash with the landlord; a freak accident, a sick baby and incessant calls and threats from a creditor all at ago! The Bank was my only savior.

At the banking hall, I was directed to the loans officer – this fat round faced woman who seemed to have it all. Loans and more. I poured my heart out to her. I had held an account with them for so-long but never bothered to ask for help. Now I was in need. Actually in deep sh**t (sic) to be precise.

She kind of listened; if one was to ignore the endless interruptions from her mobile phone. You could not help but eavesdrop on her conversation. She is done with her boyfriend, assuming she only had one. Her house help forgot to give medicine to the baby. Again! And the baby Daddy – that bastard is once again falling behind on upkeep.

Back to my problem, she stretched her hands still holding her phone to one ear. I didn’t know what this was for. I fumbled into my wallet looking for nothing in particular. She came to my rescue. “I want that,” she said, pointing at my ID card. Promptly; I fished it out and gave it to her. Still on phone she swung to her desktop and started punching furiously on the keyboard. I cringed in anticipation, drops of cold sweat rolling down my armpit. This was my turning point. I closed my eyes in a silent prayer.

I sat pensively as I struggled to read her face. Other than the obvious, she wasn’t particularly hot-in my eyes; I couldn’t read much. May be at her prime, she was a looker; betrayed perhaps by early pregnancy courtesy of that phantom baby Daddy. I can’t blame him or anybody for that matter. It all depends on the beholder or is it a beer-holder? My financial problems had probably dampened my libido. I was low on everything. Even the best things in life!

Finally, to my relief, she hanged up on her mobile. Or may be the other party hanged up on her. I now had her attention. A bit of it you can say.

“You are George, she started. I nodded obediently expecting a eureka moment. Sorry but I can’t help you. You are listed at the CRB. There is a loan you didn’t pay.” She concluded.

“There must be a mistake,” I protested feebly. “Forget it. She commanded. You guys think you are smart but with CRB, we’ve got you.”“Sorry, madam, I can explain, I pleaded. I didn’t know what to say next. Just find a way to help me. I’m in deep trouble as you can see.”
“Sorry dear, just sort yourself with CRB first.” And she vanished. I was dumbfounded.

Then Christmas happened. I went home. Somehow the grim financial circumstances didn’t kill me. I came out thoroughly bruised and fatally embarrassed; financially. Now you know why sometimes I feel like wearing a mask while walking in town. Some things are best left where they belong. Anyway, here I was with my village folks reminiscing on the days gone by.

How things change! At one point, we were buddies in primary school wearing shorts, walking barefoot, dancing in the rain and sharing such goodies as “Maembe achari” and boiled maize. Now, the lucky few who had good jobs in far away towns were nursing what could pass as pregnancies while those who remained at home were as slim as a Maasai spear.

You think you have problems until you meet a friend after 30 years! Life can be cruel. My village folks, at least those still alive looked like they had survived a hurricane. Surprisingly, a majority are on smart phones. Digital explosion is real. Sports betting is the new gold. Old Mamas are hanging phones round their necks as they head to the farms. And their knowledge of the world of football is mind boggling. Did I just hear of Atletico Madrid, Juventus and Sunderland all from one old lady and in one sentence! Jesus! This must be heaven!

One of those evenings, under the influence of course, we got into an argument about the accessibility of mobile phone loans. To verify the claims, we all agreed to download the apps and make our applications on the go. After sharing with them credit,

I led the pack with updates of the latest entrants in the digital loans business among them Tala, Branch, Kangundo, Karachuonyo and the likes which were hitherto unknown to them.

Strangely, almost all the village louts could access instant loans of varying amounts except me; the sophisticated town dweller and a seasoned borrower! Remember too that few if any of these boys had active bank accounts. Needless to say, we had an evening full of drama as money in their parlance is “Otas.”

This incident plus the earlier bank episode confirmed the worst of my fears. We are operating a banking system that rewards strangers to the industry while punishing veterans. This is perhaps the unintended consequences of the CRB and the digital loans. The digital loan approval system rates highly those who have never borrowed while the lazy loan officers think CRB works for them.

This reminds me of a period in the US when the youth could easily access credit card loans. Every young adult graduating from college came out already heavily indebted with consumer loans as creditors scrambled for those with clean credit history. Later, stuck with unproductive loans and no longer eligible to get more loans, a wave of suicides took over as frustrations mounted on the young and grossly indebted.

The implementation of the CRB in Kenya heralded the mistaken belief that any one not listed at the CRB is a perfect credit risk. By the same token, it is taken that anyone listed at the CRB is a champion defaulter. A bank robber.

It is unrealistic to expect one to have a ten year borrowing history without slip ups. We are not in a perfect world. Once in a while, payments delay, orders are canceled and backlogs occur that ultimately result in delay in servicing debt. This does not necessarily condemn one to be a bad creditor. It only confirms one to be an active borrower.

If this trend of condemning seasoned borrowers and uplifting rooky borrowers continues, we are going to witness a flood gates of defaults. Most of these “qualified” borrowers have no basic income. They borrow for pleasure and leisure. Nothing wrong with that. Its just a ticking time bomb. Since they have no capacity to repay the loans, the best they do is borrow from one provider to pay the other. Soon, the circle is complete and default ensues.

The digital loan system just like the CRB is a good leap in our credit accessibility that should be refined to serve more conveniently and effectively. It must be tempered with commonsense and proper credit evaluation process. Our credit officers must not abandon their role to computers and CRB.

Evans Majeni is a businessman and Director at African Market Media

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