The economic impact of COVID-19 is felt on the personal finance of people across the world who are looking for ways to tide over the situation. In Kenya, people are lapping the short-term credit in the form of digital loans by mobile money operators. The number of people taking digital loans has doubled during the COVId-19 induced lockdown period.
Boston Consulting Group's Consumer Sentiments Survey conducted in April and May 2020 reported that "In May, 29 percent responded that they had taken out a short-term loan, compared to 16 percent in April. Mobile money operators were the most common sources of this credit”
Kenya is a pioneer in using mobile money transfer services as the key tool for providing financial inclusion to its citizens. A simple money transfer service, M-PESA launched in 2007 has transformed the financial service industry in Kenya. Today mobile money operators are providing multiple services like digital loans, marketplace for small businesses and farmers.
Digital loans are easy to process and disbursed but there are concerns of shaming the defaulters and compromising the data security of clients. The Digital Lenders Association of Kenya (DLAK) which is a body representing the digital lenders of Kenya has distanced from two of their members, Okash and Opesa over unethical practices. These mobile apps have shared the details of defaulting customers with the moneylenders and asking them to recover the money.
DLAK also stated that Opesa and Okash are known for attacking a client's data privacy which is against the Kenyan data protection laws and has additionally spoiled the reputation of digital leaders in Kenya.
In April 2020, Central Bank of Kenya barred unregulated digital mobile lenders from forwarding the names of loan defaulters to credit reference bureaus. A huge number of Kenyans have been recorded on Credit Reference Bureaus by digital money lenders for loans as little as $5.
Central Bank of Kenya governor Patrick Njoroge told during a press conference in May 2020 that the central bank in consultation with the mobile money operators and digital lenders is presently working to develop a model where the borrowers are protected from mistreatment of online moneylenders.
The borrowers are looking up to the regulatory authorities and the industry bodies to come up with a mechanism which will protect their interest in times of such a health and economic emergency.