There are myths told to Kenyan consumers on a regular basis. One myth is that if government does not borrow locally, it should lead to lower interest rates because of the ease of pressure on demand for domestic credit. The second myth is that the Kenya Banks Reference Rate (KBRR) will let consumers know how much credit should cost and thus foster competition in the banking industry which will lead to lower rates. Yet since the introduction of the KBRR only one bank has lowered its interest rates. Further, even after announcements by government clearly signalling that it will borrow from outside Kenya, interest rates have not dipped. Why? Why aren’t banks lowering interest rates in any noticeable manner? There are several factors at play that will not only ensure interest rates do not lower but in fact may push interest rates up. The focus here will be on external factors that inform rate setting rather than internal dynamics of banks (such as riskiness of client, required rate of return on funds/capital etc) as these are harder to influence and ascertain.
The first factor is the cost of borrowing; according to the CBK, during the month of November the interbank lending rate seesawed between 6.39 and 7.6 % but often more long term rates are used and insiders say the real rate can be double this figure. Banks have to on-lend at a rate higher than that at which they borrowed so this borrowing rate is the first rate- hike that hits consumers.
Inflation is another factor that informs rate setting since high inflation devalues the shilling and therefore pushes rates up in order for banks to recover the equivalent value of capital. Calculations on long term inflation demonstrate that the Inflation Rate in Kenya averaged 11.13 % from 2005 until November 2014, well above CBK’s target rate of 2.5-7.5%. Given how unstable Kenya’s inflation rate is year on year, banks would rather err on the side of caution and keep rates up to make sure they get the value of their money back.
Another factor banks have to consider is tax. The Corporate Tax Tate since this obviously eats into profits. Corporate Tax Rates in Kenya currently stand at 30% for residents and 37.5% for non-residents. However, a 2013 report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers found that a company in Kenya on average pays a total tax rate of 44.2%, higher than the global average of 43.1%. Further, it takes a firm operating locally 308 hours to comply with taxes; the global average is 268 hours. These factors lead to a high cost of doing business in Kenya which leads to a higher financial burden in terms of man hours. So it can be understood why some of this financial burden is passed on to consumers in the form of higher interest rates. Additionally, for banks (and any other company) listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange Withholding Tax on Dividends stands at a rate of 5% for dividends paid to residents of Kenya and on listed shares for citizens of the East African Community; the rate is 10% for other non-residents. To top it all off, the government recently announced the re-introduction of the Capital Gains Tax at 5%. Banks are facing millions of shillings in tax charges on transactions starting January 2015. Such tax burdens increase the cost of funds and puts pressure on banks to find ways to secure profit margins and hiking interest rates is a viable option.
There are also non-financial reasons why banks feel no pressure to reduce interest rates: Kenyans do not necessarily choose banks due to their interest rates and Kenyans do not necessarily leave banks if the interest rate goes up. There are other factors that inform how Kenyans choose banking partners or stay with them. A study by Ernst and Young earlier this year indicated that Kenyans, like millions of others across the world, open and close their accounts due to customer experience and this factor is more important than fees, rates, locations, press coverage or convenience. Add to this the reality that Kenya recorded a higher than average increase in confidence in their banks. In fact, while 44% of customers around the world express complete trust in their banks, this figure is 59% in Kenya; the highest level in Africa.
Given all these factors, why would banks seek to drive down interest rates? It appears as though banks would prefer to reward depositors with higher interest rates and general customers with better services than bring lending rates down. Sadly, no reprieve is in sight for you, Kenyan borrower.
A version of this article was featured in the Business Daily on December 1, 2014. You can read it here.