Today the LMDF team visited Bimas. Unlike the majority of Tier 2 MFIs in Kenya, BIMAS is not located in Nairobi, but in the town of Embu, over 100 km North of the Capital.
Why would an institution choose to be located in a smaller town? Well, Embu values proximity to its customers – it has a core value of serving the people and serving them well. Working with over 90% of rural customers, it sees this smaller town as a better fit and a better place to focus on the particular needs of those in rural areas.
Even outside the sprawling metropolis of Nairobi, it is clear that digitalisation is still playing a major role. LMDF only invested recently in the MFI, but in the short time since the Fund invested, BIMAS has already made considerable efforts to digitalise. However, the institution focuses on technology with a human touch. The loan officer retains the same fundamental relationship with their clients, but technology is used to speed up processes and improve efficiency. Since LMDF invested, the time required to disburse a loan has gone down from a couple of days to a couple of hours as a result of these efficiencies, but there are very few changes to the relationship between the client and BIMAS.
We were, of course, anxious to see the app in action. The loan officers at the local branch showed us how they entered data and verified payments that had been received. One of the key points of interest was that the clients can use smartphones but can also use ordinary phones via a USSD system which enables clients to use smartphone technology on very basic phones.
Out in the field, we asked clients about the BIMAS technology. Interestingly, they were all early adopters and said that they had started using the digital technology as soon as it has become available. Despite this digital literacy, the clients had only the one loan outstanding and remained loyal to BIMAS and its tech with a human touch, rather than the multitude of fintechs 100 km down the road in Nairobi.