The practice of mobile lenders sending messages to everyone in the mobile borrowers phonebook has ignited debate in the country, catching attention of legislators.
Kenya has over 80 mobile applications, who typically offer unsecured micro loans after analysing a prospective borrower’s digital data. The loan is delivered and paid through mobile money. Such loans are popular among young people who are first time borrowers as well as small traders. Mobile microloans have been lauded for expanding financial inclusion.
While some loan apps are owned by banks, many mobile loan apps exist independently. They do not take deposits and only offer unsecured loans, based on one’s digital footprint. They are regulated by legacy microfinance laws and they report borrowers credit history to a statutory body, Credit Reference Bureau. The apps have taken to sending messages to persons in the borrower’s phone address book as it is a more effective way of reaching borrowers, with whom they do not have other relationships (such as banking or savings) with. A typical message from the apps includes the debtor’s name, their phone number, loan amount and disclosure that the borrower has defaulted on repayment.
Legislators are now mulling over policy interventions to protect the public from unfair practices.