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How Harambee Sacco Is Courting a Growing Class of Mini-Millionaires

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By Steve UMIDHA

Harambee Sacco’s floated shares will possibly be oversubscribed, according to the firm’s officials, further underpinning investor faith in the once loss-making company and possibly reflecting the buoyant mood of late in the country’s business environment.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95yoNDUYuak

The Sacco targets to raise in excess of Sh4 Billion to return capital to shareholders after reporting an impressive first full year of operating profit and consistent positive free cash flow last year.

Harambee’s Chief executive officer Dr. George Ochiri says the amount is a short-term investment meant to boost its capital reserve and cut on external borrowing.

This will be done through a share-capital drive that seeks to mop up the targeted amount with a timeline of between two and three years.

Its institutional capital to total assets ratio went up to 6.2 per cent in the period ended December 2023, from 5.3 per cent the previous year according to its financial statement for the period, but this still falls short of the statutory requirement.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JGm_qf9fao

“With this share drive, borrowing from external sources at Harambee will be something of the past. We have since mobilized Sh 6million in less than two weeks, the response is great, considering we haven’t launched it (share capital drive) formally.”

The capital raise, which follows a strategic review process overseen by the SACCO Societies Regulatory Authority (Sasra) and the Capital Markets Authority (CMA), is also intended to support the company’s execution plan to drive profitability and enhance shareholder value.

“Definitely not all our members will take up this initiative. So, on our side we are making available 40 million shares each share at Sh100 and we want to make it available initially for every member at least Sh50,000 worth of shares.

But we also want to put it open, if a member wants to buy more they are allowed because the regulatory limit is one- fifth…and our estimation we can see about 30,000 members taking part in the drive and with this we are targeting about Sh4billion in the next two years or thereabout,” said Ochiri.

Share capital is a product that lets the members have equity of ownership of a SACCO and members earn dividends on the same annually. Issued Share Capital can also be described as the total value of shares that a company has issued to its shareholders.

The value of Issued Share Capital can however, fluctuate based on the market value of the shares. Issued Share Capital is an important measure of a company’s financial health and its ability to raise capital.

This move, according to Ochiri, will help empower the institution’s membership with loan facilities upon application, in an effort to address previous credit challenges that would see a number of them queue up for loans and other credit facilities for months before they are granted.

“When I came, we used to queue for loans, so a loan would take up to 30 days to be processed,” he narrates. Today it is hours irrespective of the amount, provided you qualify, apply and submit, you will get it the same day. But by 2019, all loans’ application procedures were physical, and we have now moved nearly all our services to the digital platforms,” says Ochiri.

Since his appointment as the CEO, Ochiri says the company has also mitigated cyber-attacks, with no reported attacks since 2019 and this has been made possible through a strategic partnership with Safaricom Plc.

Harambee draws most of its membership from the civil service, it now plans to grow its membership in tandem with salary processing accounts, to at least 87,000 in the medium-term.

How Dr Ochiri brought a dying brand back to life

In the dynamic world of business, statistics have shown that even the mightiest corporations and reputable businesses can falter.

Unceasing changes in technological disruption such as the Artificial Intelligence (AI), market volatility in form of high inflation, currency fluctuations and higher costs of borrowing among other factors, have the potential to send established entities into downward spirals.

Yet, as history has shown, companies on the brink of collapse, can reverse their fortunes through tactical leadership and visionary stewardship.

It is a portrayal that flawlessly sums up the history of Harambee Sacco, one of the country’s highly ranked membership-based financial institutions that came close to folding up.

That was until Ochiri (Pictured), took up a near – impossible and tedious task of cleaning up the firm’s-stained brand image and reputation. Overseeing a radical transformation that would later return Harambee back to profitability with a single dose of knack, wit and vivacity, earning him the name of a ‘a listener – in – chief’ in the process.

“When we were starting this journey in 2019, the image of Harambee was very bad, today it is a brand that we want to associate with both internally and externally,” opens up Dr Ochiri as he weighs in on the remarkable strides the company has attained since he took over at the helm six years ago.

But not every part of the process was smooth, though. Ochiri – a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Supply Chain Management, had to make difficult decisions, such as cutting a significant part of Harambee Sacco’s workforce and outsourcing parts of its operations particularly through advanced IT solutions to curb revenue leakage.

Part of that painful process involved a Voluntary Early Retirement (VER) program which at the time sought to offer aging officials an early send-off package, targeting up to 20 employees most of whom were in their later years of employment.

It also involved a droning procedure of identifying the company’s assets that included a prime land in Kisumu and prime properties in Mombasa’s Nyali area as well as other properties in Nairobi by creating cash flow out of those ‘dead’ assets.

The company has however struggled to entice favourable suitors of those prime assets to date, but Ochiri remains resilient and he’s content with Sacco’s strides thus far.

“Today at Harambee I can confirm that the average age of our workforce is an impressive 36 years and we have nearly doubled the size of the Sacco,” says a proud Ochiri who had previous stints at Kimbo and Maisha Bora Saccos.

By end of 2018, he says the Sacco’s total assets were at Sh25Billion, today “we are at Sh29Billion, while the loan book at that time was only at Sh15 Billion, today we are at Sh30 Billion, twice what we were in 2018,” adding that the Sacco’s deposits have also gone up by over Sh6 Billion during that time.

Ochiri who is also a Masters’ holder in Procurement and Logistics from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), further reveals that a lot of culture change within the Sacco’s membership and staff has gone a long way in redeeming the firm’s lost glory.

Its top leadership has now christened that resurgence to ‘Turning Point,’ in honor of the hard work that has gone into returning Harambee back to profitability.

So much so that those efforts saw Sacco declare dividends of 12 percent during its 53rd delegates meeting – the highest in the company’s history, boasting an improvement in its financial performance for the year 2023. It paid dividends of 4 percent in 2018.

“We were losing over 1,000 Sacco members every year; we have now contained it. Since the last two years we have been gaining a positive net on membership.

Over and above that we have been training our delegates, memberships, board and staff, and we are now seeing a culture change where we are more of a formal institution from what we were previously,” he says.

Ochiri is also credited for having helped contain Sacco’s membership that had been declining before his arrival. That figure stood at 92,000 at the end of 2017.

Today the Sacco has a total active membership of 76,991 and 2,850 dormant members as of December 2023. It had a membership of 75,052 in a similar period a year before.

The year 2024 according to Ochiri, is a promising year having closed 2023 with a good loan book balance of Sh29billion.

“Our target is quite high; we want to work towards a dividend of 15 percent and deposits of at least 9.5 percent. Hopefully by 2025/26 both interest on deposits and dividends should be in double digit.”

Regulatory Changes

The go-ons at Harambee come amid recent decisions by the government through Kenya’s Parliament which engineered a debate on amendments to the Savings and Credit Cooperatives (Sacco) legislation, which among other factors, sought to boost confidence in a sector synonymous with corruption and mismanagement.

Amendments to the Sacco Societies Act (2008) was approved by the Cabinet in August 2021, with an object to amend the Sacco Societies Act of 2008 by sanctioning the usage of innovative systems and ICT in collecting and receiving of statutory reports by Kenyan Saccos – a decision felt will help lessen wastage of member deposits in certain Saccos.

The proposed changes also sought to implement a deposit protection scheme for members of collapsed Saccos.

Through, Sacco Societies Regulatory Authority (SASRA) – the regulator continues to work with a multi-agency team comprising the State Department of Co-operatives, the National Treasury, Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) and the Kenya Law Reform Commission (KLRC), for the operationalization of the Central Liquidity Fund (CLF) where Saccos are now lending and borrow money from each other thereby cutting ties with Commercial banks whose loans are considered very costly.

Under the new regime, Saccos will run their own inter-Sacco market where they can lend and borrow from each other at reasonable interest rates to offset their financial positions which was not possible in the past.

Data from the State Department of Co-operatives shows that member deposits in saccos crossed the Sh1 trillion mark for the first time in June 2023. The savings grew by 15.6 percent to Sh1. 047 trillion in the 12 months to June 2023 from Sh906 billion, marking a milestone for the country’s cooperative movement.

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