In this blog post, we embark on an enlightening journey through the experiences of John Karanja, an Enterprise Account Manager at Kwara. Over the years, John has been instrumental in reshaping the landscape of Savings and Credit Cooperative Societies (Saccos) in Kenya. He shares his insights into the pivotal role of technology in revolutionizing Saccos, touching the lives of their members and the broader community. Join us as we explore John’s inspiring story and the impact of digital transformation in Kenya’s financial sector.
Start of the interview
David: Could you introduce yourself briefly?
John: My name is John Karanja, an Enterprise account manager here at Kwara. I deal mostly with implementation, focusing on the customers to make sure that they are fully onboarded. I ensure they can use all of our platforms; the core banking system, the mobile banking, and the APIs.
David: Why did you join Kwara?
John: I joined Kwara because of its inspiring vision for Kenyan credit unions and Saccos. Meeting you and Cynthia, combined with my past work in microfinance, made it clear this was the right path. While I hadn’t previously worked with Saccos, my experience in core banking systems and belief in the power of digitization to support them drew me to Kwara. Cynthia’s compelling story about the cooperative movement further solidified my commitment.
David: What role do you think SACCOs have in our financial sector?
John: SACCOs play a crucial role in our society, dating back to agriculture and other industries. In my experience, my father, a teacher, benefited from a SACCO that financed our daily needs and my education. SACCOs support various aspects of life, like home buying, healthcare, and education.
They unite individuals with common goals, pooling resources for borrowing. Modest deposits and regular deductions create opportunities for growth and investment. Loans are managed for specific purposes, emphasizing personal financial management and the greater good. This approach is tracked through our core banking system, aiding SACCO’s growth.
David: How have you seen technology affect SACCOs?
John: Technology has significantly improved SACCO operations, particularly in reporting and bookkeeping. This streamlined approach enables informed decision-making. At Kwara, we go beyond just the SACCOs themselves and focus on their members. Through technology, we offer benefits like mobile banking, making everyday deposits, and quick access to loans in emergencies a reality.
Banking halls are no longer necessary with technology; members can deposit and initiate loans through mobile banking, ensuring faster experiences. SACCOs can diversify their offerings, competing with other financial institutions through technology. This includes services like bill payments and airtime purchases. Kwara can attract younger generations by providing tech-savvy SACCO products. Through technology, we bolster SACCOs, long known for building savings and providing affordable credit lines. Saving, encouraged by the government, can have the greatest impact through cooperatives.
David: In what way would you say customer success at Kwara is special or different from other companies?
John: Customer success at Kwara is distinct. We work with clients transitioning from traditional methods to technology adoption. Our goal is to ensure their success throughout the journey. We engage with Saccos from onboarding to backend and frontline support, guiding them from contract signing to full product integration, including core and mobile banking. This process builds a strong connection, and our active listening ensures our features align with their needs. This open feedback loop makes us a valuable partner. We contribute significantly to Kwara’s growth as satisfied clients return and refer others to our services.
David: What is a customer story you are most proud of?
John: While there are many success stories, one particularly significant one is Kenya Bankers Sacco. They were in the early stages of onboarding when I joined. After onboarding, they requested additional features, and we worked hard to ensure they could use our system. In just three months, their enthusiastic testimonials showcased the confidence they had in us and how we met their expectations. This transformative relationship demonstrates our capacity to adapt to SACCO’s evolving needs and continually expand our product offerings. We share this story with confidence, as it highlights our commitment to growing with SACCOs and evolving to meet their needs.
David: What a journey! What for you in this journey has been the most memorable moment?
John: It’s been quite a journey over the last few years. One memorable moment that stands out was when I visited a remote SACCO in Busia, a 10-hour journey from Nairobi. The people there were incredibly hospitable. I faced a situation where I couldn’t find accommodation during my stay, so I asked SACCO members for recommendations. Surprisingly, the SACCO chairperson generously offered me a place to stay at his son’s house on their homestead. The small room I stayed in was shared with his son, who used it during the day when he took a break from his night shift. It was a unique experience that allowed me to learn more about the chairperson’s journey with the SACCO, and how it supported his family and the community.
David: If someone were to work with Kwara, whether it’s a Sacco or a future team member, what would you tell them?
John: To anyone considering working with Kwara, whether a SACCO or a future team member, I’d emphasize two key points. First, it’s our people – we’re skilled and solutions-oriented, always keeping the customer in mind. Second, Kwara has a solid foundation as a company, with strong partnerships like our current one with KUSCCO. We’ve grown with SACCOs, from 1 to 200 in just 5 years, overcoming challenges along the way. During the pandemic, we swiftly developed Kwara Pronto to help SACCOs serve their members. We take pride in building from scratch and are committed to transforming SACCO experiences. I’ve seen significant growth in my career and life, and I’m proud of how far I’ve come.
End of the interview
In closing, John Karanja and Kwara stand as trailblazers in the digital transformation of Saccos in Kenya. John’s unwavering commitment to customer success beautifully aligns with Kwara’s vision of empowering financial cooperatives. From the initial onboarding process to the establishment of a robust technological foundation, John and Kwara are leaders in this transformative journey. This blog post provides a unique glimpse into the dynamic world of Saccos in Kenya and the indispensable role that Kwara plays in their technological growth and prosperity.