Banking in Kenya – A Beginner’s Guide for 2021

Banking in Kenya

Banking in Kenya is an incredibly personal thing. Your choice of bank is important to your livelihood. If you’re into real estate, you’ll choose a bank with good mortgages. If you invest in financial markets, you’ll want a bank that has services specific to this.

After interviewing a few friends, we discovered that their choice of bank is much closer to them. No institution is without its share of issues. But everyone we talked to seemed to say only good things about their banks. This showed that they felt their choice of bank spoke something about who they are.

With how important banking seems to be, we came up with this brief summary of what to expect when banking in Kenya.

Let’s begin by meeting the biggest, most popular banks in Kenya.

The 8 Biggest Banks in Kenya

KCB

The Kenya Commercial Bank is the biggest in Kenya. It has 192 branches in the country and a network of over 940 ATMs across East Africa. Their mobile app is one of the most advanced and links with their mobile wallet, Vooma, to add to what it can do. 

EQUITY

Equity is known as the people’s bank. It has some of the lowest fees and offers accounts with no opening or minimum balance required. Equity also has a mobile service called Equitel to better integrate mobile and banking.

NCBA

NCBA focuses mainly on corporate banking. This works well for their personal banking. The innovations made to improve their reliability apply across both services. They are also very pocket friendly with their fees.

CO-OPERATIVE BANK

As the name suggests, Co-op bank has specialised in banking products for groups. They also have adequate individual banking accounts. They are one of the only banks that promote kids’ savings accounts with their Jumbo Junior Account.

DIAMOND TRUST BANK

DTB has a great savings account. They calculate and pay out interest every half-year and have no ledger fees or minimum balance requirements. They are also part of the Kenswitch network giving them countrywide ATM coverage.

STANDARD CHARTERED BANK

Standard Chartered Bank has one of the best priority banking in the country. It comes with a relationship manager so you never have to go through customer care. The bank also has the advantage of being an international bank. You don’t have to close this account or leave it dormant. after leaving Kenya.

ABSA BANK KENYA

Absa bank pride themselves in their relationships with their customers. They are ready to sit with you to come up with solutions for your needs. They are also flexible when tough situations come around. And like Standard Chartered, they are also international, originating in South Africa.

STANBIC BANK KENYA

Stanbic bank has some of the simplest solutions for international banking. They have partnered with SimbaPay Mobile International to offer a quick way to send money to phone numbers abroad. They are also one of the innovators of digital banking services.

How to Open a Bank Account in Kenya

Opening a bank account in Kenya has a few similarities across all banks. You will need the following:

  • National ID or some form of official identification.
  • KRA PIN.
  • A completed application form which you can download from the banks’ sites.

Most accounts will require an opening balance so carry a bit of cash with you.

Once you have these, just visit the nearest branch of the bank you want to open an account with. You should be directed to the right desk at the door (if you aren’t, that’s a red flag. You might want to choose another bank). The attendant will guide you through the rest of the process.

And As a Foreigner

Opening an account in Kenya as a foreigner is a much more complicated process. There are many restrictions in place to ensure the account is not used for illegal activities. Banks are also trying to cut down on dormant accounts left once the account holder leaves the country.

To open a bank account in Kenya as a foreigner, you will need:

  • A work permit. This will give you a KRA PIN.
  • A valid passport,
  • An alien ID,
  • An introducer. This is someone who already holds an account with your chosen bank.

If you are here temporarily and can’t access Visa or Mastercard kind of service, it is advisable to apply for a prepaid card from Equity Bank. They do not require you to open an account to get the card. You can then top up the card online, at an ATM, at the teller or through M-Pesa.

Mpesa Mobile Money

M-Pesa is a banking service on its own. Like all banks:

  • it is regulated by the Central Bank of Kenya, 
  • you can save money and earn interest on M-Shwari, 
  • you have access to loans, 
  • and you can pay bills.

M-Pesa even has its version of a prepaid card called the 1-tap card. This is a Near Field Communication (NFC) powered card you can use at Safaricom authorized outlets to make payments from your M-Pesa account. 

NFC works by connecting with nearby NFC enabled devices and transferring information. Tapping your card against the teller’s system connects the transaction to your M-Pesa app. All you have to do is confirm the amount and enter your PIN to complete.

Some people have not gone to an ATM for over a year because they can transfer money between their bank and their phone. The cost of transacting between your phone and your bank is either the same or cheaper than using an ATM. And in 2020, the fees were waived.

We have covered how to transfer money from your M-Pesa to your bank in our M-Pesa Ultimate Guide. To transfer money from your bank to your M-Pesa account, you can either use the bank’s USSD code or app.

Internet Banking in Kenya

Kenya is a leading country in the world of internet banking. The ease of use of M-Pesa is the cause of this. Banks needed to match the accessibility of M-Pesa to avoid losing their customers to the mobile banking service. They introduced mobile banking applications and removed restrictions on internet banking. 

Internet banking was limited to specific account holders and was not provided by all banks in the past. Now, with almost all banks, you only have to fill an application form at your nearest branch to request access to your account online.

Usability and Customer Care

You can carry out any kind of transaction online, short of depositing and withdrawing physical money. You can order cheque books, apply for card renewal, make or schedule bank transfers and resolve issues with customer care.

Most banks have teams of people attending their social media and online platforms to help with most issues that arise with internet banking.

Internet Banking Safety

Internet banking is quite safe. But there are a few things to keep a watch out for. You have to make sure you have correctly filled in the details of your transaction. Recheck as many times as it takes to feel confident about the information as the smallest change of words or numbers is how hackers get you.

Man-in-the-middle attacks are very common in online transactions. This is where a third party gains access to communication between a client and a business. The third party can then cut off the business’ communication and send the client a convincing invoice with their bank information. The client ends up paying the third party.

So it is vital to make phone calls or confirm transactions through other means of communication while transacting online.

Mobile Banking

There was a time when only CBA and KCB had working mobile banking apps on Android and iOS. But just like with Internet banking, all banks had to step up. All of them have mobile banking apps that effectively do everything you need to do, like:

  • Check your statement
  • Easily withdraw to your mobile money
  • Send money to other accounts or phones
  • Pay bills
  • Buy airtime
  • Lock in savings

What’s more, most of these apps have reward systems. These gain you points as you use the app that you can convert to prizes including cash rewards and holiday trips.

Bank USSD codes and Paybill Numbers

You can use these USSD codes on your phone to access banking services, and the Paybill numbers to deposit cash into our account directly from M-Pesa.

BANKPAYBILL NUMBERUSSD CODE
ABC BANK111777APP ONLY
ABSA303030*224#
BANK OF AFRICA972900*987#
STANBIC600100*208#
CONSOLIDATED BANK508400*262#
CO-OPERATIVE BANK400200*667#
DIAMOND TRUST BANK516600*385#
ECO BANK700201*335#
EQUITY247247*247#
FAMILY BANK222111*325#
GTBANK KENYA910200*878#
GULF AFRICAN BANK985050*399#
HFCK100400*231#
I&M BANK542542*458#
JAMII BORA BANK529901*344#
KCB522522*522#
KENYA WOMEN MICROFINANCE BANK101200*378#
NATIONAL BANK625625*625#
NCBA880100*654#
POST BANK200999*498#
PRIME BANK982800APP ONLY
SBM KENYA552800*275#
SIDIAN BANK111999*527#
STANDARD CHARTERED329329*722#
ACCESS (TRANSNATIONAL) BANK862862*862#
UBA BANK559900*368#

Using PayPal For Banking in Kenya

PayPal is a big player in the world of international money transfer. It is used as a means of payment on most online stores and offers free transfer between friends and family.

As you set up your PayPal account, you can link either your bank account or your debit or credit card. This gives PayPal access to withdraw or deposit from or to your account. However, most banks don’t allow third parties to access your account. They will receive funds but will not pay it out because they don’t consider it secure enough. This may apply to your debit card as well, depending on your bank.

To get around this, banks recommend getting a prepaid card. This way, you have control over how much money PayPal has access to at any given time. Prepaid cards are usually either Mastercard or Visa and they can be linked to PayPal.

Using ATMs in Kenya

ATMs in Kenya are available in most towns and cities. What you should know is the difference between onsite and offsite ATMs. 

Onsite vs Offsite ATMs

Onsite ATMs are usually attached to the building housing a bank branch and are used to reduce the amount of traffic within the branch. They have increased functionality like the ability to deposit cash or cheques, withdraw money in different currencies and reset mobile banking PINs.

Offsite ATMs allow basic functions like withdrawing money and printing statements.

Shared ATM Networks

Some banks share common payment service providers that allow their customers to withdraw money from each other’s ATMs. They work like Visa or Mastercard ATMs but are cheaper. The best known of these links are Kenswitch, Pesalink and Pesapoint. See below for the fees of using different ATMs in Kenya.

ATM Security

The biggest challenge to ATM security occurred a few years ago. Fraudsters found a way to copy the information contained on the magnetic strips found on cards. All banks cracked down on this by introducing chipped ATM cards, adding a second level of verification. It is now as safe to use an ATM in Kenya as it is anywhere else in the world.

However, it is important to remember the basics of using an ATM:

  • Never give out your password.
  • Never write down and store your password near your ATM card.
  • Do not ask for or receive assistance from strangers. Always go to the banking hall or call the number on the ATM for assistance.

ATM Withdrawal Charges in Kenya

This is a table summarizing the withdrawal charges from most of the banks in Kenya. The figures are taken from their latest Tariff Guides available online.

ATM FEESKENSWITCH FEESPESALINK FEESUSING OTHER BANK’S ATM FEES
Ksh 25 – 55Ksh 40 – 90Ksh 0 – 240Ksh 70 – 300

Sending & Receiving Money Overseas

Swift is a service that enables you to transfer money from one account to another anywhere in the world. It is the most common way of transferring money internationally and is available at all banks. Swift has a flat fee of about $10-15 for any amount transacted.

There is no cost for the receiving account. You should know that most banks make money when changing currencies.

There are many online alternatives to Swift. These cross-border services will require you to attach a bank account or card to your account with them. Below are the best ones besides PayPal. 

  • Wise (formerly Transferwise) has a cost calculator that will tell you how much your transfer will cost. Wise has a mark up of  0.5% on the exchange rate.
  • Flutterwave works similarly to PayPal. It can link to your bank, debit or credit card or Swift.
  • World Remit can send money to all major Kenyan banks but it doesn’t seem to be able to send directly from Kenyan banks. World Remit has a markup of 1% – 1.5% on the exchange rate.
  • Xendpay is another cost-effective way to transfer money to Kenya from abroad. It also can’t access your bank to send money out, but it has good exchange rates and their calculator can compare their rates to those of your bank.

Financial Apps in Kenya

FinTech (financial technology) is the merging of technology with companies offering financial services. FinTech has had explosive growth in Kenya. Most banking apps have some form of financial service other than banking embedded within them. And independent companies have come up to offer a variety of different other services like insurance and locked saving.

These are the best three we reviewed.

Power

Power These are services such as insurance, long term, loans and salary advances. They intend to introduce investment options and pension services as well soon. Learn more about them here.

M-Shwari

M-Shwari is a service within M-Pesa that can assist with targeted saving. This is where you set a goal of how much you want to save. M-Shwari then locks any funds you deposit into your savings until you hit the target.

Vooma

Vooma is a mobile wallet from KCB. You can load cash from your KCB account, KCB Branch or Vooma agent like you would with M-Pesa. Once loaded, you can pay bills, send money to other phones or accounts or shop online at lower fees than even M-Pesa. You don’t need a KCB account to register with Vooma.

Final Thoughts

Your choice of bank is as personal a decision as you will ever have to make in your financial life. Banks in Kenya differ very slightly but those small differences could be critical. Some have better international reach so you can use them after leaving the country without any complication or added costs. While some have branches in most corners of the country so you have access to in-person assistance wherever you are.

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