Businesses have benefited from online banking ever since it was launched in 1997. With all the benefits that come with online banking, not all banks offer products that will suit your SME. In Kenya, there are many banks at your disposal, with the top-tier banks finally joining the pack and coming up with products that promise growth and development to SMEs.
Narrowing down to the best bank that you can rely on when managing funds for your business can be a tad bit overwhelming. What should you look for, and what are the charges? With the right banker, managing your business’s finances becomes easier.
Learn more in a related article: Advantages of Online Banking for SMEs
Banks in Kenya for online banking for SMEs
Standard Chartered Bank (SCB)
It is one of the largest international banks, with a footprint in 43-cities. It has about 36 branches in the country with an online platform for businesses, Straight2Bank.
As an entrepreneur, your business can benefit from the Safari Savings Business Account. It is an interest-earning account for any idle cash you might have and with free internet banking.
It is also a multi-currency account in case you have foreign currency deals like USD and Euro. Some of the features include Straight2Bank, automated payroll processing, and payment solutions. It’s an ideal product if you aim to save what your business is making—the withdrawal limit in once per quarter.
Business Current Account is another option for your company. The account does not earn any interest but has pretty good features – like cash management, payroll processing that is also automatable, and an array of payment solutions for all your payments. Unfortunately, there is an initial deposit amount that can make this account unattractive for some small and medium businesses.
If your business deals with foreign currencies, you can open the Foreign Currency Account. It basically has the same features as the others but in several currencies. Like the previous type of account, you will also need an initial deposit.
The pricing for the transactional charges varies from one business to another, based on the monthly transactions.
What I love about SCB, after 5 years of using its online platform on a corporate level, is the friendliness of the platform. It is simple and easy to navigate through, whether you are doing payments or payroll. You can load payments, have them approved and released when you want.
Downloading bank statements is a lengthy and tedious process, though, compared to other banks I have used. The forex trading platform, S2BX, is quite friendly, too, with competitive rates. It is ideal where you do not want to waste time negotiating rates through phone calls.
The trade financing platform is the best, based on the other 3 I had at my disposal. Where possible, you can automate some of the trade financing processes like Letters of Credits (LC), guarantees, invoice financing and Import Loans applications and authorization.
Also, you cannot access bank statements past 3 months from the online platform (since the last time I used the platform, in May 2020). However, you can request for the statements, which sometimes can come at an additional fee.
Some of the fees to consider are charges per transaction, like telegraphic and RTGS transfers. If you are processing payroll for your company, you should also factor in how much that costs per month.
Update: the features and customer care service from SCB might be enticing. However, opening an account is not that easy, especially for a newly registered business. The minimum requirement or operating balance (as of this update, 19/07/2021) is still Kes 100,000.00. So, if your business doesn’t manage to pull Kes 100,000 every month, you could be shopping for a new bank account when SCB closes yours.
It is the final product after the merge between NIC and CBA banks. The bank has branches across the country, making it quite accessible for small and medium businesses. NCBA has several products that can help an SME manage its cash.
There are different account types, with the options for a current account, savings account and cards. Business Pay As You Go account is ideal for a small business that’s starting and deals only in Kenyan currency. It has zero monthly fees, operating balance, manageable minimum opening balance, access to Mpesa, among other features.
Business Current Account is also another account option for a growing business. The minimum operating balance is zero, but the operating balance and monthly fees are manageable. It is available in different currencies, making it an excellent choice for any business with foreign transactions.
On borrowing, NCBA offers business loans and overdrafts, asset financing and property financing. Stawi, a business loan product, is ideal for small businesses in need of cash flow money. Apart from borrowing, your business can also benefit from investments opportunities like Fixed, Call Deposits and Bond Investments. Other solutions available include cash management, insurance and trade financing.
The internet banking platform is one of the easiest, especially when accessing bank statements. Loading payments is also easy, but the process is friendlier when loading one payment at a time. Bulk import payments, like payroll, were a bit complicated and lengthy for me the last time I used the platform, May 2020.
Also, you cannot schedule payments for later releasing after approval. It is also not possible to load payments when your account balance is not sufficient. If your payment system has approval levels, the last signatory needs to sign the payment when you are ready to release the payment.
However, I liked the fact that the system stores most, if not all, of the bank statement. I could access bank statements dating back to 2015 without having to request the bank.
Also, forex trading was easier with the bank when done through phone calls. The forex platform did not offer competitive rates, but maybe this has changed. The fees are also something to consider, especially for international transfers.
Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB)
It has a footprint across the country and the East African region and is one of the largest banks in the region in terms of assets base. In 2019, the group acquired the National Bank of Kenya, increasing its presence across the country.
There are various loan products, depending on the type of business, whether it is an agri-business or a small business. There are also loan products for various small business owners, including loans to fill up your shop or buy a bodaboda. Financing is also available, including invoice financing and asset financing. Because networking and a business advisory is everything, KCB has a Baishara Club that offers such.
The internet banking platform is also available, where you can access the account and transact online. One of the problems I have encountered with this platform over the years is the unavailability of account statements. Sometimes you have to request for the statements, even the current ones because the service is unavailable online. The last time I encountered this was early 2020, around Feb / March. I also find it a bit challenging to navigate through, especially with payments.
The charges can also be quite expensive, especially when doing internet banking transactions like swift transfers and RTGS (Real Time Gross Settlement) transactions.
Online banking needs to make managing your SMEs finances easier- access to the bank and ability to transact from anywhere. However, take every product offered by any bank with a pinch of salt. Consider all the benefits and costs involved, especially the fees.
I know there are many other banks in Kenya to consider. The above is based on my experience with internet banking platforms. I have used about 5 banks in Kenya in the last 5 years of my career, until May 2020. I would, of course, like to have a chance to review other online banking platforms. What bank do you use for your SMEs online banking? I would like to hear about your experiences.