SACCOs urged to embrace tech, digital lending

Savings and Credit Cooperative Societies (SACCOs) have been urged to embrace the latest technological innovations in order to catch up with market trends and safeguard their market share.

Speaking during a one-week training of Ikwera SACCO Members, held in Aduku town council, Kwania district, the former Land Minister Daniel Omara Atubu rallied the SACCO Members to join the digital lending space, especially with the coming of mobile money.

“Technology is reshaping the financial industry forcing SACCOs to match up with the trend or risk being left out. Let’s utilize mobile money for conducting business and embrace digital loans to provide quick cash to members through mobile money wallets. Entry into digital loan platforms will safeguard the market flooded by independent digital lenders such as Commercial banks,” Omara, an Economist, noted.

Geoffrey Okello, a senior accountant at the Uganda College of Commerce, Aduku, underscored the security that digital transactions offer.

“It would protect you from the danger of being targeted by thugs after withdrawing your money from the bank,” he said.

For his part, Kwania District Commercial Officer, Patrick Bura, urged the SACCO members to appoint knowledgeable leaders who can guide them on how to make the best use of their resources.

Ikwera SACCO Ltd Manager, Robert Odur, said plans are underway to integrate the SACCO members into available digital platforms, noting that it would be one way to extend financial inclusion to the unbanked.

“We need innovative ways to bring the unbanked population into the formal financial system,” Odur said.

Ikwera SACCO Ltd., established in 2009 is fully registered with the Ministry of Trade Industry and Cooperatives. However, despite having 1,037 members and growing, and a current portfolio of over Shs 300m, the SACCO is as yet not enrolled on the Mobile money system.

The Uganda Finscope survey for 2018- a periodic study of the country’s financial sector since 2006-indicates a sharp increase in the number of Ugandans who use financial services.

The total value of mobile money transactions grew from Shs 37.4 tn ($9.7 bn) in June 2016 to Shs 79.8 tn (USD 20.7 bn) in FY 2019/2020, according to Bank of Uganda data.

The survey also found that 50 percent of savers, which works out to five million adults, save informally with village savings and credit associations and trusted community members.

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Microfinance minister to promote Emyooga products

The Minister of State for Micro-Finance & Small Enterprises, Hon. Haruna Kasolo Kyeyune has pledged to create a department within the Microfinance Support Centre to expand the market base for products produced under the Emyooga scheme.

Kasolo made the pledge last Friday while visiting Emyooga SACCOs in Mbarara after Immaculate Tumuhimbise, the Chairperson of Mbarara City South Women Entrepreneurs’ SACCO raised concerns over potential overproduction by Emyooga enterprises with no ready market for their products.

“People should not produce and fail to find a market. I will propose to the cabinet that funds be set aside to help in marketing and research for Emyooga products,” the minister promised.

He encouraged the entrepreneurs to be innovative and to produce attractive products that will be competitive in the international market.

“I implore Emyooga members to be innovative and creative such that when you make a product, say a bag, it is as good in quality as those made from established markets like China.”

He also cautioned prudence in managing their capital resources.

“You are not supposed to overspend; create cheap capital within the informal sector because you may find it difficult to access credit from commercial banks,” Kasolo advised.

Robert Mpakibi, the Assistant Registrar of co-operatives confirmed that 32 out of 36 registered Emyooga SACCOs in the district have already accessed money under the initiative.

Impressive savings

Meanwhile, Phiona Aheebwa, the Front Desk Officer at the Microfinance Support Centre Ltd (MSC) was impressed by the saving culture demonstrated by Mbarara City South Women Entrepreneurs SACCO.

The 202-member SACCO has already saved Shs 38m since November 18, last year, bringing its total capital to Shs 68m after adding the Shs 30m Emyooga cash from MSC, revealed SACCO Chairperson, Tumuhimbise.

Aheebwa appealed to members to maintain the savings culture and promised that if they are consistent, they could benefit from a bigger loan facility from the MSC in the future.

“If members keep taking and paying their loans well, as MSC we shall make sure that we add more money in the project at a small interest rate, depending on the performance,” she said.

Aheebwa recommended that Mbarara City South Women Entrepreneurs SACCO apply for more money from MSC should the need arise.

“If you need more money, whether it’s 100m or 300m, I will recommend that you receive it from the Microfinance Support Centre. What matters is the members to grow but not for the SACCO to build magnificent buildings,” says Aheebwa

She encouraged the Commercial Officers to continue training Emyooga members for the program to benefit the entire country.

Mbarara district, comprising of Kashari North and South, received a total of Shs 1.12 bn to cater for 36 SACCOs at constituency level, while Mbarara City received Shs 1 bn also for 36 SACCOs.

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Kabarole: Kitojo Care SACCO holds first AGM after COVID-19 setback

Kitojo Care SACCO in Kabarole district has held its Annual General Meeting (AGM) this week, after missing out on holding one in 2020.

While cooperatives are required by law to hold an AGM every year, Kitojo Care SACCO, like many others countrywide, was unable to fulfill this obligation last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic that resulted in a temporary suspension of all manner of public gatherings.

Moreover, the SACCO saw its savings and loan portfolios take a hit as most of its members were constrained in conducting their business as a result of restrictions imposed by the government to limit the spread of the pandemic.

“Last year was a very hard one; the majority of our members are Boda Boda riders and others work at tour sites which were not working during the lockdown, so most of the businesses were on standstill. This affected our savings, loan repayment, and loan portfolio,” said Fortunate Kusemererwa, the SACCO’s Manager.

Consequently, he revealed, by year’s end the loan repayment rate had dropped from 92 to 85 percent, and the loan portfolio reduced from Shs 634m to Shs 464m

Kusemererwa said that Kitojo Care SACCO, which was started in 2007 with the aim of increasing members’ household incomes and improve on their saving culture, has since last year been faced by the challenge of the majority of its members being dormant, “to the extent that they cannot even afford to save Shs 10,000 per month.”

Taking a toll

The slowdown in the SACCO’s momentum has taken its toll on some of the developmental projects that it had recently undertaken.

For instance, Kusemererwa disclosed that the SACCO had in 2019 embarked on a project to construct its own office premises after squatting for several years at those of Kitojo Integrated Development Association (KIDA), its mother organization.

“KIDA has been hosting us for all these years, but in 2019, we decided to start constructing our own offices because members have since increased and cannot fit in the little space we are currently occupying,” he said.

However, due to the financial difficulties from the last year, they have not been able to continue with construction works.

“We had hoped to complete our office last year, but due to the lockdown, we had to halt it. Savings have drastically reduced, loan recovery is still poor and our members no longer take loans,” he explained.

AGM resolutions

Kusemererwa said this year’s AGM resolved that each member should contribute Shs 1,500 per month towards the completion of their office block, which he believes is the only option that will save them.

The Kabarole District Commercial Officer (DCO), John Kabango, who attended the AGM, advised members to reacquaint themselves with the reasons why they joined cooperatives in the first place so that they can enjoy the most benefits from them.

“Some people just join SACCOs to borrow money and run away without paying back. You need to know that these SACCOs are voluntary and are meant to help people improve their standard of living,” Kabango said.

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SACCOs grappling with fraud, poor governance

A significant number of Savings and Credit Cooperative Organizations (SACCOs) in Uganda have suffered fraud and poor governance, a new report indicates.

The report was released by the Project for Financial Inclusion in Rural Areas (PROFIRA), an organization that monitors the performance of different SACCOS in Uganda.

A study by the organization found that 64 out of 453 SACCOs supported under the program had collapsed, while 312 are grappling with fraud and poor governance issues, among other challenges.

Collins Agaba, PROFIRA’s Program Manager, says that only 77 of the SACCOS supported by PROFIRA had no issues.

“141 have at least one problem, and the rest have suffered more than three problems,” he noted, adding:

“We found that the main challenges facing SACCOs include defaulting on payment of loans by members, low volume of business and poor financial practices.”

Agaba explained that whereas cooperatives are managed by elected committees, the leaders chosen often lack the knowledge required to manage them.

“They then end up depending on untrustworthy staff who embezzle members’ deposits.”

In response, he revealed, PROFIRA has embarked on empowering members of different SACCOs with the requisite financial skills.

Robert Odur, the Chairperson Board of Directors of Ikwera SACCO, agreed with the report’s findings.

He cited the case of Ikwera SACCO which was established in 2009 which has had its portfolio drop from over Shs 170m two years ago,to less than Shs 50m currently.

“169 million shillings was loaned out by Ikwera Savings and Credit Cooperative Society Limited in the financial year 2018/2019, but in the last financial year, we only gave out 42 million shillings as loans. Our clients are not able to repay the money in time and loan recovery is a challenge,” he said in an interview.

Kwania District Commercial Officer, Patrick Bura expressed concern about the rate at which SACCOs in the district are collapsing, saying it could lead to an increase in poverty rates among the population if not urgently dealt with.

” There is an urgent need to rejuvenate the failed SACCOs and equip the SACCO leaders with management skills or else many people will suffer and even lose their assets in search of the financial services that SACCOs are meant to offer.”

Joyce Acio, a resident of Aduku town council notes, people are likely to run to money lenders whom she says are worse than banks given their exorbitant interest rates.

She argues that having SACCO members manage them introduces a conflict of interest, thereby negatively impacting their performance.

“When the SACCO staff are also members, they start taking loans and bringing them back without interest because no one is supervising them,” she said.

Acio advises all Saccos to establish Internal Audit Committees whose task should be to regularly audit the financial institutions to avoid embezzlement.

She also called on District Commercial Officers to ensure capacity building for the SACCO leaders as one measure to minimize the chances of their collapse.

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