Published on All About Finance

To Cap or not to cap? What does Kenya’s experience tell us about the impact of interest rate caps on the financial sector?

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Interest rate caps can have far-reaching consequences on the composition and maturity of commercial bank loans and deposits. From both a policy and research standpoint, it is important to understand the mechanisms behind such impacts and the channels through which they affect various players in the financial sector.

While cross-country evidence suggests that interest rate caps can reduce credit availability and increase costs for low-income borrowers1, rigorous micro-evidence on the channels of impact within an economy is missing.

In a new working paper that uses bank-level panel data from Kenya, Mehnaz Safavian and I carefully examine the impact of the recently imposed interest rate caps on the country’s formal financial sector.2

In September 2016, the Kenyan Parliament passed a bill that effectively imposed a cap on interest rates charged on loans and a corresponding floor on the interest rates offered for deposit accounts by commercial banks. This new legislation was in response to the public view that lending rates in Kenya were too high, and that banks were engaging in predatory lending behavior. The interest rate caps were therefore intended to alleviate the repayment burden on borrowers and improve financial inclusion as more individuals and firms would be able to borrow at the lower repayment rates.

So, what happened? Consider this snap statistic: in 2014, access to credit (as measured by growth in credit to the private sector) was 25% and, as of December 2017, this slowed to 2.4% the lowest in over a decade. 

So exactly the opposite of what the Kenyan government intended. But why?

To address this question, it is important to first acknowledge that the interest rate caps were not imposed in a vacuum. As we describe in detail in the paper, several other factors were also at play, such as the banking sector crisis of early 2016, the slowdown in loan growth and demand due to severe drought conditions, and the political uncertainty associated with the 2017 general elections.

Due to these other contributing factors, we focus our analysis on identifying key microeconomic changes in loan and deposit trends starting 22 months prior to the caps, and differentiate between the responses of commercial banks across different bank tiers and different types of clients.

Our analysis finds that that all banks, tier 1, tier 2 and tier 3, showed a significant shift in lending towards corporate clients at the expense of lending in other sectors such as SMEs, consumer loans, and new borrowers. This is particularly notable since corporate clients already dominated the loan books of the banking sector, and the caps seem to have worsened that imbalance. 

In the case of SMEs, which make up over 98% of all businesses and provide 30% of all new jobs in the country, the economic effects of a credit crunch are dangerous. Equally troublesome, the proportion of new borrowers receiving credit from banks significantly reduced by over 50% following the caps. These findings are consistent with a September 2017 credit survey conducted by the Central Bank of Kenya, where 54% of respondents confirmed that the interest rate caps had negatively affected lending to SMEs.

Another victim of the interest rate caps? Kenya’s savers, as there has been a shift from interest bearing accounts to non-interest-bearing accounts. Our analysis confirms a significant shift towards offering interest only on longer term deposits and eliminating any interest offerings on current accounts. This shift is most evident among tier 3 banks where interest bearing accounts dropped precipitously to nearly zero percent of portfolio in response to the interest rate caps, down from a previous average of 36%. These changes in deposit composition are indicative of the banking sector’s preference for maintaining their interest margins.

Overall, our analysis suggests that the interest rate caps had important and unintended consequences in the Kenyan economy. There are several policy alternatives that can both protect borrowers from excessive interest rates and limit the negative consequences of interest rate caps. These include wider adoption of credit scoring through credit bureaus so banks can differentiate lenders based on risk; more efficient loan foreclosure procedures and movable collateral registries; and greater emphasis on strengthening consumer protection measures through debt counseling and streamlined redressal mechanisms.

The World Bank is already engaged with the Kenyan authorities on several of these alternative measures. With more data that becomes available, we’ll be sure to analyze these policies in detail and report back here with our results!

1 See, for example: Ferrari, Aurora, Oliver Masetti, and Jiemin Ren. 2017. “Recent Trends in the Use of Interest Rate Caps.” December 2017, The World Bank. 

2 Safavian, Mehnaz, and Bilal Zia. 2018. "The Impact of Interest Rate Caps on the Financial Sector: Evidence from Commercial Banks in Kenya,World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 8393, April 2018.


Bilal Zia

Senior Economist, DECRG

Mehnaz Safavian

Lead Financial Sector Specialist

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