“Legacy is not leaving something for people. It’s leaving something in people.”
– Peter Strople, business strategist.
Up to 2000, banking in Kenya was an exclusive service available only to the cream of society; the rich, employed, or serious businessmen who could afford the tidy sum that banks withheld as deposits.
The arcane intricacies of banking were a reserve of the few. However, a building society founded by Peter Munga in Kangema, Murang’a County, in 1984 would soon change the face of banking in Kenya and Africa, for better and permanently. But the dreams almost did not take off.
Today, Equity Bank Limited is one of the most visible brands in the country, a cross-border corporate juggernaut.
Think of the financial empowerment, improved mobile wallet transactions, and the brimming equity branches around the country and across East Africa, that have positively impacted lives through initiatives in education, climate change and sustainability agriculture, local market development, and entrepreneurial innovations. All this boils down to one man: Dr. Peter Munga, the founder and former chairman of Equity Bank. To understand the story of Equity Bank, we must first tell the story of the man behind it.
The year is 1943. In Nyagatugu village on the slopes of Aberdare Mountains in Kangema division, Murang’a County, a son was born to Mr. Benson Kahura and Beth Nyambura. The son is Peter Kahara Munga.
With a peasant father and a mother working in plantations, Peter Kahara Munga grew up in a humble family, herding his neighbor’s cattle without knowing how his life would pan out.
He began school at Nyagatugu Primary School during the post-war period. He later moved to St Peter’s Clavers school in Nairobi when his father opened a hotel in Gikomba Market.
His hopes for a better future through education took a sudden break when his father got jailed in 1952, and he had to drop out of school and move back to the village with his mother.
This misfortune later turned out to be a blessing in disguise. In the village, Peter’s love for education piqued the attention of an Italian Catholic priest who offered him a scholarship, enabling him to join Tuuthu primary school in class 4 before moving to Kiangunyi where he sat for his CPE. In 1965, Peter sat his Cambridge A-level exams.
Charting His Path
Peter started in the mid-1960s as an officer in the provincial administration. Armed with a Diploma in Human Resource and another in Public Finance and Planning from Havard, he dreamt of fighting poverty, to live a better life than the one he grew up in. And he wanted to extend this to those around him. To do this, people needed resources.
With only Sh 5,000 as capital, he founded Equity Building Society (EBS) as a microfinance institution in Kangema Town with just five employees. The idea was to provide financial services to the low-income people in his village.
To attend to his ‘first child’ Munga resigned as an assistant secretary from the Ministry of Water to focus on his brainchild. He invested heavily in the business to ensure steady growth and create a positive turnaround in financial services for the people.
The Hard Times
Like every startup, EBS had its teething problems. By the early 1990s, competition was fierce. In 1993, their loans and advances had increased to over 5 million. About 54% of the loans were nonperforming. It was later declared insolvent by the Central Bank of Kenya after the Ministry of Water sued them for Liquidation.
This was despite the impact the society had on the people of Kangema. Munga was not ready to see his dream die down so soon. He pleaded for more time to turn around society’s fortunes. He would then hire a 31-year-old James Mwangi initially to help shut down the operations of the society, but Mwangi would instead engineer one of the fabled comebacks.
As mainstream banks concentrated in major towns, Munga and Mwangi would move the opposite directions, deep into the villages as they worked to be the bank of ordinary people. In the 2000s, their “Mimi ni Member” advert went viral, becoming a rallying cry for them as the common person’s bank of choice. Where other banks shut their doors to mama mbogas, boda boda operators, and jua kali artisans, Equity opened their doors, wide open.
From the Ground to ‘The Peoples Bank’
In 2004, the Equity Building Society became the Equity Bank Group. As chairman, Munga worked hand in hand with Mwangi, with whom he shared the same dream. They both grew up in poverty and wanted to change their lives and communities’ fate.
2006, Equity Bank Group was listed on the Nairobi Stock Exchange and later on the Uganda Security Exchange in 2009. And the bank will spread its wings to Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, and South Sudan.
Munga’s brainchild has been recognized as the top-banking Superbrand in East Africa for the 13th consecutive year. The Banker Awards also recognized it as the best commercial bank in Kenya and East Africa and the most innovative bank in Kenya. With over 190 branches in Kenya (52 in Nairobi alone), Equity continues to expand in more African countries, carrying with it the legacy of Peter Munga.
Leaving a Lasting Legacy
Munga’s impact on Kenya’s financial industry cannot be overstated. Through Equity Bank, Munga has been able to reach communities in Kenya and beyond, helping those in need and impacting people through initiatives like:
1. Education and Leadership projects
• Wings to Fly Initiative that offers students from low-income backgrounds scholarships, with the hope of building the next generation of leaders.
• The Equity Leadership Program equips talented secondary graduates with leadership skills to succeed in the competitive market through internships, personal development, global exposure, and innovation channels.
2. Financial Literacy inclusion
Equity has connected youth, women, and the community to financial experts and training.
3. Entrepreneurship and Innovation
Equity has spearheaded new ideas, experimentations, and innovative solutions that continue to impact communities.
4. Health and Environment
Through Equity Afia, the bank promotes easy accessibility to quality health services for low-income and middle-class people through better health insurance and renewable energy technologies.
Equity offers financial services and markets to SMEs that help to create jobs, increase farm incomes, and support livelihoods.
Munga retired as the chairman of the group after 35 years at the helm. He was 75 at the time of his retirement. And now at 81, he can look back on his brainchild with pride. And when we build the Banking Hall of Fame, his name will feature among the pioneers.
Munga is married to Rose Njambi and is a father of seven children, five boys and two girls.
Equity Group Holdings
University of Nairobi Academics Citation