A few weeks ago, Watu Africa was trending for all the wrong reasons. Asaad, a Watu Africa client, expressed on Twitter how the asset financing company had “stolen” the motorcycle he had worked so hard to pay off. His is not the only story of motorcycles lost just after the loan was fully repaid. And as the old adage goes, where there is smoke, there is fire.
I reached out to Watu Africa and sat down with Erick Massawe, the country manager, to hear their side of the story and their response to these serious allegations.
“Motorcycle theft is a big problem in the industry. It’s not a big problem for Watu. This is an industry-wide problem,” Massawe said. “There are 2.4 million motorcycles in Kenya according to NTSA. If you factor in the number of loans that we have given in Kenya, probably around three to four out of every ten motorcycles in Kenya have been financed by Watu. This means that out of ten motorcycles that are being stolen in Kenya, four of them are owned and operated by Watu. This is why you hear about Watu more often, it is because of our contribution to the industry and market share.”
Listen to the Full interview on Techspace Africa: The Podcast
When asked why these cases of Watu stealing bikes which had just been fully repaid were so rampant, Massawe rubbished the claims. “The majority of bikes reported stolen are new bikes. New bikes are the ones that are being targeted, mostly because spare parts can easily be sold as new. So it is simply not true that the majority of the bikes that have been stolen from us are used bikes. In most cases, customers finish paying for their loans in one year, sometimes up to two years. So you can imagine a boda boda that has been in use for a year or two. It’s no longer in very good condition compared to the new one. So we see targeted attacks for the new bikes as opposed to used bikes.”
When asked whether any of Watu’s employees could be acting on their own to pull the thefts off, Watu insists this can’t happen. “We have a lot of controls in place to make sure that does not happen. And if we have evidence that that has happened, we will take very, very aggressive actions against that. We have a lot of internal controls to make sure that everyone who is involved in asset security, emergency, and GPS cannot collude. So we have a lot of internal control in place to make sure that that is literally impossible. But we’re also open if someone comes to us with watertight evidence that Watu staff is doing an inside job to steal from our customers. We’re more than happy to listen to that, investigate, and take action.”
According to Watu, despite this being an industry problem, the company has only had 24,000 cases of stolen motorcycles, with a 55% recovery rate.
“55% of 24,000 bikes is about 13,000 assets recovered. While this percentage can go higher, the reality of it is, we have customers that are not working with us in good faith. And we have examples of cases where we call it self-theft. Where a customer comes back and reports to us that my bike has been stolen. We do our investigation and we realize that this bike has been hidden in the customer’s house.” Massawe states.
“We also have cartels of professional thieves who have established a black market. So they will steal a bike, disassemble it very quickly, and sell every part as an individual part through the black market. Yes, we can trace the bike but we will not be able to trace every individual component. And this is such a big problem for the industry. And this is why I say it’s not a Watu problem because there’s even an established black market that Watu alone can’t crack.”
While speaking on Asaad’s case, Massawe says this is not the first time they have dealt with the client. They have in the past recovered his bike for him in Siaya. He says the client refused to follow the process and decided to drive his own agenda. “This was something that was within the control of the customer because if the customer does not issue a statement, the police cannot proceed with the investigation. And if the police cannot proceed with the investigation, even the data that we have becomes useless.”
Massawe argues that despite the bad light the company has faced, Watu Africa is an entrepreneur’s dream. So far, Watu has loaned assets to 600,000 customers, impacting the lives of 3 million people. Of these, 400,000 customers own these assets. Watu Africa has also received 10,000 insurance claims and so far over 4000 have been settled.