Counting the Psychological and Financial Cost of Safaricom’s Fuliza

When KES 3000 in overdrawn funds costs KES 36 per day, debt can quickly spiral.


Data from operator Safaricom reveals that millions of Kenyans are using its overdraft facility, Fuliza.

Introduced back in 2019, the facility has grown substantially and is now part and parcel of the carrier’s leading moneymakers.

Fuliza is owned by the operator alongside NCBA and KCB, and part of its success can be traced to the power Safaricom commands in the mobile money space, and the overall number of customers it serves in the country.

Specifically, Safaricom’s market share is at 64 percent as of September 2021. Its service, M-PESA, has 34 million active registered subscribers, which cannibalized T-Kash’s and Airtel Money’s 249K and 277K, respectively.  

Its last financial announcement (six months ended on September 2021) revealed how big the facility has become: it disbursed KES 242.6 billion, a 62.4 percent jump YoY; the value of repayment stood at KES 240.2 billion, making repayment versus disbursement rate hit 99%; and it made a KES 2.8 billion in profit over that period.

As of September 2021, Fuliza has 1.7 million daily users, who take an average of KES 375.

Counting the costs of Fuliza

It is obvious now that there are millions of Kenyans who have ended up using Fuliza based on the numbers stated above.

And there are many reasons for this.

Primarily, it is easy to access the service, and it just works, and bearing in mind that the majority of Kenyans are financially struggling, it makes sense why the facility comes in handy.

A bill higher than they expected, no access to a bank, or late pay – all these things can push M-PESA customers to use Fuliza unexpectedly (although you have to sign up for you to actually use it).

Then there is the issue of general life struggles.

Experiencing mental issues health concerns can make it even easier to use Fuliza – because cumulative health concerns can make managing money more difficult than usual.

Let’s also not forget that carelessness has led to people overusing the facility. This entails poor money planning and increased impulsivity that leads to spending getting out of control.

And the outcome is apparent.

Most people continue to be appalled by the charges that arise from a simple mistake. For instance, if you dig deeper into your overdraft, the interest fees can be high.

And if your life is in disarray as a whole, the charges can be even harder to manage, meaning you will be trapped in Fuliza (paying for the facility, and then drawing it to meet other needs in an endless loop).

It can be punishing too, bearing in mind Fuliza terms and conditions have since been revised. Now, customers have a maximum of thirty days to service their overdraft else the operator will extend its arm, including sourcing funds from a defaulter’s M-Shwari or their KCB/NCBA bank accounts to cover the facility.

Band (KES)Tariff (per day)Promotional Tariff for 30 days from launch
0-100KES 2.4One-time fee of KES 0
101-500KES 6
501-1000KES 12
1001-1500KES 26
1501-2500KES 30
2501-70000KES 36

And let’s not forget about the psychological costs.

Fuliza fees have a psychological cost, as well as a financial one. In most cases, the complexity of Fuliza charges (daily interest), as well as the facility’s working model is based on how much a person borrows (refer to the table above).

This makes it difficult for some people to understand why they are paying a premium in interest.

When KES 3000 in overdrawn funds costs KES 36 per day, debt can quickly spiral.

This, in the end, makes some users feel trapped.

Overall, we need to be aware of the limitations associated with Fuliza. Safaricom could do more, like identify customers who are struggling financially.

However, when this is an outcome of broader issues such as a financially struggling population, there is a limit to what Safaricom and its partners can do to help.

But let’s not forget that wider system changes are needed to make people see the essence of the facility and not another product that is structurally built to fleece them.

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Kenn Abuya is a friend of technology, with bias in enterprise and mobile tech. Share your thoughts, tips and hate mail at [email protected]