GB and I were at a bar in Kilimani last Friday. We’d met earlier in the evening to set our annual goals. It took us about two hours to cover all the ground we needed to.
Now, here we were, amped and slightly buzzed with the energy that comes with completing a necessary yet onerous task. Like getting waxed. Or getting your teeth cleaned.
We had a few hours to kill before we headed back to home. He suggested we knock back some drinks. I was game.
(Yeah, you read that right. GB and I are one of those couples who set goals at the beginning of the year – together – then take stock quarterly, sometimes biannually. I document the goals and share them with him in a Google Word document. All this was my idea, of course. Now he’s warmed up to it. He takes it more seriously than I do. It’s a good thing to set goals, better yet to set them as a couple. It becomes another avenue to bond and grow together. This will come as giving away too much, but we also set bedroom goals. Ha-ha. Ahem.)
Anyway, it was around 10.30pm; GB said his two friends would join us soon. I sipped my whiskey between pursed lips. Saturday mornings are early mornings for me – 5am early. Plus, I was already dozing off at the table. I was chatting with my eyes half shut and didn’t even realise it. I remember Burna Boy’s ‘On The Low’ playing when GB poked me painfully in the ribs and told me to stop sleeping. I stuck my tongue out at him.
So the two friends join us, and after introductions and brief niceties, the lady says she’s from a table banking meeting.
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I’d heard of table banking before but I’d never thought much about it. I imagined it as a chama, that members save money and invest as a group, sharing the returns amongst themselves or ploughing it back for reinvestment and growth.
I was wrong. I knew nothing.
I ask Shiro almost dismissively, like some pompous know-it-all: “But si table banking is chama?”
She shakes her head. “No.”
“Then it’s like what, a merry-go-round?”
“Oh hell no!” she says out aloud, almost falling off her seat. She sips the Guinness from her beer glass then says: “Merry-go-rounds are the most useless thing. Nobody grows. You gain nothing from being in one. It’s like moving money from the right pocket this month. Table banking is that thing for Rachel Ruto, Deputy President’s wife. It was made for women. Started around 1999/2000. We call it TB.”
GB is sitting up straighter in his seat. “Table banking originated in Bangladesh,” he says.
“I think so,” Shiro says. “TB is about saving and borrowing. Everyone in the meeting puts their money on the table, whatever they have – loans, repayments, interest – then everyone says how much they need to borrow from what’s on the table.”
“At what rate?” I ask.
“10% for three months. And we guarantee each other. Like in a sacco. So I’ll guarantee you and you’ll guarantee me. If I don’t pay, then it’s the guarantors who have to pay up, just like in a sacco. But for really big loans, there has to be security. Log books, title deeds… I own a shamba in Narok because one of the guys I’d guaranteed didn’t pay.”
“That means I have to have been saving with you for a while to borrow?”
“Yeah, Bett. We have proper books to keep track of activity. Everything that goes on the table has to be recorded, who’s borrowed what, when are they supposed to pay, how much, when they joined… That meeting can’t end until everyone has seen the records and made sure they’re accurate.”
“What if the money on the table isn’t enough?”
“Then some people won’t get,” says Shiro. “Everything is on first-come-first-served basis. Actually there are so many meetings where people don’t get the money they want. Today we had more than Sh1.5 million and it wasn’t enough. And,” she pauses to catch her breath, “you can’t borrow if you aren’t present in the meeting – as in, you can’t appoint a proxy to borrow for you. I tried that once and nobody would listen to me. Now I know the rules. We also have penalties for non-attendance or showing up late.”
“That’s a lot of money to have on a table?” I say, taken aback. I was once doing some cash business for my chama and I had to withdraw about the same over the counter. It’s plenty. And it’s heavy.
“It is! We used to meet in public restaurants but the money became too much, now we meet somewhere more private and more secure. Like today we’ve met at my office.”
USE MONEY TO MAKE MONEY
Shiro takes a large swig from her beer glass. The DJ is playing Davido now. I don’t know how Davido made it into 2019. The bar is filling up steadily with a mature crowd, you can’t tell it’s Njaa-nuary.Shiro adds, “Sometimes nobody wants to borrow, so we do force borrowing. Wewe chukua Sh50,000, wewe Sh100,000. Force borrowing isn’t good but it has to be done. All that money on the table must go.”
GB jumps into the conversation, “You guys are like shylocks? ‘Cause you’re lending to each other instead of having guys go to the banks or to saccos. You’re actually a financial institution, you’re like a bank. Is that the plan for TB, to replace banks?”
Shiro bobs her head. “Something like that. But really it’s just for people to have money. Most of the guys in TB run biasharas and need capital. That’s how they’re able to pay back the money, from their biasharas.”
“How long have you been in your TB?” I ask. All sleep has disappeared from my eyes now.
“I’ve done TB for five years.” She adds amidst chuckles, “I’m in 15 TBs.”
Shiro nods and chuckles. “Now is when I’ve started to make good money. This year kwanza, is going to be a good year for me. A very good year.”
“And how is the money made?” GB asks. “’Cause you are borrowing from your own interest, everyone is, so that means the money keeps floating around. Borrow and return. Borrow and return. How do you make money?”
“You buy shares when you’re joining a TB. So you’ll find this TB says a share in Sh10,000, another one says it’s Sh30,000. Like that, like that. And you can buy as many shares are they’re floating. At the end of the year, profits are shared based on the number of shares you have.”
GB and I are silent as we digest the information.
“What most people do is that you borrow from this TB, table it at the another TB then you borrow from it, table this at the next one… like that. You can only make money if you yourself have been borrowing, so you must have money to make money. You get? There are some women who do TB fulltime, yaani they don’t have other jobs, it’s just TB. Ha-ha. Other times you find members within a TB forming their own TB. That’s how I’ve ended up being in 15,” Shiro adds.
“15 TB means 15 meetings?”
Shiro chortles. “Imagine that. There’s a week in my calendar where it’s marked ‘TB’ ‘TB’ ‘TB’. Even my husband and my house help and children know about those weeks. Ha-ha. They know I must attend; I can’t miss it for anything.”
I’m a curious soul. And a slightly greedy one at that. Maybe impulsive.
I’m looking at my annual goals and thinking about slotting ‘join TB’ into the section under ‘Finances’.
Will I be taking things too far?