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Broke Kenyans redeem Sh131m Bonga Points to buy household goods

Cash-starved Kenyans have redeemed Sh131 million from Safaricom’s customer loyalty awards scheme, mainly for household shopping, over the past three weeks, new data shows, an indication of the liquidity challenges facing many families in the wake of economic disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Safaricom said 60 percent of payment redemptions made under its one-month Bonga For Good offer took place at supermarket tills — a sign that many households have run low on cash due to lost or impaired earnings and are turning to other purchase options.

The firm’s customer loyalty scheme has been in existence since 2007 and customers have used it over the years to redeem accumulated points for airtime, data bundles and to buy mobile devices.

“This initiative is to empower Kenyans to use the savings they have been making by using Safaricom products over the years to meet their needs to pay for their essentials or donate to the most vulnerable in the society,” Safaricom CEO Peter Ndegwa said.

The Bonga For Good initiative was launched on April 3 as a 30-day package where users could redeem Bonga Points at the telco’s merchants at one point for Sh30 cents.

Statistics show that more than 10,500 customers have used the facility daily since its launch, translating to a daily redemption of 26 million Bonga Points worth Sh7.8 million.

Safaricom customers hold Sh14.7 billion in Bonga Points but most of it – 84 percent – is held by high value customers with the remaining portion being shared by 67 percent of its customer base.

While the richer customers are less likely to face economic duress during the Covid-19 pandemic, Safaricom urged them to donate Bonga Points to fellow citizens who are vulnerable to economic shocks caused by the viral disease.

However, as at Friday and with a week left to the end of the offer, there was visible inequality between economic classes in the wake of the pandemic.

Whilst the higher value customers left their haul of Bonga Points untouched, the low-end users rushed to redeem their points – firming a trend from last year where many Kenyans opted for the scheme to help deal with the effects of harsh economic times.

The value of unclaimed Bonga Points dropped from Sh4.04 billion to Sh3.85 billion in the year to March 2019, pointing to increased redeeming by customers.

This was the first time since 2016 for the value of revenue tied up in Bonga Points to drop, with Safaricom attributing the decline on aggressive marketing of ‘Bonga everywhere’, which now allows customers to redeem points for air tickets, shopping, fuelling cars and even paying education loans.

The points are accounted for as a liability or deferred income in the telco’s books and only recognised as revenue once they are redeemed by customers for airtime, SMS, merchandise or shopping. Management also recognises revenue on the remaining loyalty points for the churned SIM-cards.

With the ongoing economic disruption due to the Covid-19 pandemic, more Kenyans are likely to continue tapping the Bonga points scheme to cover for their depleting cash reserves.

President Uhuru Kenyatta at the weekend extended the nationwide 7 pm to 5 am curfew by another 21 days, saying a decision to escalate or de-escalate the restrictions would be based on scientific and medical advice and how vulnerable the country is to large-scale infection.

The impact of the coronavirus shutdown has hit low-income earners hardest, especially those who relied on temporary jobs or operated small businesses.

The closure of hotels and restaurants, the ban on markets and restriction of movement in major towns has seen many workers lose their incomes and struggle to cope.

Struggling companies have laid off casual workers, small businesses have closed while a large population that supported urban demand for menial jobs is staying at home.

To lessen the burden, Mr Kenyatta announced that the government had identified needy households in Nairobi who would receive the weekly Covid-19 stipend. He said piloting of the project had already kicked off and some of the initial beneficiaries had already received the funds.

The government has also announced Sh9 billion shillings through the Inua Jamii programme that targets orphans, the elderly and other vulnerable groups in the country.

President Kenyatta at the weekend also signed a new law which will see those earning below Sh24,000 exempted from tax as part of efforts to cushion workers from the hard knocks of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant restrictions on movement and economic activities. Value added tax (VAT) rate on goods was also cut to 14 percent from 16 percent to help protect the vast majority of people on low incomes through lower prices of essential goods.

Mr Kenyatta further announced that the government would also roll out the National Hygiene Programme tomorrow, an initiative that will help create a healthier environment as well as new jobs jobs, with the first phase employing 26,148 workers over 30 days and more than 100,000 youths progressively.

Further, most State agencies have cut back on non-essential projects and items such as travel and allowances in a bid to ease pressure on the public budget.