First Community makes U-turn on limiting withdrawals to Sh10,000 as crisis looms

First Community Bank has made a U-turn on a statement they issued early Tuesday admitting limits had been placed on cheque clearance and withdrawals following an advisory from the regulator to try and calm customers and stem a bank run.

In the retracted statement, the lender said it is working with stakeholders including the regulator to resolve the crisis that threatens to collapse the fourth blender under Central bank of Kenya Governor Patrick Njoroge’s tenure.

The bank customers who lined up to withdraw their cash said the bank is only cashing withdrawals of less than Sh10,000 a day and has placed curbs on cheque clearance.

“We acknowledge that our customers may currently be experiencing challenges in some of their transactions occasioned by panic withdrawals informed by malicious rumors,” the bank said.

“These unprecedented withdrawals have caused a strain on our daily operations, necessitating the Bank under the guidance of the regulator to limit some services. We are working very closely with all our stakeholders to ensure that we continue to offer good and reliable Shari’ah-compliant banking services to Kenyans.”

The bank customers who lined up to draw their cash claimed the bank is only cashing withdrawals of less than Sh10,000 a day and has placed curbs on cheque clearance.

A bank run occurs when large groups of depositors withdraw their money from banks simultaneously based on fears that the institution will become insolvent.

The small tier lender with 0.38 percent market share that ranks 27 among Kenya’s 39 banks had Sh21.5 billion in deposits according to the December 2021 audited reports.

The Bank has assets of up to Sh24.7 billion but Sh17.2 billion or 70 percent of the assets are locked in loans meaning if all customers come for their funds the bank would collapse.

Kenyan regulators would be keen to act to stem the lenders’ demise and avoid contagion akin to what was seen in 2015 when three lenders collapsed within nine months.

Dubai Bank was placed under receivership in August 2015, followed by Imperial Bank in October of the same year and Chase Bank in April 2016.

The shock collapses saw the regulator step up support for ailing banks while midwifing deals between weak lenders and stronger peers to avoid a repeat of the crash.

Equity Bank recently signed a deal to take over bank accounts of Spire Bank, Cooperative Bank bought struggling Jamii Bora bank and converted it to Kingdom Bank, KCB Group bought National Bank (NBK), while Mayfair was bought by Egyptian Commercial International Bank.

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