How Kenyan banker Peter Nyakiamo made it to the top

September 5, 2013
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Nyakiamo was the first African to be appointed a bank branch manager in Kenya, in 1964/MUTHONI NJUKI
Nyakiamo was the first African to be appointed a bank branch manager in Kenya, in 1964/MUTHONI NJUKI
NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 4 – Many Kenyans may have nothing to write home about, 50 years after the country gained its self rule from the British colonialists.

High costs of living, poverty, insecurity; name them. We still have numerous challenges facing the country. But 86-year-old ex- banker Peter Nyakiamo has something to celebrate; the growth and changes in the banking sector.

Nyakiamo was the first African to be appointed a bank branch manager in Kenya, in 1964.

“At the moment, we are very, very much ahead. You cannot compare the tempo of the banking sector now and the one in 1947 when I joined Barclays Bank as a clerk. First, there was no ICT. I hope you know what I mean; the ledgers were all hand written. We only had few adding machines,” Nyakiamo tells me during an interview in his office at the National Fund for Disabled of Kenya, Rehema House in Nairobi. He is one of the trustees.

“Can you imagine balancing the books manually? It was so mind-numbing. Up-to-date, I still do my small mathematics by hand, I never use calculators. At one occasion, while in Kisii branch, a customer had cashed a voucher in Kericho and he did not have money in his account. I had to take a Land Rover, driver and police and go to Kilgoris to follow him, because we had to balance our books. The rest had to be locked up until I came back. Nowadays everything is computerised and makes it easier to serve customers. But I think it taught us discipline and how to avoid being in debt.

Very few Africans were allowed to take a loan. I remember there was a law against Africans taking a loan of over Sh2,000. That has changed. What I like about it is that business is expanding; banking has been opened to allow anybody who is able to do business to be assisted. Banking now is really what I would call an engine in our economy. Without the bank, without the name ‘loan’, business cannot grow.”

Nyakiamo cleared his secondary education with a Cambridge School Certificate at Mang’u High School (then Holy Ghost College Mang’u) in 1946 and joined Barclays Bank Dominion and Colonial, (currently Barclays Bank Kenya) as a junior clerk in March 1947.

When he joined the bank there were only three clerical officers who were Africans. The rest were Europeans, Asians and a few Arabs.

“At that particular time, we were put in classes as bank’s staff. A European, an Asian, Arab and the lowest, an African. But that did not stop me from going to the top,” Nyakiamo says.

“Although the Asians were the majority, they were good to me and to my friends too. They used to teach us. What I used to do, when I finish my daily tasks, I would go to the next department, ready to be taught, even if it meant being sent as a messenger, but to make sure I learnt something new which was not in my department,” he explains to me.

His craving for more knowledge and skills made him move from one department to the other within the bank. After working for ten years, he was taken to England for managerial training, in 1957. The training earned him his first managerial position as the assistant manager at Bungoma branch.

“I was number two from the top manager but I was still called an accountant. The branch manager would handle lending and other things, but as his deputy; I would run the office, manage the staff and balancing the books. In 1959, I was posted in the same position at Kisii branch where I served until 1962 before I was brought to Queensway branch in Nairobi and appointed as the sub manager which was the highest position in the bank as an African.

Towards the end of 1962, when the fight for independence was at its height, I was taken back to England for further training. When I came back I was made a branch manager at Kenyatta Avenue in 1964. In the same year, I was again moved to the head office which was at Government Road, (currently Moi Avenue) as an assistant to Executive local directors of the bank. This was now a higher position. There, I was sitting with other senior people in the board, not as a board member, but to learn how the board works and how to answer things. This opened another door where I was later made a General Manager, overseeing Barclays Bank in Kenya.”

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