Graham WRIGHT opened his keynote speech by illustrating the impact of technology in financial inclusion. He noted that more than 97% of Equity Bank’s transactions in Kenya today are conducted outside their branches, and more than 70% are self-initiated by clients from their mobile phones. Wright described that this has a great impact on the cost of transactions; the IFC calculates that costs to customers are reduced by 80%.
Wright then highlighted four significant opportunities associated with digital transformation in microfinance: 1) It can significantly increase revenues and reduce costs; 2) MFIs can leverage a long history of relationship banking to create real competitive advantage; 3) It creates the opportunity for MFIs to provide personalised user experience; and 4) It links microfinance services to the real world economy.
He continued by also naming the three main threats brought about by digital transformation: 1) The outdated and inflexible model of the traditional MFI is ripe for disruption by more nimble FinTechs; 2) The explosion of digital consumer credit which is expanding into MFIs’ market; and 3) The emerging digital divide which means that FinTechs will serve more affluent customers and MFIs will be left serving the less well off, more remote customers.
Wright then encouraged MFIs to embrace digital transformation and leverage relationships. He emphasised that MFIs must harness the potential of their experience and legacy to work with FinTechs in delivering personalised digitally-enabled services. Furthermore, they should work with their staff and agents to ensure that their services include the human component that their clients still need and desire. In Wright’s words: ‘digitise or die’.
Gera VOORRIPS opened the plenary discussion by bringing attention to the alarming note in Wright’s keynote speech, and emphasised that the digital divide has been leaving mainly the rural areas and poor customers behind. On this point, she affirmed that the 2018 finalists of the European Microfinance Award are examples of how technology has been optimised to impact users in these areas.
Karlygash RAIKHANOVA provided a short introduction to KMF, the leading MFI in Kazakhstan. She explained that, because Kazakhstan is a huge country (9th in the world), 30% of loan officers’ time is spent in travelling. To tackle this issue, KMF developed in-house the mobile expert app, which helps loan officers to manage their schedule, collect data on loan applications, consult the credit bureau and obtain the results of the credit committee’s decision, as well as to monitor clients. As a result of the use of this app, productivity of loan officers has increased by 22%, while operational efficiency grew by 19%. The MFI’s coverage radius was expanded from 25 to 100 km, and the loan application period was shortened significantly.
Albert SIÉ DAH introduced the work of Advans Côte d’Ivoire, set up in 2012 and currently serving 110,000 customers across Ivory Coast. He explained that Ivory Coast is the main producer of cocoa beans worldwide and has around 1 million cocoa farmers often in remote rural areas and with no access to bank accounts. He highlighted that 40% of the Ivorian population remains unbanked. In contrast, 86% of the cocoa farmers Advans CI work with use a mobile phone. Sié Dah explained that Advans Côte d’Ivoire’s Branchless solution used this channel to give 14,000 farmers access to financial services in partnership with the existing farmers’ cooperatives. He further elaborated that the mobile banking service is available on a simple, “quick code”, Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) menu containing a current and savings account and other financial services such as access to digital school loans, wallet to bank and bank to wallet transfer service in partnership with MTN. Sié Dah also explained that an important element in Advans’ digital solution was the trust building exercise between the financial inclusion team and farmers, as well as the coaching of farmers.
Paul Thomas KADAMBELIL revealed how ESAF Small Finance Bank is leveraging the rapid expansion of mobile phone and smartphone penetration in India to digitise a wide range of its lending processes. He emphasised that India is a competitive market, and that customers have several options; in this landscape, digitalisation is a must to remain competitive and to reach untouched clients in rural areas. One of ESAF’s main innovations in this respect was the introduction of tablets to loan officers. Kadambelil explained that the tablet has several uses, one of the main ones being capturing client information and validation through an iris-scan. He added that the tablets made servicing and monitoring clients much easier. To facilitate convenient banking, ESAF introduced the ESAF debit cards for all clients which can be used at various points for transactions: at an agent point, at an ATM and at a POS machine. He then highlighted a few impact figures such as an increase of 59% in productivity, a growth of borrowers from 1 million to 2.5 million, a portfolio increase from USD 315 million to USD 636 million and 2.7 million new savings bank accounts.
Following the presentation of the finalists, Lisa CHASSIN helped the audience understand the different models and toolkits available to MFIs to go digital. She explained that, in the first two models, mobile can be offered as a service where MFIs can either use digital field applications (DFA) or act as agents to digital financial service providers. Chassin also commented that MFIs can work through agency banking, where they can either partner up with a digital financial service provider, or build their own agency network. The most complex models are those where MFIs create their own mobile banking channel or use hybrid models from several models to serve their customers. She emphasised that these models are non-exclusive, and their application has to be tailor-made to each MFI so as to suit its specific objectives and resources. Chassin also encouraged MFIs to assess the models based on real market needs.
Voorrips closed the session by urging MFIs not to be complacent with digital transformation in microfinance, and advised MFIs to implement actions which are important for them, according to their structure and capacities, as well as what is best for their clients. She encouraged the audience to attend the many European Microfinance Week sessions offering different ideas for MFIs and investors on digital transformation.