Currently, the off-grid solar industry serves more than 420 million people globally. The PAYGo model has certainly been a game-changer for the off-grid solar industry. However, the model introduces financial, product, and service risks for consumers and companies. Over the last years, the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association (GOGLA), a global association for the off-grid solar energy industry, has been leading the development of the Consumer Protection Code to enhance standards of practice within the off-grid solar sector. The main aim of the Customer Protection Code (CP Code) is to help companies map and monitor these risks. The CP Code consists of a set of principles, indicators, and a self-assessment framework. As a part of its development, the next step is the development and piloting of a third-party assessment to provide companies (and investors) for independent evaluation of performance against the already defined Principles and indicators.
During this panel session, Drew CORBYN, Head of Performance & Investment at GOGLA introduced the Customer Protection Framework for the off-grid energy sector and invited several panellists to share their opinions on its current development. For Greenlight Planet Inc., the largest provider of solar-powered home energy products in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, the CP code has been well received as it provides an opportunity to improve the customer experience of their customers.
According to Sarah MIJABI, VP of Risk at Green Light Planet, the CP Code is bringing a different perspective to their business. The code helped her company understand how they are treating their customers and how their journey is affected by all processes and procedures. In addition to that, the consumer protection code also touches on aspects related to data protection which will help the company to be better prepared for the upcoming regulations on this matter. As customers with higher satisfaction rates show a high payment rate, the benefits of adopting both the CP Code and the self-assessment tool are very clear at the company level. Finally, she stressed that the tool has helped to watch certain principles such as over-indebtedness more closely.
As shared by Alex KANYONGA, they are mainly working with the CP Code when it comes to the relationship with their investees. Potential investees are required to follow all the principles in the code. Among the principles that are more sensible for Lions Head, data protection certainly stands out. However, from an investment and asset management perspective, the self-assessment tool potential is still limited as is only a self-scored tool. This has made the third-party assessment especially relevant, as it will grant the tool greater legitimacy through independent and objective data.
After Mr. Kanyonga’s feedback on the self-assessment tool, Lucia SPAGGIARI, Innovation Director of MFR proceeded to share her views. From the perspective of MFR, a private and independent international rating agency specialized in inclusive finance, the development of the CP Code is a great sign of industry alignment and comes quite early in the process, when compared to the microfinance industry. As a partner of GOGLA, MFR sees several strengths and areas of improvement for the Third-party assessment. Among the main strengths of the CP Code, transparency, product quality, and fair & respectful treatment stand out. On the other hand, governance and management, responsible sales/pricing, and personal data privacy remain areas of improvement.
After the exchange on the impressions about the CP code, Corbyn stressed the difficulty of working with a rural agent-based model that achieves both the impact and customer experience that is desired. He then asked Mijabi how Greenlight Planet is achieving that balance.
According to Mijabi, the agent selection process is key. Green Light Planet's recruiting process involves meeting several selection criteria, and thorough training including the CP Code with the do’s and don’ts concerning how to treat customers. In addition to this, a centralised monitoring process of the trainings has also been of great use to keep the knowledge of their agents updated. Based on another participants’ question, Mijabi also clarified that when they address the relevance of data protection at Greenlight Planet, they are looking at how data collection processes are affecting the privacy of their customers, and how to avoid data privacy issues.
Corbyn then also asked Kanyonga which consumer risks are the most pressing in the Lions Head perspective. Mr. Kanyonga stressed that picking one risk is a hard decision. Fair pricing is very close to them as a key component of their mission is access to energy. For energy access, fair pricing is key. In addition to fair pricing, and agreeing with Mijabi, data protection and privacy are key. Currently, data protection has become a very important topic in Kenya, as thousands of data points are being created and shared daily.
The results speak for themselves. When customers are treated well, there is a good repayment rate, which then translates into good financial performance and therefore good return on investments. The more investors will embrace and work with developments such as the CP Code, the better, as it will come back as a good return on their investments.