At the click of a button
Collection agents are preparing for a village savings and loan association (VSLA) meeting at an office of the Coopérative Autonome pour le Renforcement des Initiatives Économiques par la Microfinance (CAURIE-MF – Independent Credit Union for the Reinforcement of Economic Initiatives by Microfinance). A typical VSLA meeting gathers 30 to 100 women who are self-selected from community-based organizations. The women benefit from micro-credit and savings products that incorporate participatory management and joint guarantees and that work through solidarity groups.
Preparations for this meeting are remarkable because they barely last 10 minutes. The agents, armed with tablets, connect to the institution’s server to extract and download the data they need for the day’s collection, so that they can access the data without an Internet connection. They are a long way from the days when agents had to arrive the day before a meeting, set themselves up in the filing room to find the folder for the group they were visiting, locate the latest meeting report and print off reams of forms to complete while they were in the field.
The United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) programme Mobile Money for the Poor (MM4P) is supporting CAURIE-MF in its digital finance project by purchasing 40 tablets with an appropriate mobile app and by providing technical support for their implementation. Life is simpler for the collection agents in the field, and the VSLAs are forging a new path. In the village of Beyti Rip, about 15 kilometres from Louga, MM4P staff witnessed first-hand the impact of using tablets on the agents’ work.
Around 33 women gather on mats, savings books in their hands, beneath the ‘Palaver Tree’ (a designated community meeting place, traditionally under a large tree). Their representatives sit opposite them, next to the CAURIE agents. The session opens with amendments to the report of the previous VSLA meeting and updates of administrative information. Next, the women take turns to first repay their loans and then to add to their savings. Two agents process the transactions—one using the traditional method of filling out the paperwork by hand, and the other using the tablet. It takes 4 seconds to record a transaction on the tablet, compared to 50 by hand. A significant amount of time is saved, positively impacting the entire process. Collection agent Chantal Tine shares,
Now that I have the tablet, the VSLA meetings are no longer stressful. I can prepare the session on the same day. Once I’m there, I just have to click. I’m no longer doing the calculations because the tablet does them automatically, and I no longer spend hours filling in forms, with the risk of making a mistake, having to cross it out and then copying everything out again. And better yet, once I’ve finished, I can go home. I no longer need to go back to the office to double check and get someone to enter my data.
The objective of CAURIE-MF is to sustainably contribute to the economic and social development of poor micro-entrepreneurs, mainly women, by offering them appropriate financial products and services. Digitizing collection at the VSLA meetings is a step towards achieving that objective. In fact, using tablets significantly reduces the human and logistical resources needed and keeps operating costs down, while increasing operational efficiency. It also helps the institution better serve its customers by saving time. CAURIE-MF Director Mamadou Gueye explains,
We’ve been talking about digitization at CAURIE since 2013. We very quickly realized it was an essential step to ensure the institution’s long-term viability. Our first attempt was unsuccessful. But the results of this pilot with MM4P are beyond our expectations. We can clearly see the difference made by using tablets in terms of data security, saving paper, ink and time, and reducing the workload of the collection agents, who can finally spend more time on financial education for their VSLAs. Above all, our account closing procedures are much faster. The tablets are a real asset in terms of improving our profitability.
The project is in the pilot phase until September 2017, to allow time for adaptation of the application to the agents’ needs. The challenge, going forward, is switching to digital only and concretely measuring the effectiveness of the tablets. In the meantime, agents who are keen to consign paper to the history books have resigned themselves to waiting a little longer for their turn on the tablets.
CAURIE-MF sees other prospects for digital finance once this project is completed. There is already talk of SMS (short message service) banking projects to keep customers informed, and partnerships with mobile phone operators to integrate with their payment platforms and allow customers to remotely top up their credit. “We are absolutely committed to digital technologies, because if we don’t keep up, we’ll be left behind in the digital era. With partners like MM4P, we’re confident we can do it,” concluded Mr. Gueye.
By Sabine Mensah and Bery Kandji, UNCDF MM4P in Senegal
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