An App, a Conversation and a New Account: A Novel Approach to Talking About and Tailoring Term Deposits

Reverse engineering the loan officer-client conversation provides key insights

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“How much money do people typically imagine they should have when saving for emergency needs? Is that different from what they need for the children’s education? What kinds of conversations are field staff having?”

These and similar questions are quite familiar to financial institutions trying to mobilize long-term savings from low-income clients through their field staff. In this blog post, we share the story of how mobile application usage data allowed SAJIDA Foundation, an OPTIX partner from Bangladesh to gain insights into member-staff conversations without actually being there: a kind of virtual “fly on the wall”. They gained an unprecedented look into how financial planning really unfolds as they sought to tailor a term-deposit product to people’s needs.

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Riding (the) Rocket to Digitised Microfinance

A review of customers’ experiences with cashless loan and savings collections in Bangladesh

Nasima* lives in the outskirts of Dhaka and works at her father’s vegetable stall in the market. She decided to borrow from the NGO SAJIDA Foundation to expand the stall and sell more fresh produce. SAJIDA is a microfinance institution in Bangladesh. Nasima attended group meetings with about 20 other women every week to repay her loan. Although often first to arrive and have her loan instalment recorded in her passbook, she would still have to remain in the group until the end of each meeting. As her business picked up, Nasima found it increasingly difficult to go to these sessions and her attendance dropped off. Although she would usually send her instalments with her friend Rima*, who is part of the same group, she still missed a payment. Nasima regrets not being able to be present more but feels that she simply cannot stay away from her business for an hour or more every week.

Nasima* lives in the outskirts of Dhaka and works at her father’s vegetable stall in the market. She decided to borrow from the NGO SAJIDA Foundation to expand the stall and sell more fresh produce. SAJIDA is a microfinance institution in Bangladesh. Nasima attended group meetings with about 20 other women every week to repay her loan. Although often first to arrive and have her loan instalment recorded in her passbook, she would still have to remain in the group until the end of each meeting. As her business picked up, Nasima found it increasingly difficult to go to these sessions and her attendance dropped off. Although she would usually send her instalments with her friend Rima*, who is part of the same group, she still missed a payment. Nasima regrets not being able to be present more but feels that she simply cannot stay away from her business for an hour or more every week.

SAJIDA adopts mobile money to digitise collections

Nasima is not alone in her struggle. SAJIDA’s field officers (FOs) have heard multiple complaints from group members who struggle to attend borrowers’ meetings to repay their loans. When BFA surveyed SAJIDA field officers, 87% noted that less than half the group attended meetings regularly. Many members were, instead, making their payments through another member who was able to attend. In a parallel survey with clients, or “members” as SAJIDA calls them, BFA found that only 7.7% of members looked forward to group meetings, while only 3.9% socialised at these meetings. Those who did not attend group meetings were simply too busy to step away from their place of business or from family responsibilities.

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Three Steps (and One BFF) for a Perfect Bank-Fintech Match

Image courtesy of  pixel2013  via .

Image courtesy of pixel2013 via

For many financial institutions today, going digital has the potential to unlock new market segments, streamline operations, cut risks and greatly improve customer relations. But for institutions considering this proposition, size matters.

Larger institutions tend to have the resources to source and apply new financial technology (fintech) or, if those resources are not available in-house, to enlist partners that can help them improve internal processes and deliver innovative offerings. Several large financial institutions in emerging markets — including BBVA, Diamond Trust Bank, ICICI and Stanbic Bank, to name a few — have been sponsoring incubators and partnering with fintech startups, often with a view to acquiring or “acqui-hiring” them to develop new capacities. A recent study by CFI-IIF points to the numerous benefits of fintech/bank partnerships, and another PwC study estimates that over 80 percent of the world’s financial services firms are expecting to increase fintech partnerships in the next three to five years.

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Banco W’s Culture Change Boosted Quality, Won Admiration as a “Great Place to Work”


As Colombia’s Banco W was transitioning from a microfinance institution to a bank in 2012, newly-arrived Chief Executive Officer José Alejandro Guerrero Becerra realized he needed to trigger a culture change that would improve service to low-income clients and deliver on a commitment to making a significant social impact. Five years later, Banco W’s service quality ratings were up, it had relaunched its brand and image, and held an over-subscribed note issue.

Such transformation can sometimes come at the cost of internal upheaval but instead Banco W was recognized by “Great Place to Work” as one of the best workplaces in Colombia last year.

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Changing Internal Culture to Smooth the Transition from Pure Lending to Savings

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Changing staff culture in order to effectively promote new products at a microfinance institution (MFI) can be nearly as challenging as getting customers to embrace the products but the OPTIX project helped one MFI in Vietnam address its marketing problems by connecting it with a peer in Bangladesh that had overcome this hurdle.

The Capital Aid Fund for Employment of the Poor (CEP) was founded in Vietnam in 1991 as an unregulated nonprofit organization to offer credit to people on low incomes in the Mekong region of Vietnam. Over 27 years of operations, CEP had established a strong, credit-focused identity, which drove admirable results for its clients and for the institution.

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Designing for Data: Creating a User-Friendly Dashboard to Analyze Product Profitability

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Most financial institutions recognize that data should lie at the heart of strategic decision-making. With technology playing an increasingly central role in every aspect of business operations, data can make a business more agile, more client-centric, and ultimately, more profitable.

However, the use of advanced data analysis tools is still relatively new and many institutions are finding their way.  This prevents them from making well-informed, strategic decisions, often at a high cost to themselves and their clients. But how can an institution create an environment in which data-driven decision-making becomes the norm rather than the exception?  To start with, institutions must craft data analysis tools that meet the needs and preferences of the users within the business to ensure that they are relevant and actually utilized.

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Can Tech Humanize Microfinance? An Unexpected Benefit of Going Digital

Employees of CEP testing the app

Employees of CEP testing the app

Until recently, CEP (a microfinance institution in Vietnam) operated similarly to most MFIs: Cash transactions and paper records reigned. Mountains of paper accumulated in CEP’s storage rooms despite efforts to digitize some of it. Accessing data involved hours of rummaging through papers, and much of the information was not fully used.

In 2015, CEP joined the OPTIX project and worked with BFA to understand how to optimize its internal processes. CEP noted that one of the lengthiest processes was the loan origination survey, which collects client information, including a “poverty assessment,” used in the loan approval decision. As this data resided only on paper, CEP’s officers had to collect the information at every loan cycle, even when the client’s situation had not changed since their last interaction with the institution. Loan officers reported that they conducted an average of 25 poverty assessments per week, and each one took 20-30 minutes. 

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Is Mobile Money Killing Off the Group Microfinance Model (And Would That Be Such a Bad Thing)?

In the summer of 2017, SAJIDA Foundation, an NGO and microfinance provider in Bangladesh, made a bold decision — it was going to make an entire branch of about 1,600 clients (or members, as SAJIDA calls them) cashless. Rather than attending group meetings to make microloan repayments in person, these members would show up at a mobile money (MM) agent and make their payments through a bill-pay option at a time and place convenient for them. Going cashless meant that in one fell swoop, digital financial services (DFS) would make group meetings, the locus of traditional microcredit for decades, redundant.

What follows is the story of redefining group meetings in a world of increasingly digitized microfinance, largely based on a renewed appreciation of the non-pecuniary roles these meetings perform. This is the first of a series of pieces in which BFA will track SAJIDA’s journey over the coming months as it digitizes its operations and goes cashless. 

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‘Stealthy’ Saving: Building on Payroll Credit to Automate Savings


Basic savings accounts are essential to helping people build assets, and they’re often the first step in building a relationship with customers.

This is something Acreimex—a savings & credit cooperative in Oaxaca, Mexico, serving over 120,000 members (as the cooperative refers to its customers) across eight states through its network of 45 branches—understands very well.  Although they are a savings-based institution, some of their customers find it difficult to save. The cooperative has worked with BFA since 2016 to improve the profitability, relevance and accessibility of its product portfolio – and part of these efforts have focused on finding a way to introduce savings to its existing payroll loan customers.

Acreimex’s payroll credit product, Acreinómina (nómina means payroll in Spanish), is offered to employees in over 400 public and private institutions, and is currently the cooperative’s most profitable loan product. These same customers, however, tend to lack awareness of Ahorramás y Más (A++), the cooperative’s flagship savings product which all customers have, but not all use. To increase use of A++ accounts by Acreinómina customers, Acreimex and BFA built on the success of this specific loan product, automating savings alongside the payroll credit payments to drive uptake and usage.

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Potential for Mobile Money in Vietnam

Early adopters in Ho Chi Minh City embrace payments but mobile money has yet to gain ground


Just one year after launching its mobile wallet and payment app, Vietnamese FinTech company Momo boasts that the app has one million users to add to the 2.5 million mobile money customers Momo had announced in 2016. While preliminary research suggests that these mobile money customers are young, urban men paying for goods and services, BFA is staking a closer look at usage patterns to help a local microfinance bank identify opportunities deploy mobile money among its customer base.

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‘Cross-sell Done Well’: How One Finance App Found a Balance Between Digital and Human Touch

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Field officers at Sajida Foundation, an NGO and microfinance provider in Bangladesh, are constantly on the go. They each have over 300 customers to manage: They are responsible for disbursing loan payments, ensuring timely repayment, and in addition, they make up to half a dozen personal visits each afternoon. These officers also act as financial advisors to many of their clients, who they get to know well over time. But the reality of their workload doesn’t allow them to spend more time coaching clients, which is an activity many enjoy and that clients benefit from.

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A Nudge Toward Financial Health

What makes saving money so difficult? After all, when you know money might be scarce tomorrow, saving today is the rational thing to do. Saving should be a priority especially for low-income people in countries with weak social safety nets. So it might seem as if saving should come naturally and feel satisfying. The reality, of course, is that saving is hard for people to do and often feels painful. Despite good intentions and common sense, people routinely end up spending more today than they should—and saving less. Why do people tend to behave irrationally about something as vitally important as saving?

Most clients of the microfinance institutions participating in OPTIX, a project managed by BFA, have small business or microloans and no active savings. Like so many other people, they have a hard time saving, even in small amounts. This does not mean they don’t want to save or don’t try to save. They—along with almost every other person on the planet—may simply suffer from cognitive and behavioral biases when it comes to putting money aside.

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How SAJIDA Foundation Nearly Doubled Customer Uptake of Savings Accounts

Afsana works at a garment factory in Dhaka and has two young daughters. She recently opened an Astha term deposit account with SAJIDA Foundation for 10,000 Bangladeshi Taka ($120) after learning about its benefits from a loan officer. For Afsana, Astha has allowed her to lock away a lump sum which is difficult to do on her limited salary and pressing needs. She explains, “My children are studying. I want to invest money for their higher education. I would also like to save up to build a house in the village one day.”

Astha, a term deposit account, allows SAJIDA Foundation members to save toward a purchase or financial goal. Members can deposit small amounts for a specified length of time while earning at-market interest. Astha, meaning “reliance and dependability” in Bengali, is a product of SAJIDA Foundation, an NGO which offers a microfinance program and various health and other development initiatives throughout Bangladesh, including long-term savings options for unbanked or underbanked individuals like Afsana.

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Banco W: Using Evidence to Optimize Savings and Loan Payment Channel Choices

What does a year’s worth of channel transactions tell us about a client’s loan payment preferences and opportunities to switch channels? Why do clients repay their loans at the same place month after month? How might financial service providers motivate their clients to explore alternative loan payment channels? These are some of the questions that we, the OPTIX team at BFA, set out to learn with our partner, Banco W in Colombia. As financial service providers increase coverage through myriad financial access channels, their customers have an opportunity to switch to a different channel for the same transactions. Understanding client interaction with various channels is a complex mix of preferences, use cases, pain points, business case and scalable feasibility. So where does a financial services provider start?

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Mobile Money Meets Microcredit: Three Key Decisions in Taking a Concept from Design to Pilot

Photo courtesy of    SAJIDA Foundation

Photo courtesy of SAJIDA Foundation

In a previous blog post, we were introduced to how SAJIDA Foundation in Bangladesh is using evidence from data analytics, business case analysis and client research to improve cross-selling as part of the OPTIX project. SAJIDA competes with numerous microfinance institutions by providing relatively similar credit and savings products to support low-income clients. In this post, we discuss three key evidence-based programmatic decisions that were necessary to take a new mobile financial service (MFS)-based microfinance initiative from the design table to pilot testing in the field starting August 2016. This initiative enables SAJIDA to disburse loans directly into bKash accounts of its members, allows members to make loan repayments and deposit savings from their mobile wallets, and is being piloted in five branches with rather varied profiles. These observations are made from the point of view of staff at Bankable Frontier Associates who have been intimately involved with SAJIDA since the inception of OPTIX.

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Mobile Money Meets Microcredit: Creating an Evidence-Based Cross-Sell Strategy


Financial institutions, including those serving low-income clients, regularly turn to cross-selling to engage clients, but do not always consider the particular needs of the clients themselves.

Some institutions hold an inherent assumption that certain products should be “good” for clients. However, because such assumptions are not always backed by hard data or client insights, these institutions may offer products that are not relevant enough, leaving the products unused by clients and expensive for institutions.

What does it take to enhance clients’ engagement and encourage them to actively use multiple products with an institution over time?

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MetLife Foundation Funded Global Initiative Improves Access to Products and Services in Bangladesh


SAJIDA Foundation partners with bKash to increase access to financial services for women using digital technology

SAJIDA Foundation, a non-governmental organization (NGO) providing microfinance services to poor and low income people in Bangladesh, and bKash Limited, a leading Mobile Financial Service (MFS) provider in the world, launched a new MFS-based microfinance initiative.

This initiative will allow SAJIDA to disburse loans directly into the bKash accounts of SAJIDA clients. In addition, members of the NGO, from across 16 districts, can also make loan repayments and deposit savings with SAJIDA Foundation through their bKash accounts. The combination of mature, dynamic microfinance institutions and availability of affordable and accessible digital financial services makes Bangladesh a fitting testing ground for digitized microfinance.

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Click here for the press release

The benefits of cross-selling financial products


Poor clients prefer to keep their financial options open.

They typically do not find one or only a few providers to meet all of their needs. As a result, many poor clients maintain relationships with numerous formal and informal providers so they have access to emergency financing when they need it. For example, we spoke to one client in Mexico who maintained the smallest available loan with a local microfinance institution, despite a very high interest rate. This client took out the loan “just in case” she later needed an emergency source of funding.

From another perspective, we see that formal financial institutions often struggle to justify the business case for serving poor clients wanting to save. Acquisition costs are high and low balance savings are not sustainable. At the same time, providers recognize that only providing credit to clients may be profitable, but may not develop client trust and longer-term engagement that promote client retention.

In part due to this dynamic, cross-selling in recent years has become a popular strategy for financial service providers, including those trying to reach lower-income clients. Continue reading.

Real-World Examples of Innovative Microfinance Institutions Working withBig Business

Real-world examples of innovative microfinance institutions using strategic partnerships to serve the low-income population are numerous. MetLife Foundation has contributed in numerous ways, including a new program to help developing income microfinance institutions to generate enough income to stay in business.

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Originally published on Fern Software