04 1 / 2013

While working at Capital One I visited branches. While working at Juhudi Kilimo I visit branches. OK, OK. Maybe they are slightly different in terms of setting, methodology, and target customer… but they all struggle with acquiring and keeping new clients, managing huge amounts of sensitive data, and general operating efficiency. So. Basically the same. :)

Before the holidays I spent some time visiting our branch offices in Murang’a, Nduragua and Nkubu and I got to spend a lot of time with our loan officers as they met with farmers to manage relationships. Rural microfinance is by definition extremely distributed - if the loan officers *aren’t* traveling many kilometers deeper and deeper into remote rural farming areas to find, meet and manage their clients then they aren’t serving the right market. So the work has a lot of overhead, to say the least. But even after you consider the travel requirements that are table stakes just to reach our farmers in the first place, the loan officers then bear the burden of manually capturing and managing the large volume of relatively small transactions of loan repayments, savings payments or loan disbursements.

The techie in me sees the reams of paper being used to capture data and it makes me squirm, but the process engineer in me is far more concerned with the logistics of physically getting to these farmers in the first place and then efficiently serving them through their lending life cycle. Either way there’s a lot of work to be done to double our loan portfolio this year, and investing in loan officer efficiency will be central to all of our initiatives.

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Moses and Mercy meet with a group of farmers outside of Nkubu. The farmers are paying into their savings accounts and after those payments are processed we’ll head out to conduct business appraisals on four of the clients’ farms to assess creditworthiness. With no credit bureaus to store credit risk data for microfinance clients these in-person visits are critical to ensuring we only lend to a farmer who has the capacity to repay. Also, they give me a great opportunity to take more pictures of livestock.

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Meeting with another group later that day - many of these women received their first loan check during our meeting.

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Conducting training with a new group in Nkubu town.

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Meeting with a new group outside of Nduragua. These women have all just completed their group training and are saving before they apply for new loans.

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A little sales and marketing session with a group of rabbit farmers. Yes. Rabbits. Adorable and delicious. Typically it takes at least 3 meetings with a potential group before they commit and process their registration.