Microcred Senegal (MCSN) has embedded client centricity into the core of its business model, developing innovative products and services that better meet the needs of peri-urban and rural customers.
Interested in reaching this largely unbanked population, MCSN partnered with IFC (International Finance Corporation) to conduct research, listening to its potential customers’ views on the real and perceived barriers to banking. Microcred’s Pulse mobile application and Baobab agent network now bring banking services to the customer, and new loan and service options better meet their needs.
MCSN understands that client centricity is more than creating a customer service desk or making ambitious statements. It is a transformation of an organization’s business model to provide value at each phase of the customer lifecycle.
Their experience shows the importance of investment in people, processes, and technology.
Founded in 2007 in Dakar, MCSN was the first venture by the Microcred Group into rural Africa. The bank’s journey to mass-market banking was born from a desire to deeply root its product and services in a unique customer experience.
Within the first year of operation, the bank had disbursed 815 loans with a customer base of over 5,400 as uptake of the bank’s product began to build momentum. Its customer base continued to grow, reaching over 54,000 customers from 11 branches by 2011.
Despite these successes, there remained millions of unbanked people in Senegal, especially in rural areas.
In 2014, MCSN, in partnership with IFC, conducted a survey of 2,000 households in selected peri-urban and rural areas. The survey focused on characteristics of selected client segments, their money management practices, and their use of financial services. It also considered the role of MCSN’s agents in making it easier for clients to access financial services and the direct effect of the use of financial services offered by MCSN through its branches and agents.
The MCSN and IFC research helped to define these unbanked customers’ aversion to formal banking — including regulatory, physical, financial as well as knowledge, trust, cultural or emotional barriers.
With these barriers in mind, MCSN dug deeper in its research, engaging target customers in several locations to help identify solutions.
The survey of gaps in the current delivery of financial services led to a new wave of thinking in the bank: a shift from the traditional focus on the supply of products and services to a focus on the demand — seeing the customer as critical to the development and improvement of service offerings.
MCSN uses a human-centred design approach, building on insights from customers, to develop its products and delivery. MCSN achieves this in two ways: the iterative process and the MCSN Growth Lab.
The iterative process is used to develop and improve the products and services by connecting with customers through market research to develop an understanding of their motivations, needs, and aspirations. Pilot testing of the financial products and services allows for further improvements to be made before a product is launched.
The MCSN Growth Lab drives ongoing innovation within the bank. The team conducts research locally by collecting data and opinions from customers to generate new ideas for financial products and services. Ten percent of the ideas generated by the Growth Lab team that came together in 2016 have been implemented, while others are at different stages of the idea generation process.
The Pulse mobile application was developed as a direct response to MCSN’s research findings, by offering:
Opening a Pulse account takes less than five minutes; through a tablet running on an Android application, customer details (including photo) are captured and a biometry device is deployed to capture customer fingerprints. Information collected is transmitted to MCSN’s core banking application.
Developing products and services based on a deep understanding of customer needs is the first milestone in the journey toward client centricity. The next step is a commitment to ensuring the customer has access to these services.
It was clear that conventional branches wouldn’t work for this customer segment.
To respond, the bank developed a strategy of branchless financial services where customers would be served in their community, close to home.
MCSN introduced a banking network called Baobab. It is a network of small traders and money transfer agents across Senegal. In addition to providing branchless financial services, the network adds value by identifying, acquiring, and educating new customers on services offered by the bank.
Agents are equipped with biometric devices and remote, real-time access to MCSN’s core banking system through a web application, and with the support of central bank staff. All systems were designed from end to end with the human-centred design approach.
Within the first few months of operation, 100 agents had been added to the network, with quick customer buy-in. The network has become integral to service delivery for MCSN: managing transactions for branches, managing liquidity, and ultimately decongesting the branches.
Agents are motivated by commission structures and regularly reviewed to ensure profitability, agent need, and customer uptake.
MCSN continues to regularly monitor the entire program, adapting to better meet the needs of customers. For example, it introduced two transfer options to broaden the offering of the agency network. The account-to-cash and cash-to-cash transfer options compensated for an initial decline in active accounts caused by the introduction of transaction fees. Customers found that the value-added services provided by agents justified the costs of conducting transactions with agents as opposed to branches.
To distinguish its agent system from bank competitors, MCSN has begun training agents to provide a unique customer experience. It also organizes knowledge-sharing forums for agents to learn from one another about practices that create positive experiences.
Employee engagement and feedback embed client centricity in MCSN’s product development process. The Tune Portfolio mobile application was developed as a response to employee feedback on the need to automate the loan application process.
Before the app, loan officers always had to defer to branches for customer information while interacting with customers in the field, or rely on their memories. The app has improved service delivery, allowing loan officers to communicate directly with the core banking platform in real time. They can access live portfolio reports, including a list of their clients, past-due loans, and to-do lists. In addition, they are provided with an analytical view of their portfolio so they can make reasonable inferences and better manage risks. This directly translates to gains in time and better portfolio management. Results show that heavy users, identified by the number of activities in the app, perform at least 30 percent more disbursements per month than low users and have a portfolio at risk twice lower than those not activated after four months of usage.
In June 2015, Tune Portfolio was launched by the Microcred Group for portfolio managers (PMs) in its subsidiaries in Africa. After more than a year, the app is being used in seven countries by over 1,000 PMs. The app provides PMs with an overview of their portfolios, including customers’ balances, repayment history, and outstanding loans where applicable. The app also provides a contact database to allow PMs to call their customers directly.
In subsequent versions of Tune Portfolio, Project Managers have become able to collect information for loan applications, including taking photos of documents and uploading them to the application.
As part of MCSN’s client-centric approach, loan officers are the primary managers of client relationships. As liaisons between the bank and customers, they monitor customers’ businesses and the performance of their loans. This strategy has positioned the bank to be able to flag potential defaults and respond proactively in managing its overall loan portfolio.
Furthermore, loan officers are assigned as many customers as they can effectively manage. This is evident in MCSN’s loan officer-borrower ratio of 1:170, compared with an industry average of 1:400.
One reward of this approach is that the bank has been able to maintain good PAR (portfolio at risk) ratios over the years, given the loyalty of customers and the intimate knowledge loan officers have of their operations — loan officers understand customers, know when to give them funds, know when their shops are open, can monitor the likelihood of diverting loans to other obligations, etc. Loan officers also inform management of customer business realities and suggest a loan review where necessary.
The success of the client-centric approach required MCSN to shift its operating model, impacting people, processes, culture, and technology within the bank.
The members of MCSN’s management make a conscious effort to demonstrate their dedication to putting the customer first in business decisions. They spend time in the field on “mystery shopping exercises,” interacting with customers and front-end staff to understand their experience. Feedback provided goes straight to the boardroom and influences decision-making.
Promotional and educational opportunities provide other connections between customer and leadership. Meetings between small business owners and the bank CEO have resulted in the realignment of loan offerings to better meet the needs of target customers.
This commitment by leadership to the welfare of the customer and client centricity has been key to building customer engagement and loyalty.
The bank emphasizes employee retention as a means of deepening customer relationships and helping customers solve problems. Merit-based performance management has ensured that employees can advance appropriately. Both the CEO and the Head of Human Resources at MCSN started their careers with the bank as loan officers.
Staff professional development and a recruitment process that ensures MCSN staff are aligned with the bank’s core values are at the heart of the bank’s commitment to client centricity.
The bank demonstrates its emphasis on deepening its relationship with customers through its approach to customer service. At the management level, Microcred created a senior management position to champion the cause for a more client-centric focus on customer service and redesigned its Commercial Development Department to incorporate customer service, product design, and promotion.
The Customer Care team conducts monthly satisfaction surveys with customers, including inactive customers; in 2015, the team contacted 15,000 inactive customers to understand the reasons for the decline in the use of their accounts. Feedback allowed the bank to refine its customer re-engagement/reactivation strategy. The team also calls a random sampling of clients each month to hear about their experience within 48 hours of their first branch visit.
At the heart of Microcred’s culture of innovation and client centricity lies its reliance on data. Insights obtained from these data have had far-reaching consequences, from product development to process improvements in the bank, which have resulted in a richer customer experience.