Champions of Financial Inclusion

Friday, November 26, 2010

Changing Dimensions of Information Accessibility

Knowledge is power. It was true when brain, which is believed to have a storage capacity of 4Tb, was the only storage device with man for 24 hrs. With the constantly changing world and changing habits, man came to know about his new best friend-the mobile and thus changed the saying to ‘Information is Power’.

When Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam openly dreamed of bridging the digital divide among Indians, little had it occurred to anybody that mobile holds the potential to fulfill this dream. Mobile being the only device known to be with their owners for almost 24 hrs a day has changed the definition of information accessibility for human history. Information is now available on the fingertips.
According to India Telecommunications Q3 Report published by Business Monitor International, mobile customer base reached 584.3 millions in March 2010 and which is close to 50% growth over last year. Mobiles are now the most commonly used means to connect to the digital community. For a common user, a mobile is affordable, has a strong battery system, needs no huge and continuous supply of power and is easy to carry around when compared to a PC.

 Browsing internet is a rapidly growing trend in many developing countries. For many, their first internet browsing has come through a mobile. Juniper Research quotes that ‘in 2008, 90% of the internet users in India used a mobile to access internet.’  Mobile network operators offering a range of data plans enable users even from far off lands to connect to the world without any hurdles. While email was most common form of communication some times ago, social network and other forms of networking are drastically changing the messaging habits of people. People are now more connected to each other around the world through a small mobile than anything else.

Today, it is era of business gadgets. Gadgets like Androids, Blackberry mobiles, Nokia E-series and many more brands are doing quite well in market. They have totally changed the way companies operate, especially in case of small and medium businesses. It is now easier to put advertisements, check for orders and tenders, stay connected to certain communities of interest and much more. Business owners across the globe are now thankful to this explosion of mobile growth which allows them to do more things in less time and less cost. Also, advanced network services like 3G lined up to roll out soon, the chances of using networking services though PC still might go down.

FINO has been quite active in exploiting this explosion in number of mobile phone users to benefit the society. One of the services- FINO Seva is a mobile application which simplifies all kinds of ticketing, recharging and bill payment requirements without going to the service provider's offices/outlets, is a revolutionary product in the arena of mobile applications. This reduces the requirement of consumers to stand in long lines or travelling to the needed stations for availing any above mentioned services. Moreover, people in remote areas can now avail these services by just visiting the nearest BC without having to travel far off places for any recharging, ticketing or billing requirements etc.  

The dimension of accessing information has been truly and completely changed by mobiles.

-By Chitra Nayak

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Social Performance Management: CSR of Microfinance OR more than that?

Social performance management has been in existance for quite some time now. However, it is assuming new significance in recent times due to the negativity caused by the recent cases of suicides and harassment; as also by the increasing consciousness amongst investors to measure the social impact generated. Add to this, the increasing competition in a maturing industry. In such conditions, an MFI’s best bet is to retain its old clients while attracting new clients. This is possible by being responsive to the customers’ needs and requirements. At the same time, looking after the staff is of prime importance in order to achieve the social objectives of the institution.

In steps the concept of Social Performance Management (SPM) which is about making an organisation’s social mission a reality. Many times, focus on social performance is seen as being lenient on the aspects of financial sustainability and vice versa. However, that’s a fallacy. On the contrary, strong financial performance will enable an MFI to pursue its social objectives in an effective and efficient way. And the strong emphasis on social objectives will help in providing better, client-focused services and improve organisational culture. This in turn will lead to increased client satisfaction and retention; and reduced staff attrition rate.

SPM is beneficial to all stakeholders:

- Clients:
SPM involves taking into consideration the clients’ requirements and thereby innovating, developing and monitoring products & services and delivery systems which are more appropriate to the target customers’ needs and conditions. Better products and services would result in satisfied clients leading to customer loyalty and increased outreach.

- Employees:
Employees form a vital part of the entire process of microfinance. SPM focuses on human resource management including incentive plans, welfare actitivities, skill development, retention plan which would help in developing a motivated field force and reducing the high attrition rate prevalent in the microfinance industry.

- Investors:
In the absence of widely accepted social performance measures, donors and socially responsible investors typically base funding decisions on financial performance alone. Managing social performance allows MFIs to demonstrate their competitive blended returns, thereby providing a simple and cost-effective tool to assess social results of the MFI leading to an improved position in a competitive funding market.

• SPM system will aid in balancing financial and social objectives to make better business decisions based on a more thor¬ough understanding of the trade-offs each involves.
• SPM will aid in improving higher customer satisfaction and in developing demand driven products and services which would make the institution more attractive thereby leading to program growth and better financial performance.
• SPM is necessary to ensure that MFI doesn’t experience mission drift and remains true to its goals and objectives.
• With so much negativity surrounding the field of microfinance, many players are turning to ways through which the good work carried out by them is highlighted. The effective implementation of SPM system will not only fufill double bottom line of the organisation but will also enhance the reputation and brand image of the company while avoiding the negative impact on operations (reputational risk).

Thus, active monitoring and assessment of the SPM system will help an MFI to maximise both social and financial performance.