June 13, 2017 by Amelia Kuklewicz
As an industry, we have made significant strides in understanding, measuring and tracking financial inclusion worldwide. One sign is the steady stream of emails, conferences and webinars discussing best practices for creating useful, affordable products and services, educating clients appropriately, and safeguarding their rights. But there is one crucial element missing from most of these discussions: frontline staff.
Yet, microfinance field officers play an outsized role in the lives of poor families.
They introduce and explain credit and savings products to them. They teach them how to save and make a budget. They determine where to market financial products and which clients to target. As the face of our financial institutions, they also ensure clients are treated fairly and with respect by managing and resolving complaints, and equally important, guarding against over-indebtedness.
They are an important lynchpin in our success in helping poor families benefit from formal financial services.
So how do we engage frontline staff who may find the concept of financial inclusion abstract and disconnected from their daily work with their clients? And are they a “missing link” for increasing clients’ use of products and services?
We recently took on the challenge of connecting our academic discussions to realities on the frontline. The result: The “What is Financial Inclusion?” board game. As players go around the board, they can fall on events that financially include or exclude them such as opening a mobile money account or traveling eight hours to deliver money to a family member instead of sending a remittance. These events either move the player forward or backward. In addition, in certain spaces players need to answer questions about financial inclusion to remain in place.
The game offers a fun, interactive way to cover a number of basic financial inclusion topics and theory, using techniques we have developed over the past 30 years developing non-formal, adult learning programs. It is also part of a larger training agenda to help credit officers better understand financial inclusion so that they can better promote and support it.
We tested the game with credit officers of Insotec, a microfinance partner in Ecuador*, who is committed to financial inclusion, consumer protection and financial education. In addition, we walked them through other important concepts for financial inclusion such as how public and private sectors can complement each other, the role of technology, lessons learned from innovations in the region and characteristics of financially inclusive products and services.
This experiment taught us three key lessons that could help other financial officers:
- Game structures simplify complex concepts: Playing a game helps explain complicated concepts in an easier and more memorable way. While participants played, the facilitators rotated around groups, answering questions as they arose. Facilitating a conversation with frontline workers about the many ways clients can be financially excluded can go a long way to including clients as we covered topics like gender, age and disability.
- Interactive activities should include practice: Practice makes perfect but more importantly makes it relevant! We used client surveys, case studies and financial product and service design to drive home concepts like comparing countries using the Findex database, characteristics of financially inclusive products and services as well understanding as the role of the public sector and technology in financial inclusion. Each of these activities helps frontline workers better understand FI by relating it to their daily activities and practicing with the products and services that their clients use.
- Personal commitment is powerful: It is important for frontline staff to make a personal commitment to further including their current clients as well as looking for new markets and clients to include. We asked participants to practice writing a letter to one of their clients, demonstrating their commitments and promises to advance their financial inclusion.
By recognizing the credit officer’s role and strengthening their ability to carry it out, we support our client’s path to financial inclusion. And, as our experience with Insotec staff reminded us, it is critical to step into the shoes of frontline staff if we are to make full financial inclusion a reality.
Amelia Kuklewicz is a senior manager at Grameen Foundation. To learn more about the game and how it can be replicated, please contact her at akuklewicz [at] grameenfoundation.org (akuklewicz [at] grameenfoundation.org). Lisa Kienzle, Grameen Foundation’s global director for financial services, also contributed to this piece.
* Insotec is a long-term partner of Freedom from Hunger, which integrated with Grameen Foundation in October 2016.