> Posted by Monique Cohen, Independent Advisor, Founder and Past President, Microfinance Opportunities
Addressing client needs, delivering appropriate products, ensuring consumer protection, and building people’s financial capabilities were themes repeatedly heard during FI2020. Taken together they represent important progress in the discourse around financial services for the poor. Not so long ago the mention of clients was limited to statistics; in particular, numbers of accounts. If you were in luck this data was differentiated by gender.
This new recognition that our clients are active not just passive players in our industry marks an important step forward. The concept of active clients emerged in numerous sessions during the FI2020 meeting. Alexia Latortue, formerly of CGAP, began by noting that designing products that would help clients mitigate shocks and loses is very important. For the poor to cope effectively with risk, physical presence, timeliness, and proximity to financial services is vital for enabling access. In one of the final sessions of the meeting, Innocent Ephraim from Vodacom echoed statements by others noting that listening to the clients is critical. Not doing so can be costly. He had been involved in launching a product based on what the provider thought was useful. The product bombed, forcing his team back to the drawing boards and to the identification of a product which made sense to the consumer because it reflected both their contexts and priorities.
While the client agenda in financial services is not new, it has only recently gained real traction. Despite the new thinking on this topic, the industry is still searching for common ground about what to do to become more client focused. Currently the stakeholders are struggling to define a common phrase book; our lexicon of many of the terms continues to be a work in progress. Everyone has her/his own meaning for financial capability and financial inclusion. The result can be confusing.