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BRAC Uganda shares strategy and sustainability insights from its transition from an MFI to a bank.

By Emily Coppel and Isabel Whisson, BRAC

Woman holds carton of eggs

©BRAC/Alison Wright

BRAC Uganda Microfinance is pursuing a shift in its regulatory status that will allow it to broaden the landscape of financial services it provides to Uganda’s rural poor.

BRAC, the largest microfinance provider in Uganda, currently serves more than 200,000 predominantly rural, female clients, through more than 150 branches across nearly every district in the country. In the nine years since the microfinance company was established, BRAC has provided microloans to poor women (a basic loan ranges from US $55 – $1,400), and small enterprise loans for male and female business owners (from US $1,400 – $10,000). Its current portfolio is around US $45 million. This year, BRAC submitted its application to transform into a bank. In Uganda, it was a Tier 4 institution, a category for unregulated credit-only NGOs, and money lenders. After the transformation, BRAC will become a regulated Credit Institution, under Tier 2, allowing it to expand its suite of services for clients – most notably, to savings accounts.

The process of transitioning to a regulated institution in Uganda is a lengthy one, and requires the organization to strategically analyze its goals and pro-poor model. Much can be learned from this process that can inform others considering a similar transformation to expand services for clients. As with any significant change, the organization is already facing new challenges that must be carefully and creatively navigated so as not to alienate its customer base.
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> Posted by Rupert Scofield, Chair of the Partnership for Responsible Financial Inclusion (PRFI)

A meeting of the Partnership for Responsible Financial Inclusion in September 2017 (pictured from left to right: Shameran Abed, Jesse Fripp, Steve Hollingworth, Maria Cavalcanti, Michael Schlein, Sharlene Brown, Rupert Scofield, and Robert Dunn. Not pictured: Christian Pennotti, Mary Ellen Iskenderian, and Michael Mithika)

In 2011, I joined the inaugural meeting of CEOs that led to the formation of the Microfinance CEO Working Group. Nearly seven years later, my colleagues and I have continued to enjoy the trust and collaboration made possible by sitting together and sharing our strategies, challenges, and opportunities. We have encouraged the sharing of information among key senior staff in seven departments such as risk management, social performance, and digital financial services, across our networks. This collective of senior managers, which we refer to as peer groups, find the conversations at their levels insightful and that they allow for greater efficiency at solving common problems. In some cases, members benefit from non-proprietary work and processes developed by another. In other cases, we are creating the solutions together. Today, we truly recognize that we are no longer a working group, but a strong partnership committed to advancing financial inclusion in a responsible manner. It is my pleasure to share our new name: Partnership for Responsible Financial Inclusion (PRFI).

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> Posted by the Microfinance CEO Working Group

(click to enlarge)

What’s been happening with the Microfinance CEO Working Group (MCWG)? We’re glad you asked. Fresh-off-the-press is a new annual report from the MCWG, detailing the Working Group’s key accomplishments and activities of the past year. Consumer protection is among the standout areas for the MCWG for 2016. Over the course of the year, 14 local partners belonging to the MCWG network achieved Smart Certification, including BRAC Bangladesh, the first microfinance provider in the country and the largest in the world to reach the consumer protection milestone. In total, 21.9 million clients are served by 39 MCWG network Smart Certified institutions.

The MCWG is comprised of the leaders of 10 global microfinance organizations: Accion; Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance; BRAC; CARE; FINCA; Grameen Foundation; Opportunity International; Pro Mujer; VisionFund International; and Women’s World Banking. The newest member, added in 2016, is the Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance and its General Manager Jesse Fripp. The MCWG also harnesses the expertise of more than 40 senior staffers across the member organizations, who meet regularly across seven Peer Groups focused on specific areas of microfinance, from digital financial services, to social performance, to communications, taxation, and others. Members and local partners work with more than 89 million clients in 87 countries, providing them with financial services as well as other support to help them succeed and lift their families out of poverty.

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> Posted by Ira W. Lieberman, Todd A. Watkins, and Anna Kanze

We’ve identified the problem: Microfinance is no longer sexy. It’s old news. It can’t deliver “impact,” and its effect on alleviating poverty was oversold and has underwhelmed. It’s well and good to offer working capital loans, but at the end of the day, the poor need education, health care, water for drinking and irrigation, roofs, and electricity together with a wide variety of financial services. It’s time for investors seeking real innovation to move on to the next big thing that will transform the lives of poor people and save our planet. Never mind microfinance’s decades-long track record of listening to the poor and underserved clients and effectively developing products and services based on their needs.

Of course, we issue these statements with considerable sarcasm. But, all joking aside, industry trends and shifting sentiments are presenting investors with a real question: Should they abandon the reliable and successful platforms and infrastructure that microfinance institutions (MFIs) have built? In turn, MFIs are saddled with the question of whether to stick to what they know best, or instead, to use their platforms to deliver expanded product offerings that increase access to other essential services.

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> Posted by Tanvir Rahman Dhaly and Panuel Rozario Prince, BRAC

The market for microinsurance in Bangladesh has been growing rapidly over the last 10 years, with over 25 million subscribers. Yet it is still met with skepticism among many poor microfinance clients. As of this January, BRAC, in partnership with Guardian Life Insurance Company, joined the market making its Credit Shield Insurance product available nationwide to a further 5 million of its clients across the country.

Its first microinsurance product, BRAC initially started piloting Credit Shield Insurance in November 2014. After years of testing, we finally have a solution that is simple, accessible, affordable and, unlike most other microinsurance products on the market, voluntary for our clients and their families, while being sustainable for the institution.

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> Posted by Isabel Whisson, Deputy Manager, Microfinance Programme and Ultra Poor Graduation Initiative, and Onindita Islam, Management Professional Staff, Microfinance Programme

This year BRAC in Bangladesh became the largest microfinance institution, in terms of number of clients, to be Smart Certified, signifying to our country market and to the industry writ large that we treat our clients with adequate care.

As a non-profit dedicated to poverty reduction, client welfare has been central to BRAC’s mission since its inception in 1972. In Bangladesh in general, almost all microfinance institutions are non-profits, and so microfinance has always been seen as a tool for alleviating poverty in the country.

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> Posted by Center Staff

It has been two weeks since Financial Inclusion Week 2016 came to a close and we are excited to share a new Financial Inclusion Week Recap webpage which captures events, blogs, and insights from this year’s global conversation.

By the numbers, Financial Inclusion Week 2016 was a success. We had over 40 partner organizations in 19 countries hold events focused on the theme of keeping clients first in a digital world. Over 1,200 participants were engaged in these events worldwide. Beyond the in-person and online events, there were vibrant conversations on social media. Twenty-three #FinclusionWeek blog posts were shared by a variety of leaders in the industry and hundreds of tweets were exchanged with the week’s hashtag. We were thrilled by the breadth of the participants this year. Regulators such as the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority, fintech startups such as Artoo, research organizations such as Innovations for Poverty Action, development agencies such as ADA – Appui au Developpement Autonome, MFIs such as BRAC, and many more got involved.

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> Posted by the Smart Campaign

The Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion announced today a $4.4 million, three-year partnership with The MasterCard Foundation to tackle the challenges facing consumer finance in an increasingly digital world. As a reader of this blog, you’re almost certainly familiar with the work of the Smart Campaign. The Smart Campaign is a global campaign committed to embedding client protection practices into the institutional culture and operations of the financial inclusion sector. Since 2009, we’ve worked globally to create an environment in which financial services are delivered safely and responsibly to low-income clients. The partnership marks a shift in strategy for the Smart Campaign, as well as a deepening of its footprint in Sub-Saharan Africa.

To date, the Smart Campaign’s flagship certification program has certified over 68 financial institutions, serving 35 million clients worldwide. Recent certifications include Opportunity International Colombia, ENLACE in El Salvador, and BRAC Bangladesh, part of the world’s largest anti-poverty organization.

Under the partnership, the Smart Certification program will continue. But with support from The MasterCard Foundation, the Smart Campaign will increase its focus on convening a broader range of players in the financial services field—including regulators, industry associations and financial technology firms—to take on client protection issues emerging from new technologies, to elevate the voice of the clients they serve and to effect change at the national level.

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> Posted by Masrura Oishi, Tanjilut Tasnuba, and Isabel Whisson, BRAC

The following post was originally published on NextBillion.

It is part of Financial Inclusion Week, a week of global conversation on advancing financial inclusion. This year’s theme is keeping clients first in a digital world. Throughout the week participants will share their thoughts in events and webinars, on social media, and through blog posts. Add your voice to the conversation using #FinclusionWeek.

The integration of mobile money into microfinance operations is one of the most exciting yet challenging prospects facing microfinance providers today. Mobile money presents a fast, cost-efficient and flexible alternative delivery channel through which money can be transferred, loans can be repaid and savings can be deposited. Yet, globally, active usage of mobile money on a 90-day basis remains low, at around 33 percent.

BRAC has been gradually integrating mobile money into its microfinance operations since 2011. Among many of its microfinance clients, who are predominantly poor rural women, the prospect of transacting with money via mobile phone instead of cash at first seems suspicious and daunting. In seeking to promote responsible, confident and active use of its financial services, BRAC has introduced a number of initiatives. These have included investing heavily in client protection, customer service and financial education and developing mobile money use cases that made sense to the average microfinance client, such as using mobile money to pay deposits into monthly savings schemes.

As part of Financial Inclusion Week, which this year puts the spotlight on keeping clients first in a digital world, we spoke to one of BRAC’s clients about her experience using mobile money in microfinance. A client for more than 10 years, Maloti Rani Das has witnessed several key changes that have in turn changed her experience and view of microfinance. In a brief one-on-one interview, she took us through her journey with BRAC, from why she borrowed her first loan, her feelings when she first started using mobile money, and what has helped her become a confident user.

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> Posted by Center Staff

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Screenshot from VisionFund International’s webinar (click to watch)

This post is part of Financial Inclusion Week, a week of global conversation on advancing financial inclusion. This year’s theme is keeping clients first in a digital world. Throughout the week participants will share their thoughts in events and webinars, on social media, and through blog posts. Add your voice to the conversation using #FinclusionWeek.

On day three of Financial Inclusion Week 2016 we were excited to see conversations happen around the world, including in Rwanda, Bangladesh, and Australia. We offer a rundown of these events and the vibrant online conversation below.

The week is nearing a close but there are still plenty of upcoming events and ways to get involved. Be sure to share your thoughts on Twitter with #FinclusionWeek, join tomorrow’s webinar with Innovations for Poverty Action, or submit a client quote and photo to our collection of client insights.

What’s Happening

VisionFund International hosted a webinar (two webinars, in fact, to accommodate for different timezones) focused on the future of digital financial services. The webinar centered on how VisionFund is using technology to lend to smallholder farmers at the right level, and at the right time. During the webinar, Tom Allen and Justin McAuley, Director of Change and Programs and Director of Global Digital Architecture at VisionFund, highlighted a new application they developed which uses available geographic and market data to better extend their products to smallholder farmers and manage risk. You can watch the full webinar here.
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Credit Suisse is a founding sponsor of the Center for Financial Inclusion. The Credit Suisse Group Foundation looks to its philanthropic partners to foster research, innovation and constructive dialogue in order to spread best practices and develop new solutions for financial inclusion.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog, except where otherwise noted, are those of the authors and guest bloggers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Financial Inclusion or its affiliates.