READINESS FOR DIGITALIZATION IN MICROFINANCE
Challenges and trends in the region
On May 12/13, 2019, at the Hotel Unique, Ohrid, the Alliance of Microfinance Organizations and the USAID’ Microfinance Innovation and Inclusion Project hosted the fourth regional microfinance forum “Readiness for digitalization in microfinance - Challenges and trends in the region”, following the first regional forum “Financial inclusion through Microfinance-Current condition, status and challenges” of 2016, the second regional forum “Payment Services-The role of non-banking microfinance organizations” of 2017 and the third regional forum “Human resources in microfinance-Current trends and challenges in the region” of 2018.
The forum, attended by 48 CEOs and officers from different departments from 18 microfinance organizations from North Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Poland and Greece, was organized in cooperation with Savings house Moznosti, Savings house FULM, Microcredit foundation Horizonti and the Macedonian Enterprise Development Foundation.
The Forum was organized in coordination with the leading microfinance organizations in the region: MKO Partner, Microcredit Organisation EKI Sarajevo and MKO Mi-Bospo from Bosnia and Herzegovina, KEP Trust from Kosovo, Montekredit from Montenegro, Agro&Social Fond, Fondi Besa, FED Invest, NOA, Kredo from Albania as well as KEPA Microstars from Greece.
Mr. Grzegorz Galusek, the executive director of the Microfinance Centre from Warsaw presented the newest findings of the MFC research: “Riding the technology wave in European microfinance”, after which the participants engaged in a vibrant debate to identify the key challenges in the process of digital transformation and present their practices and policies in this regard.
In the second session of the forum, the focus was set on “Readiness of the customers for digitalization”, with the extensive presentation of the performed regional research of over 900 microfinance clients from the region by the Director of Savings house FULM, Ms. Eleonora Zgonjanin Petrovikj, elaborating different aspects of behaviors on digital transformation. The presentation was followed by an open peer-to-peer discussion on specific findings and their interpretation in the national contexts of different countries and markets.
At the discussion:” Digitalization of business processes in microfinance organizations: How do we make it work for our employees?”, the participants engaged in an intense discussion on manners to address the concerns of our employees and their expectations and create an environment which will be favorable for stronger growth. A variety of interesting and innovative approaches were discussed, supported with an exchange of experiences which were found to be implementable in all countries in our region.
“Digitalization and Microfinance daily business: Experiences from the region / Practitioner’s perspective” was next on the agenda, to talk about
the need to implement the transformation in a comprehensive way which will equally consider the needs of all stakeholders rather than risk
dealing with an environment which is not ready yet.
In the context of possible scenarios, we also held a session “What can we do to avoid financial exclusion caused by digitalization?”, talking
about the complex task we all have, to make sure our solutions are not too advanced to be used by all clients and generations. Learning about
the experiences of practitioners initiated a vibrant discussion about the consequences on the wider community which involves the positive as
well the negative options.
At the round-up session, Mr. Lazarevski drew conclusions from the discussions and presented them to the participants, with the following key findings and recommendations:
- Digitalization sets new and previously unknown challenges as well as development options for the microfinance community and has no alternative;
- With digital transformation, challenges follow with key questions to answer:
- Do we have the necessary infrastructure available?
- Is the regulatory framework ready and supportive of new solutions?
- Have we reached the needed level of general, IT- and financial literacy?
- Can our clients afford to get digital?
- Is our client structure adequate for digitalization or is it better to delay the process?
- What is the right level of investment and how do we sustain it?
- How important is the security challenge for the process?
- Can digitalization make our business slower and for how long?
- Who should be in charge of the process and who on all levels is to be involved and to what extent?
- Are adequate vendors and products/services available on the market and what can we do to develop their knowledge alongside ours?
- What do we do to educate our clients, employees and regulators?
- Do we need a strategy or another structured document for the digitalization process in order to avoid some of the risks and challenges?
We discussed all these issues and learned a lot from each other, gaining knowledge we can use in our own collectives.
It is recommended, that:
- Regulators and legislation are currently the highest priority for all countries in the region. It is important to have them on board, understanding the significance of microfinance and creating an even-ground for healthy competition among the banking and non-banking financial institutions. The Forum recommends that for the next session the focus should be on the regulators;
- Study visits in the region from one NBFI to another are recommended to create a platform of dialogue and exchange of knowledge as a process of improvement towards a favorable environment for all stakeholders;
- The offer of digital solutions on the regional markets can be improved through a process of cooperation with the IT-companies, giving them an opportunity to learn from our experiences and needs to better address them. The Forum recommends that the vendor community be included in future forums and meetings;
- Meetings of this kind need to be organized for professionals with different fields of expertise regularly, in the countries of the region, to establish a platform for cooperation and communication in microfinance, and
- A regional joint initiative for the establishment of a microfinance education center was presented by the Alliance of microfinance organizations, with more details and ideas to follow shortly.
The forum was closed with the conclusion that these efforts need to continue without delay and that a knowledge resource network of relevant partners in the region has successfully been established, soon to result in closer forms of cooperation.
The forum established a sound base to build a regional cooperation platform for joint action in improving regulations and strengthen microfinance, access to finance and financial inclusion.
REGIONAL FORUM: HUMAN RESOURCES IN MICROFINANCE
The Alliance of Microfinance Organizations organized in cooperation with Savings house Moznosti, Savings house FULM, Microcredit foundation Horizonti and the Macedonian Enterprise Development Foundation and with support of the USAID’ Microfinance Innovation and Inclusion Project the third regional forum “Human resources in Microfinance-Current trends and challenges in the region” in Struga, on May 13-14.
The forum was attended by representatives of 17 leading microfinance organizations from the region: MKO Partner, MKO Mikrofin, MKO Mi-Bospo, MKO Sunrise (Bosnia and Herzegovina), MFI Start and FINCA (Kosovo), Agro&Social Fund, Unifin and Fondi Besa (Albania) , Altermodus and Montecredit (Montenegro), Agroinvest (Serbia), KEPA MicroStars (Greece), and Savings House Moznosti, FULM Savings House, Microcredit Foundation Horizonti and Macedonian Enterprise Development Foundation (Macedonia).
At this forum, a regional network of communication and cooperation was established between the colleagues in the field of human resources and positive and negative experiences were exchanged, which resulted in conclusions and solutions for more successful mechanisms to deal with the challenges facing the microfinance sector.
We came to the conclusion that all countries in the region are facing similar or equal challenges and that the different practices and solutions applied should be shared on a regular basis and thus to optimize resources and save time and resources.
The emphasis was put on the main challenges:
- - Challenges of the recruitment and selection process, analysis of the current situation in the labor market, current trends of emigration with a focus on young people, the challenges of educational systems and their impact on employment policies and approaches,
- - The challenges of keeping quality staff, possible forms of motivation, additional education and building employee loyalty as a team,
which resulted in a series of conclusions on joint engagement and concentrated efforts in the upcoming period, on which microfinance organizations from the region will continue to work as well as national associations and alliances.
With the organization of this thematic forum, we rounded-up the process of establishing a regional platform for microfinance organizations under the leadership of the Alliance of Microfinance organizations, as one of the goals of the USAID Microfinance inclusion and Innovation Project.
International Conference of Agricultural cooperatives in Strumica
Access to micro-financing is one of the key conditions for a successful and developed agriculture. In partnership with the Macedonian Association of Agricultural cooperatives, we are honored to be part of the international Conference of Agricultural cooperatives in Strumica... We are sharing experiences and challenges in fincning the agribusiness and agree on partnership cooperation with colleagues from different countries, the Faculty of agriculture in Skopje and representatives of the public, private and civil sector.
Info session with students from the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences and food from Skopje
To our guests, the students of agroeconomics from the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences and food from Skopje, we gladly elaborated the inseparable connection between microfinance and agriculture, the importance of adjusting the loans to the needs of farmers, responsible lending as our policy and we discussed the main challenges of today's agriculture, access to finance and non-financial services and the importance of financial education ... We thank Moznosti, FULM, Horizonti and MEDF for the lectures and the students and their professors for visiting us and we are already working on new contents to expand our cooperation with educational institutions!
Strengthening motivation and enhancing quality
of communication in interpersonal relation
Defining goals, motivation and proper communication, tailored to different types of people, are key to success in private life, but also in the workplace. For the professionals from Moznosti, FULM, Horizonti and MEDF, we held a two-day training in Veles, to learn new methods and techniques and use the opportunity to get to know each other and exchange experiences and opinions on issues they face in everyday life.
Link: Alliance of microfinance organizations
EMN 14th Annual conference:
"Financial education to empower citizens: All aboard!"
With the assistance of USAID, representatives of the leading Microfinance organizations Moznosti, FULM, Horizonti and MEDF participated the annual conference of the European Microfinance Network in Venice, Italy, focusing on Financial education, discussing how financial education can help micro-finance rethink the products on offer, ensuring they have a high social impact while prioritizing the clients’ needs. Mentoring, local and regional legislation, financial instruments, tools for measurement of the social indicators, partnership, and association as tools for lobbying and other mechanisms were part of the agenda.
STUDY VISIT TO TIRANA, ALBANIA
With the support of the USAID’ Microfinance inclusion and innovation Project, we organized a study visit for the leading microfinance organizations: Savings house Moznosti, Savings house FULM, Microcredit foundation Horizonti and the Macedonian Enterprise Development Foundation, with a focus on electronic and mobile payments and other financial services as well as building partnerships with relevant organizations in the region.
During the visit of the institutions in Tirana, we learned about the successful stories of the payment institutions M-Pay and Easy Pay, the microcredit foundation Fondi Besa as well as the credit union UNIFIN, while with the Bank of Albania team we discussed the legislation in place for the non-banking financial organizations and the experiences from the process of preparing the laws, the impacts of their implementation and the public consultation process.
The lessons learned and the acquired knowledge from the region play a significant role in improving the legislation and the business climate for our members as part of the process we continuously work on.
THE CYCLE OF FIVE SPECIALIZED CAPACITY BUILDING TRAININGS WAS COMPLETED
During May, 2017, the Alliance organized the fourth and fifth seminar “Strengthening the sales skills for financial services in microfinance organizations''. The trainings were held in hotel Alpina, Mavrovo, with attendance of 38 participants-loan officers (staff members from our member-organizations, Savings house MOZNOSTI and Savings house FULM), from 9 different cities in Macedonia. With this series we completed the cycle of five specialized trainings to build capacities of more than 110 professionals from the MFO members and the trust and quality in the relations with their clients.
REGIONAL FORUM: PAYMENT SERVICES FOR BETTER FINANCIAL INCLUSION
The Alliance of Microfinance Organizations organized in cooperation with Savings house Moznosti, Savings house FULM, Microcredit foundation Horizonti and the Macedonian Enterprise Development Foundation and with support of the USAID’ Microfinance Innovation and Inclusion Project the regional forum “Payment services for better financial Inclusion” in Ohrid, on April 20-21.
The Forum was organized with the participation of the National bank and the Ministry of finance of Macedonia, as well as the Central banks of Albania, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia, the payment institution Payspot Novi Sad, Serbia, microfinance organizations from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Albania, while the experiences and positive practices from Ireland, Poland, United Kingdom, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, USA and Moldova were presented and discussed in more details.
The conclusions of the forum included the need of an intense engagement in this field for liberalization of the payment services market and enabling faster, cheaper and simpler payments and transfers for the population, with an accent on rural areas as well as support in using innovative instruments by using E- and M—payments.
The Forum provided an opportunity to exchange knowledge and identify possible solutions for a successful implementation of the EU-directives and further work on the payment services system in Macedonia to provide stronger inclusion of different categories of the population, thereby making a strong contribution in fighting poverty and building a sustainable and long-term success in the microfinance sector to satisfy the needs of the citizens.
The Alliance of Microfinance Organizations, as the carrier of public-private dialogue shall continue to provide assistance in the process of building favorable regulation, in partnership with the regulators.
CONTINUING WITH THIRTH TRAINING OF THE SEMINAR
“Strengthening the sales skills for financial services in microfinance organizations”
On March 22-23, at hotel Romantik Dojran, MFO organized the third training to strengthen the sales skills of employees of microfinancing organizations. This training counted 25 participants in total. The participants were loan officers from 7 different cities in Macedonia including Skopje, Strumica, Kochani, Kavadarci, Bitola, Prilep and Kumanovo. As collegues they used the seminar to exchange experiences, practical examples, discussed the new challenges they face in their everyday work. The series of trainings will continue.
THE ALLIANCE OF MICROFINANCE ORGANIZATIONS – PARTNER IN THE GLOBAL MONEY WEEK 2017
Under the motto “Learn. Save. Earn.” and alongside our partners from the National bank, the Ministry of finance, the Agency for insurance supervision, the Securities exchange committee and the Agency for supervision of fully funded pension insurance, we are proudly conducting the Global Money Week in Macedonia, simultaneously with more than 140 countries around the world.
In the campaign, we organize visits of the scholars from primary and secondary schools to the offices of our members, Savings house FULM, Savings house Moznosti and Horizonti.
This year, the educational caravan started at the Savings house FULM with the visit of the pupils from the primary school “Lazo Trpkovski” Skopje, where they learned about the importance of money, saving, debt management and significance of financial literacy.
Take a look at the photos from today’s great experience, as we move on with the caravan through the cities of Macedonia…
Link National Bank of the Republic of Macedonia
CONTINUING TO STRENGTHEN THE MICROFINANCE SALES SKILLS
Second series of specialized trainings for our members - Dojran, March 20-21
The second training of the seminar “Strengthening the sales skills for financial services in microfinance organizations”, enabled the second group of staff members from our member-organizations, the leading microfinance institutions: Savings house MOZNOSTI, Savings house FULM and the Microcredit foundation HORIZONTI to learn about the advanced sales techniques for financial services.
We elaborated new approaches of working with people and innovative mechanisms to strengthen the sales process, with our highly skilled lecturer.
In addition, the colleagues from different partnering organizations used this opportunity to exchange experiences and discuss challenges they face in their daily performance to improve their results.
With this series of trainings, we continue to work on improving the capacities of the staff of the non-banking microfinance institutions-MFO members and the trust and quality in the relations with their clients.
NEW PERSPECTIVE OF MICROFINANCE IMPACT
the Macedonian Microfinance organizations - part of the
European Microfinance Summit 2017
The Alliance of Microfinance organizations organized the participation of the leading Macedonian Microfinance organizations: Savings House Moznosti, Savings House FULM, Microcredit foundation Horizonti and the Macedonian Enterprise Development Foundation at the European Microfinance Summit in Barcelona, Spain, to provide the Macedonian microfinance organizations with relevant knowledge on contemporary trends in the field and meet leading experts in their area.
The conference included 21 speakers, professionals from the Microfinance industry and related branches with highly relevant experience and best practices to share.
At the event, the participants had an opportunity to learn about the most current developments and trends in the industry and discuss challenges and solutions with their peers from over 20 countries from around the world.
The list of countries present included Luxembourg, Malta, Albania, Kosovo, Georgia, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, France, Netherlands, Scotland, Portugal, Lebanon, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Moldova, Nigeria, Italy, Hungary and Canada.
The conference program included speaker presentations as well as exercises, with active involvement of the participants from Macedonia in the Q&A sessions as well as two working groups, where representatives from Macedonia were giving the presentations of the results defined by the working group.
At the working group session “Microfinance success factors”, we presented the most pressing challenges and opportunities for the microfinance sector and the consensual focus needed on regulations, technology advances and non-financial services as an effort to build sustainable markets for long-term services.
In the course of the conference program, special sessions were provided for the different participants to meet and discuss topics of interest as well as work on building their network of professionals towards future cooperation. The participants from Macedonia also had a series of meetings with representatives from Georgia, Spain, France, Netherlands and other countries.
The opportunity, provided by the conference, to expand professional networks and establish close connections with practitioners as well as civil sector organizations and regulators from different parts of the world, gave our delegation a new perspective on the pressing issues for our microfinance sector, such as regulatory issues, the role of new technologies as well as financial inclusion.
The importance of social performance in microfinancing was an element joining all presentations and speakers at the conference, in line with the role it plays in building stronger markets and establishing a sustainable business model. We gained insight on the SPI4 platform and the options it provides for measuring the social impact as well as the benefits this system offers to the NBFI’s in the process of providing sustainable financing from funds.
The knowledge we acquired at this conference will play a significant role in strengthening the Alliance through the established networks of the member-organizations and their role on the market.
Continuing with the financial education trainings…
The USAID’ Microfinance Inclusion and Innovation Project activities in the field of financial literacy continued in February with two 2-day trainings on financial education, performed by our implementing partner, the Macedonian development foundation for enterprises (MEDF).
The financial education training in Kavadarci was held on February 1 and 2, while the session in Mustafino was held on February 6 and 7, both attracting great interest of the farmers, current and potential clients of our members.
Our training session improve the general knowledge in the area of managing finances, skills of managing personal debt, introduction to microfinance products and services.
Through practical examples, the farmers learned more about managing organization budgets, determining the threshold of profitability, careful lending, making a difference between types of loans and related expenses.
Representatives of our member-organizations Moznosti, FULM and Horizonti also took part at these events and presented the benefits of responsible lending and saving.
With the financial education training sessions, we continue to assist entrepreneurs in building sustainable success stories for future generations.
Training: “Strengthening the sales skills for financial services in microfinance organizations, Veles, January 25-26, 2017
With strong interest and high level of involvement in the course of the training: “Strengthening the sales skills for financial services in microfinance organizations”, the participants from our member-organizations, the leading microfinance institutions: Savings house MOZNOSTI, Savings house FULM and the Microcredit foundation HORIZONTI used the opportunity to learn about the advanced sales techniques for financial services.
With expert assistance, we elaborated in details and in an interactive manner the secrets of the most successful negotiators in the field, the process and activities of building relations with clients, maintaining and expanding the number of clients, and through practical hands-on exercises, we were able to determine how to best apply the acquired knowledge in the daily work of the sales staff members and their contacts with their clients.
In a great atmosphere, the participants also used the training to exchange experiences and discuss different topics and challenges they face in their work, making use of the best practices and solutions applied by the leading financial institutions in the region and further.
This training is a strong contribution to improving the capacities of the staff of the non-banking microfinance institutions-MFO members and building the relationship of trust and quality in the relations with their clients.
With USAID support, we organized a study visit to Belgrade (Serbia) in December, to obtain relevant experiences on designing and implementing the Law on payment services as a key reform in providing an open client-oriented market of payment services, enhancing competitiveness and reducing transaction costs for the wider population and regulation and legislation on microfinance and different approaches which are favorable to the strengthening of the microfinance sector.
From the USAID Business Environment Project’ (www.bep.rs), we learned about the situation in the financial system of Serbia, existent legislation, efforts to regulate microfinance and public-private dialogue instruments.
At the round-table with the National Bank of Serbia (www.nbs.rs), we focused on the Law on payment services and efforts of the NBS to regulate the microfinance sector.
The practical experience of licensed payment services operators is of key significance for our microfinance.
At the meeting at Tenfore LTD Belgrade (www.tenfore.rs) and Payspot DOO from Novi Sad (www.payspot.rs), we discussed the process of preparation of the payment services legislation and the forms of inclusion of the business community, software solutions, IT-infrastructure, trends and expectations etc.
The knowledge we acquired with this visit is of great significance and will make a strong contribution in our future efforts to build a favorable environment for continuous growth of microfinancing in our country, to strengthen entrepreneurship, inclusion and reduce poverty.
FINANCIAL LITERACY TRAININGS
By the end of September we completed the first cycle of financial literacy trainings for socially vulnerable persons, students, farmers and micro-entrepreneurs.
The Alliance of Microfinance organizations, in cooperation with the Macedonian Enterprize Development Foundation as implementor of the Project activity, started the series of trainings in the field of financial literacy for wide population groups. We are realizing a series of 30 2-day trainings in several cities throughout Macedonia, to include over 600 participants from vulnerable social groups, farmers, micro- and small businesses, start-ups, students etc. At these trainings, the participants are learning about financial planning, reports, types of loans, interest rates and other important terms by certified experts. With this activity, we continue to build educated current and future entrepreneurs and strengthen the role of microfinance organizations: Savings house FULM, Savings house Moznosti and the Microcredit foundation Horizonti.
This activity is supported by the USAID' Microfinance inclusion and innovation Project.