In digital solutions, technology is the enabler, but people are still the backbone of the service. This driver is important for microfinance institutions to remember when considering mobile financial services (MFS), since transitioning to these services will require all their departments to navigate change.
For example, the marketing team will have to hire extra temp staff to sell the product, and operations will have to boost its customer service centre staff. Everyone must become acquainted with the service, first through training and promotions, before they can sell or explain it to others. And since digital services are generally launched over a mobile operator’s agency network, the collaboration will require a strong team of skilled and trained managers, who are prepared to deliver the new service and engage with the new customer segment.
Strong human capital systems can help financial institutions manage this change. When Grameen Foundation began working with Pride MDI and Centenary Bank, we first conducted a human capital management assessment, spanning several areas, to understand existing practices ,Those findings helped identify areas of strength and weakness before launching the digital offer.
Develop and train field managers: The strategy is driven from the top, but the day-to-day execution of the digital strategy is managed in the branches. Strong field managers, or strong approaches for providing training and support, are crucial to ensure that the field team is briefed, trained, and equipped to deliver. However, it cannot be assumed that there is strong management at all levels.
For example, it is common for financial institutions with large networks of staff to recruit managers from within the organization. They are promoted from the ranks of field-level specialists on the basis of their technical performance as field officers, and typically lack the soft skills, training, management knowledge, and experience that make a strong leader. They learn as they perform their jobs. However, the lack of formal education and relevant experience often makes it difficult for these middle managers to handle the complexities of their new positions. To address this issue at Pride, Grameen Foundation conducted its Leaders of the Field (LFTF)training, which prepares middle managers for the responsibilities to come. LFTF was designed to bridge the leadership gap that exists in the middle management ranks of microfinance institutions and social enterprises to enable middle managers to build skills for new levels of responsibility in their careers.
Engage field staff when developing the offer: The staff at an institution’s branch offices have the most frequent contact with customers. Engaging them (and customers) early on regarding their expectations of a digital service can help a financial institution tailor the service, the marketing, and the internal training approach. With both partners, Grameen Foundation used the staff as part of our pilot of the service to obtain feedback on messaging or menu issues.
It is also important to engage staff early on to help them understand and embrace the service. A certain section of staff may feel threatened if “going digital” means fewer face-to-face interactions with customers, as some may think: “Won’t I lose my job?” For others, internal marketing of the service is key to show that it will not cannibalize other products, but rather, will enhance them. For example, showing credit officers who are usually focused on giving loans that digital services can help in both the dissemination of loans and also collections of funds can help them become champions of the product in the branches.
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