Giving Microfinance Clients a Voice

> Posted by Alexandra Rizzi and Alyssa Passarelli, Deputy Director and Communications and Operations Assistant, the Smart Campaign

The Smart Campaign has worked tirelessly for over five years to embed the Client Protection Principles into the microfinance sector, and increasingly, the broader financial inclusion community. Yet until now, the Campaign has had minimal input from the very clients whose well-being drives the entire movement.

In order to better understand the concerns and experiences of the individuals who use microfinance, the Campaign has launched a client voice research and learning project. Through listening directly to clients, market stakeholders can raise awareness, dialogue with each other to identify potential issues, and in turn integrate this learning into their work. The Smart Campaign has a unique role in shining a light on potentially harmful or negative experiences that low-income users of financial services have had and bringing those experiences to the attention of those who can do something about them.

To conduct this project, the Campaign will be working with Daryl Collins and her team at Bankable Frontier Associates (BFA). BFA has conducted extensive global research with low-income households, including projects with an explicit focus on consumer protection. The client voice project will be conducted in four markets – Pakistan, Benin, and two others to be chosen this summer. The markets are selected based on geographic diversity as well as engagement by local stakeholders with the Smart Campaign. In Pakistan and Benin for example, the project is working closely with the Pakistan Microfinance Network and the Alafia Consortium, who have helped convene local stakeholders to give feedback on project design, research locations, and results. This ensures that the research has input and support at all stages from local expertise and will be used by those who are best placed to take action in response to the findings.

BFA’s methodology for the research will include a mix of qualitative and quantitative work. First, to allow issues to bubble up freely, the team will conduct qualitative focus groups and in-depth interviews. A small number of interviewees will be given camera-phones and asked to take pictures that illustrate both good and bad experiences with financial services. The photographs will be accompanied by the photographer’s verbal explanation of how the picture illustrates meaningful concepts or experiences. Following analysis of the qualitative research, BFA will conduct a quantitative study to examine the prevalence and frequency of the kinds of experiences uncovered. All research will be conducted carefully to ensure respondent anonymity. BFA and the Smart Campaign will be assisted in the methodological approach through the input of an international advisory council, made up of experts in client voice research as well as providers of financial services.

The Campaign is thrilled to kick off of this important work and will share updates from the project as research is completed. Qualitative research has already taken place in Pakistan and will begin in Benin next month. Results will be available for these two countries by the end of 2014 with the third and fourth countries to be completed by the first quarter of 2015.

Image credit: World Bank Photo Collection

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Client Protection is Gaining Ground in Indian Microfinance