Resolved: 2011, the Year of Quality

> Posted by Beth Rhyne

Happy New Year from all of us at the Center for Financial Inclusion! May your ventures be fruitful and your resolutions attainable!
At the Center, we’ve resolved that 2011 will be the Year of Quality.
For too long in microfinance, quality has taken a back seat to quantity.  We‘ve been so motivated by the goal of bringing financial services to the majority of people who are excluded that we have sometimes neglected the quality of services received.  However, last year’s difficulties in India, Nicaragua, and Bosnia, as well as results from impact research, signal that the time has come to move quality to the top of the agenda.
To put it bluntly, inclusion without quality is a meaningless number.
As a term of art, “quality” may not be immediately self-explanatory.  I like to define quality as what the client experiences when he or she obtains a service.  There are many attributes that make the service what it is – the amount of money involved is just the beginning.
Think of the ideal financial service.  It would be:
–    Convenient (no standing in long queues)
–    Flexible (tailored to a client’s business rhythm)
–    Reasonably priced
It would be provided by a reliable institution in a way that is:
–    Respectful (clients are treated as valued customers)
–    Ethical (clients aren’t enticed to buy services they can’t manage)
–    Safe (value of savings is maintained)
It might be provided alongside other social services or with financial education. Taken together, the quality attributes determine whether a service will have value for the client or not.
If quality is all about providing services in a way that brings the client value, then quality is at the heart of the mission of microfinance and financial inclusion. And yet, we lack good metrics to track quality – an area for research during this year.
Moreover, we can’t achieve ideal quality all at once. Currently there is great excitement about the radical convenience improvements brought by mobile and agent banking.  But other dimensions of quality also need to be examined, and some of these will be difficult or costly to achieve. We can work this year to develop greater understanding about which aspects of quality are most fruitful to pursue.
Throughout 2011, we at the Center have resolved to talk about quality, look for examples of quality in the field, and promote a quality lens for policy making. We invite you to make 2011 the Year of Quality in your work, too.
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