Archive for the ‘Cashpor’ Category

Why the Mobile Phone Might Not Be as Inclusive as You Think

January 8, 2013

Originally posted at Next Billion. Leo Tobias is a Technology Program Manager at Grameen Foundation.

Mobile Phone TransactionFinancial inclusiveness is a core tenet of our work at Grameen Foundation. Utilizing mobile phones for financial services has gained a lot of traction as a sustainable and scalable solution to serve the 2.5 billion people who do not have access to formal banking services. But does this solution really enable us to reach all of these people?

As part of a pilot program to implement mobile money at one of our partner organizations, a survey was conducted to gather basic knowledge about people’s access to mobile phones and their usage of mobile money and other financial services. While 98 percent of members interviewed have access to a mobile phone, only 78 percent owned their own mobile phones.

So what’s the problem? A previous study conducted by Grameen Foundation at Cashpor, a microfinance institution (MFI) in India, revealed there are significant access, convenience and security issues associated with customers not having their own handset or the knowledge to operate the technology themselves…

To read this full post, visit Next Billion.

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Three Stories (and Lessons) about Saving through the Mobile Phone

November 20, 2012

Julia Arnold is a Program Associate for Grameen Foundation’s Microsavings initiative. If you have any questions for Julia about her time in India with the members of Cashpor, she will answer them here in the comments section.

In July, on behalf of Grameen Foundation’s Microsavings initiative, I went to Cashpor Microcredit in Varanasi, India, to conduct research on mobile phone use among its savings and credit clients.  The microfinance institution (MFI) began offering savings services via mobile phones in July 2011, providing a vital financial service to its clients to which they would not otherwise have access.  Building assets through a safe, reliable savings account helps the poor plan for the future and mitigate the risk of small, unreliable incomes.

Though we understood that a majority of Cashpor clients had some access to a mobile phone before the MFI began offering the savings services, there is global evidence that poor women have limited access to and literacy with mobile devices.  We wanted to know if the mobile phone requirement in Cashpor’s program limited the ability of its clients, all of whom are female, to access the savings services. (more…)

Day Nine: A Savings Account to the Rescue

November 19, 2012

For the 12 days leading up to Thanksgiving in the U.S., we’re featuring 12 stories from six different countries we work in, as a way of saying, “Thank You” to our supporters, who make our work possible. We hope that you enjoy seeing the difference that you’re making in the lives of poor people around the world, every day.

Rajkumari Buddhu lives in Kaurouta, a village in Uttar Pradesh, in northern India. She shares a small mud-thatched hut with her husband, four children, two daughters-in-law and grandchildren. The family’s livelihood comes from weaving clothes and selling them at the local market, Rajkumari spins her wheel and makes small spindles of different-sized threads from larger spindles, forming the spools used in the weaving process. Here is her story, as told to local Grameen Foundation staff.

Rajkumari has always wanted an organized way to save the small amount of money that, though discipline, she had left over every week, but without access to a savings facility, she often spent it. When Grameen Foundation microfinance partner Cashpor introduced a savings program in her area in July 2011, Rajkumari quickly enrolled. Now she has a disciplined and reliable way of saving.

Rajkumari (shown here with her grandson) earns a living weaving thread, and has been able to help herself – and her family – in times of emergency, thanks to her savings account provided by Cashpor, helped by Grameen Foundation.

Just in the past year, she recalls tearfully, there have been three separate occasions that have made her feel grateful for Cashpor and Grameen Foundation:

  1. Rajkumari became sick with severe pneumonia and had to stay in the hospital. After the first few days of treatment, paid for by her husband and sons, the hospital insisted on an additional 4,000 rupees (about $75). Her family’s resources had totally dried up, but she realized that she had some money left in her Cashpor savings account. With the IV still attached to her wrist, she traveled on her son’s bicycle to the nearest Cashpor branch. It was almost 6 p.m., but to her great relief, she saw the center manager’s motorcycle still parked outside. She immediately went over to him and withdrew the entire 3,200 rupees in her account, then managed to borrow the balance from her neighbor and pay the hospital to continue her treatment.
  2. Rajkumari’s daughter-in-law, during the third trimester of her pregnancy, realized that her baby had stopped moving. She was rushed to the hospital and told that she needed an operation to save the baby and herself. Rajkumari’s family was not prepared for this sudden expense, but the money in her savings account again came to the rescue. After seeing the birth of her healthy granddaughter, Rajkumari felt proud that her small savings account helped save the lives of her daughter-in-law and her granddaughter.
  3. A less dramatic, but still meaningful, occasion happened when her twin daughters wanted to participate in the state-level Khabaddi athletic championship in Delhi, but they needed money to fund the trip. Rajkumari managed to help them with her small savings, and she now proudly displays the trophy and the certificate that her children won in the championship.

Though the Hindi meaning of her name is “princess,” life has never treated Rajkumari as one. Now, with the help of Grameen Foundation and Cashpor’s savings program, she is the queen of the house – managing household finances, helping with the family business and helping the family lift themselves out of poverty. Access to savings has helped usher in new hope to face the hardship and give wings to her aspirations.

You can help more families like Rajkumari’s lift themselves out of poverty when you support Grameen Foundation today.

Our 12 days of Thanksgiving series stories were collected and edited with the help of Bankers without Borders® volunteer Nicole Neroulias Gupte.

You can read the rest of our series here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5| Part 6| Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12

Three Key Lessons about Gender and Mobile Finance

November 7, 2012

The mobile phone is gaining widespread popularity as a means to bridge the “last mile” – a way of bringing information and financial services to hard-to-reach people who don’t have ready access to them.  To get a better picture of how to best deliver mobile services, we conducted a case study with our partner, Cashpor Microcredit, a microfinance institution based in Varanasi, India.

There are 300 million fewer women than men who own mobile phones in developing countries, and high barriers to entry remain for women. This study investigates some of these concerns, specifically whether women have limited access to savings services delivered via the mobile phone.

It finds that, though enthusiasm for the mobile phone as a way to deliver these services is justified, there is evidence that poor women have limited access to and lack literacy with mobile devices, creating a gap in their access to financial and other services delivered this way.

You can download the full report here, but we’ll share with you here the three key lessons:

1. Promoting mobile phone ownership among women is critical to ensure their access to services.

Women who own phones make more frequent savings deposits than women who borrow a phone. In addition, half of the women who borrow a phone reported that there are times when their access is limited, due chiefly to the primary user taking it with him for work during the day. These women’s ability to make a deposit depends on whether the phone is available to them during their weekly Cashpor meeting. Women who do not have access to a phone cannot save with Cashpor, which effectively excludes them from access to a safe and reliable place to save their own and their family’s money.

2. Providing mobile phone literacy training is essential among these women.

Of the 65 women we spoke with, only 23 were able to use the phone independently; of those women, 13 own a phone. The women who cannot use a phone independently reported asking their husbands, sons, daughters and neighbors for help to answer, hang up or dial the phone. Mobile phone literacy training would 1) ensure that women are empowered and feel a sense of ownership over the product; 2) demystify the mobile phone; and 3) enable knowledge transfer to children and grandchildren, ensuring that they are also able to take advantage of mobile phone-delivered financial services in the future.

3. The children of Cashpor clients know much more about mobile phones than their parents.

Women reported that their children – both boys and girls – knew how to use mobile phones and reported asking their children how to use a feature on the phone, typically how to make a call. Interestingly, only a few women reported that their children have classes in school with computers or cell phones. Most children are teaching themselves how to use the phone and are passing that knowledge along to their mothers.

Download the full report

“Financial Vandalism” in India, and a Way Forward

August 15, 2012

Alex Counts is president, CEO and founder of Grameen Foundation, and author of several books, including Small Loans, Big Dreams: How Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus and Microfinance are Changing the World.

I was invited to give one of the closing keynote addresses to the Sa-Dhan conference, something I had been preparing for at least since I travelled to India in early July to work on an upcoming book about the latest trends in microfinance.  I had intended to arrive in time for the inaugural session on August 7, but travel delays prevented that.  (Word to the wise: when travelling to India on the non-stop flights from Newark, plan to arrive in Newark long before your onward flight is due to depart.)

Upon arrival, I was told that the conference’s mood on the first day alternated between “somber” and “angry.”  Just a few days earlier, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had announced new regulations affecting microfinance.  Though these policies rolled back some harmful policies announced a few months back and helpfully clarified others, they also introduced a controversial new rule saying that microfinance institutions over a certain size would be subject to smaller margins than they were currently allowed between the rates they borrowed and lent at.  The whipsaw nature of Indian microfinance policy at the national level, coming on the heels of the debilitating and draconian law passed in the state of Andhra Pradesh in late 2010, had justifiably enraged many of the practitioners in attendance – particularly as there had been no warning or explanation for many of the policies announced over the last 12 months.

Grameen Foundation President and CEO Alex Counts (lefts) speaks about the Indian microfinance sector at the Sa-Dhan Conference held earlier this month in that country. With him on stage are Jayshree Vyas (center), Managing Director of SEWA Bank, who served as the moderator, and Sujata Lamba of the World Bank.

Grameen Foundation President and CEO Alex Counts (left) speaks about the Indian microfinance sector at the Sa-Dhan Conference held earlier this month in that country. With him on stage are Jayshree Vyas (center), Managing Director of SEWA Bank, who served as the moderator, and Sujata Lamba of the World Bank.

The second day did not get off to a good start.  Sa-Dhan executive director Mathew Titus announced that a senior government official had canceled his opening address.  However, as the day got going, the overall mood improved.  Royston Braganza, CEO of Grameen Capital India, organized and moderated an excellent panel on “Overcoming the Barriers to Resource Flows” to the sector.  (Grameen Capital India is a joint venture between Grameen Foundation and affiliates of two major banks operating in India.)

I attended Royston’s panel and then caught the end of a concurrent panel on “business correspondent” (BC) models for MFIs working in partnership with, and essentially as agents of, fully licensed banks.  Though some recent policies about the BC model have cast doubt on the viability of MFIs being able to work effectively with banks, it was an invigorating discussion.  Mukul Jaisal, Managing Director of Indian microfinance institution (MFI) Cashpor, talked about his experience pioneering this model for providing savings services (which the MFI has been able to implement with support from Grameen Foundation).

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Making Progress Through Savings

June 14, 2012

Kimberly Davies is a program officer on Grameen Foundation’s Financial Services team.

Traveling to the field and talking with clients is the favorite part of my job.  I’ve worked in microfinance for five years and think daily about the poor women and families whom we support. Working with partner organizations and meeting clients face-to-face not only reminds me of why I’m in this field – it also helps me better understand the poor’s demand for financial services and the many challenges involved in providing those services.

It has been really exciting to see the progress of our microsavings project in India.  The first time I visited our partner organization Cashpor Micro Credit – a poverty-focused microfinance institution (MFI) in Varanasi, India – it was not yet offering savings products to its clients. This was partly due to complex Indian regulations requiring MFIs to work with banks to provide savings. Since then, Cashpor partnered with ICICI Bank and Eko Technologies (a tech provider that enables savings via the mobile phone) to launch a new savings product in the summer of 2011.

Microsavings accounts provide poor parents with a safe place to save for their children's future.

Microsavings accounts provide poor parents with a safe place to save for their children’s future.

Since the launch, Cashpor has added about 250 new savers every day, and currently has more than 60,000 savings accounts. Cashpor’s clients have spoken loud and clear about their desire to save. Clients told us during my last visit that they wanted their own safe savings accounts, but I wasn’t sure what the real demand truly was. It’s also challenging to offer convenient services to clients, because some do not have cell phones, most can’t read and many are even numerically illiterate. These challenges, on top of others, were things that I knew would take time to navigate.

However, the huge demand does make sense. A safe place to save is critical for families, because it helps them smooth consumption during times of sporadic income, or prepare for an emergency or a planned lifetime event. Of course, people want convenient tools to help them better manage their lives. In the United States, we have access to so many financial tools in our everyday life – various savings accounts we can access at any time, insurance, loans, locked CDs that yield a safe and consistent interest rate, etc. You name it, we have it. The poor want these same tools.

Truly moving out of poverty is a huge task. Though tools like the Progress Out of Poverty Index® can measure the likelihood that an MFI’s client base is poor and track its movement out of poverty over time, this is a complex thing to measure, because forces such as natural disasters and family illnesses can prevent people from moving out of poverty or cause them to slip back into poverty. These uncontrollable forces make the use of easily accessible and affordable financial tools – such as savings accounts – all the more important to the poor.

Again and again, I’ve seen with my own eyes and heard with my own ears how access to financial services has improved the lives of poor people and their families. I look forward to seeing Cashpor’s savings program grow even more over the next year, as they help more women and families in need.

A Real Education

April 26, 2012

Julia Arnold is a program associate for Grameen Foundation’s microsavings initiative, and will graduate from American University in May with a master’s degree in international development.

As a graduate student at American University and a Grameen Foundation employee, I have studied international development in the classroom and have seen it in practice through my work with Grameen Foundation’s microsavings initiative in India, Ethiopia and the Philippines, and our livelihoods work in India. This unique vantage point has given me many opportunities to reflect on the relationship between what is taught in school and what is done in the “real world” of international development. On a recent trip to one of the project sites of our microsavings project, I began to truly appreciate the difference between classroom theories and realities of the lives of the poorest.

Clients of Indian microfinance institution Cashpor take a break during a group meeting, where poor women like these meet to make payments on microloans and to make deposits in their savings accounts.

During our visit to the holy Indian city of Varanasi, my colleagues and I visited the homes of some of the urban and rural clients of Cashpor, a microfinance institution (MFI) we’re working with to deliver microsavings services to their ultra-poor clients. It was a privilege to be welcomed into the homes of the families for whom Cashpor provides access to vital financial services. The women I met were beautiful in their bright saris – and serious about their membership in the self-help groups (SHGs).

Though I was inspired by their resilience and determination, the women also bore the marks of very difficult lives. They were extremely small – a result of malnourishment – and extremely poor. Those in urban areas lived in one- or two-room homes in concrete apartment structures with little more than a bed and a curtain for a door, while those in rural areas shared their small homes with their precious livestock. One urban family lived in a very small room in an apartment that didn’t hold much more than a bed – shared among seven family members. The youngest of the five children was badly scarred from surgery for a broken leg and would never walk properly again.  Though most of the children wore school uniforms and were enrolled, I struggled to imagine where they studied or how long it would be before they would be pulled from school to help earn income for the family.

Several truths jumped out at me as a result of meeting these clients. These truths had been spoken during my classes, but I was not able to fully appreciate them until traveling to India to meet these women.

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Giving India’s Poor a New Way to Save

January 5, 2012

Santosh Daniel is the project manager for Grameen Foundation’s Microsavings Initiative in India.

Anju Jaiswal lives in a remote village of Dheena in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India, where she and her husband, Ghanshyam, own a small kirana, or grocery.  Using a loan from Cashpor, a local microfinance institution (MFI), Anju is able to stock her family’s store with vegetables, provisions and other essential household items.  Her store serves the surrounding agricultural community, which can make earning a regular income challenging as most of her clients have seasonal farm jobs.  She uses most of the income she earns from the store to feed her family, often leaving very little for savings.  When the family is able to save, they keep their savings at home, like many other poor households.

For poor, rural households like Anju’s, opening a savings account poses several challenges.  The nearest Cashpor branch, for example, is 10 kilometers (about 6 miles) from Anju’s home, which means she would have to spend valuable time away from her business to go there.  In addition, the prospect of opening a savings account can be overwhelming for households that tend to have little schooling and low literacy skills.

On the other side of Uttar Pradesh, another Cashpor client, Sangeeta, lives with her husband and in-laws.  Sangeeta and her husband work in the family business in the remote village of Chaubeypur, making cardboard boxes used for packing sweets.  Though her husband has a bank account with one of the national banks, it’s often difficult for him to go to the nearest branch to deposit his savings because of distance and time constraints.  In fact, his account has been dormant for the past year and a half.

Thanks to Grameen Foundation's Microsavings Initiative and the work of its partners Cashpor (a local microfinance institution) and ICICI Bank, Sangeeta is now able to save a little each week to provide security for her future.

Thanks to Grameen Foundation's Microsavings Initiative and the work of its partners Cashpor (a local microfinance institution) and ICICI Bank, Sangeeta is now able to save a little each week to provide security for her future.

Poor, rural households face three common challenges when it comes to banking with a formal institution:

  1. Many of them don’t use existing bank services because they’re too far away and don’t offer the services they need
  2. They typically have very small sums to deposit, making the long trip to the bank not worth the time they lose
  3. They are intimidated by documentation required for opening accounts because of low literacy and lack of self-confidence

To meet these challenges, Cashpor – in collaboration with ICICI Bank and Grameen Foundation – began in June 2011 offering the Apna Savings Account to more than 379,000 female clients, as well as non-clients, living in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.  To date, Cashpor has enrolled more than 15,000 new savings customers – including Anju and Sangeeta – in more than 140 branches in five districts.  The demand for Apna (which means “ours” in Hindi) has been extremely high, with 300 to 500 new savers being added daily.

The savings product is designed to help the client overcome the challenges above.  Staff members conduct new-client enrollment via mobile phones, using the phone number as the account number.  Cashpor savings officers travel to clients to take their savings deposits (which clients can also make using their mobile phone), much as they do with traditional micro-credit clients. Deposits are then automatically updated, so clients can immediately check their balance using their phones.  Clients also can deposit, withdraw and send remittances through their phone using their mobile savings accounts.

As the project has grown, the partners have faced a few challenges in implementing the mobile savings account.  The biggest obstacle has been overcoming the cultural barriers in India to women owning a mobile phone, which is seen as a tool of the young and not respectable for Cashpor’s clientele, who are largely in the 31-45 age group.  However, when one group member decides to use the phone, we’ve seen that it is a powerful example to the others in the group.  In fact, 80 percent of Cashpor’s customers do have access to a phone (either their own phone or one they share with the rest of the household), so the potential for them using this savings account is large.  Current Cashpor clients and also non-clients are also expressing a strong willingness to buy a phone so that they can have access to formal-sector financial services.

For many women, having a savings account provides security. The savings provide a safety net for emergencies or household purchases, which is critical for poor women, who sometimes find it difficult to own property or assets.  At first, Cashpor’s clients feared their husbands would be able to check their balances on their phones, but now they’re realizing that saving with Cashpor provides more, not less, security for their savings.

The lives of Anju, Sangeeta and others who’ve taken up the new savings service have changed for the better. Grameen Foundation and its partners are working to bring safe, reliable savings accounts to poor women in rural India, provide quality customer service and use innovative approaches that will create a sustainable change in the lives of millions of poor women and their families.

Tackling the Challenges of Offering Voluntary Savings to the Poor

December 23, 2011

Leo Tobias is Grameen Foundation’s Technology Program Manager of the Solutions for the Poorest Microsavings Initiative.

Offering savings programs for the poor can be challenging. First, the microfinance institutions (MFIs) that want to offer these services are competing with a variety of alternatives, such as home-based savings (under mattresses, in strongboxes, etc.), or keeping money with relatives or neighbors. Second, offering savings products fundamentally changes the relationship between the MFI and its customers.  When clients only want loans, making that the primary purpose for their interactions with the MFI, there is a standard process. Taking voluntary customer deposits radically changes that relationship, to one that is initiated by the customer and that involves varying amounts of deposits or withdrawals. In other words, the customer interaction is less predictable.  At any time of the day or night, the customer can ask for her balance and withdraw from it.

A loan officer from CASHPOR in India processes loan payments on her mobile phone.

A loan officer from CASHPOR in India processes loan payments on her mobile phone.

Grameen Foundation’s Microsavings team has found that poor customers all want to have easy and convenient access to their funds.  The MFIs we work with face common technology challenges involved with providing such access.

In this post on the CGAP Technology Blog, Leo Tobias, our technology program manager for the Grameen Foundation Microsavings Initiative, discusses two of the major technology challenges facing MFIs.