Enthusiasm, Energy and What’s Next at AMfB

The offices of Accion Microfinance Bank- Nigeria (AMfB) are dynamic. Desks are piled high with files. Though I wouldn’t say it’s overcrowded, there is limited space. People work in close proximity and the office is filled with the ever-present noise of constant movement, cell phones ringing and people talking, laughing and arguing with one another. But what is most tangible and remarkable about the offices is the palpable energy and enthusiasm.

I am here as part of my project to help AMfB write their business plan for the next five years. A big undertaking, yes, but a very exciting task — and one in which I must get to know the staff and programs of AMfB well.

The AMfB offices in Lagos.

Immediatley, I was impressed by the commitment, ambition and creative thinking of the staff. In particular, I was intrigued by the ways AMfB is exploring how to use technology to overcome some of the difficulties of microfinance in Nigeria. Gift, the CIO, displayed an inspiring level of excitement and knowledge about his plans for improving and increasing the implementation of technology and, furthermore, a willingness to experiment with new ideas to tailor the products to the demands of the clients.

One significant area of expansion for AMfB — and for most MFIs throughout the world, for that matter —  is the use of mobile technology to improve efficiency and increase customers. In Nigeria, while only 26.5% of the population uses the internet, 60% use cell phones. Therefore, instead of focusing resources on call centers and online banking, AMfB is exploring the use of mobile technology in microfinance. For example, using mobile tellers so field agents can do collections outside the office, such as at popular markets, which are conveniently located. This not only allows customers to make quick and easy deposits to agents, but also improves the service. After processing a transaction, the point of sale devices send an SMS alert to the customer’s mobile and prints a receipt for confirmation. Thus providing the additional benefit of increasing productivity and reducing fraud, which is a significant challenge. The project is still in the pilot program stage but Gift has high hopes for the implementing this on a much larger scale in the coming year.

Discussing this, Gift demonstrated a passionate and innovative approach that I found to be shared by many of the people I spoke with. Overall, hopes at AMfB are high. People are excited and optimistic about bank’s future and expect it to grow rapidly. As I finished up my final meeting with Nwanna, the CCO, she laughed as she described how she’d been advised to “slow down and be less ambitious.” She proceeded to show me a series of charts and graphs and said, “We can do this.”

One reason for this enthusiasm is that the microfinance landscape in Nigeria is changing. In April 2011, the Central Bank of Nigeria announced a revised microfinance policy and a new framework for microfinance banks (MFBs). Previously, low capital requirements and a far too lenient licensing policy had resulted in the proliferation of MFBs in Nigeria to approximately 900, many of which did not merit designation as an MFB. One of the problems this created is that it distorted and cluttered the competitive landscape, making it difficult for first-rate MFBs, like AMfB, to excel and grow. With the recent regulatory changes, 224 MFBs were deemed either distressed or inoperative. 103 of which were liquidated and the remaining given provisional licenses to restructure, which were to be assessed again by the end of 2012. Despite the delay in the review of these banks with provisional licenses, the benefits of this new policy are already being felt and contributing to the high level of optimism.

The staff here is thinking creatively and working hard to take advantage of the changes in the microfinance sector. The active mindset here is obvious and clearly beneficial to AMfB’s success. Working in microfinance in a difficult environment like Nigeria might discourage many, but not the staff at AMfB. I think their positive and active attitude towards approaching and overcoming challenges will stand them in good stead and I am excited for their future! After all, the tagline for AMfB is, “Our future is bright!”

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One Response to “Enthusiasm, Energy and What’s Next at AMfB

  • Kate McGrath
    6 years ago

    Great post, Rebecca – I always love hearing about the staff who make microlending possible. Keep it up!

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