Building a team for savings

Generous Pic Best low resAs part of the MicroLead project, MEDA worked with UGAFODE Microfinance in Uganda to provide a safe and regulated savings environment for their clients.

Generous Atwemerireho has been working at UGAFODE for 12 years. She started straight out of university as a credit officer and has been a branch manager for eight years. She is responsible for UGAFODE’s operations in Lyantonde, one of its largest branches.

Lyantonde was one of four branches selected for the GroupSave product pilot in part due to its strength and size as a branch. The branch currently has 3,050 in active voluntary depositor clients and 1,763 active borrowers.

To date, Generous has participated in MEDA/UGAFODE savings mobilization trainings, GroupSave and AirSave product trainings, where staff learned more about how savings clients are different than credit clients, the value propositions for savings products, how to market GroupSave and AirSave products/services, and how to encourage people to save small amounts.

When asked how managing the branch has changed since the Microlead project began in 2013, Generous says she has shifted the way she manages her staff and how they promote savings, noting, “Before GroupSave, a client would come in and want to access a loan, but now a client comes and tells you they want to open a savings account. The loan request comes in later. For us, this is clear evidence that people’s perceptions of UGAFODE have changed for the better.”

Generous now pushes her staff to encourage customers to sign up for savings accounts before applying for a loan. Staff know that savings customers will eventually become strong loan customers.

“Even the way we communicate our purpose as an institution has changed: We used to say open an account to get a loan. Now, we say open an account and save with us.” This change in approach has helped Generous and her branch reach more savings customers than any other branch, and grow UGAFODE’s savings portfolio. It is also the strongest-performing branch. Since GroupSave began, UGAFODE has enrolled 10,253 new savings clients – 3,281 women and 6,972 men.

Most branch customers are small farmers and owners of small businesses. They find the Airsave process very useful: They can save small amounts whenever they have the money, instead of waiting until the end of the month. “When people enroll in Airsave,” notes Generous, “they can keep saving using their phones; instead of waiting to pay off the loan on the due date, they can save for repayments during the month. People no longer just pay on their due dates, they keep saving, making it less on their due date.”

Generous continues to promote savings by building on the lessons she learned during the MEDA trainings. Instilling her staff with strong customer service values has helped with the shift from being a loan-first MFI to a deposit-taking institution. “Now that we have GroupSave, banking is more personalized. People choose – and stay with – a bank because of how they are treated and we need that personal touch with our UGAFODE customers. You call someone by name, you know their needs. Our customers appreciate that.”

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