After two weeks of diligent preparatory work, I had finally been able to start with the client interviews in the field. Together with Priscilla, who has been nominated as Social Performance Officer, I am going to conduct more than 300 interviews with new FINCA clients across all FINCA branches. We have started in the headquarter in Lusaka and we will go to the FINCA branch in the southern city of Choma next. The branches in the north – Kabwe, Ndola, Kitwe – and in the east – Chipata (close to the boarder to Malawi) – will follow in the weeks to come.
The interviews plus the financial analyses of the loans build the data basis for the resulting Social Performance Analysis. The focus of the Social Performance Analysis is on getting better knowledge of the living standards of the FINCA clients and on getting some indication to which extend the loans can improve the living standards of low-income entrepreneurs. I am really curious about the outcome but first we need to ensure to get comprehensive and reliable data from the interviews. As you may assume that proves to be quite a challenge in some respect.
The first challenge is the timing. In order to collect data before the loan may cause any impact on the living standard, we try to conduct the interviews before the loan disbursement. This means that we have only a few hours or days between the loan application and the disbursement to conduct the interviews. That is why we try – whenever possible – to join the Loan Officers at their visits of the clients’ businesses for the financial analysis – as we did last week with Oliver and others. This way we can avoid the hassle of trying to find the precise market stall in an overcrowded market place or in a compound (township) with hundreds of houses but no street names.
Most clients we have visited are active in agricultural and retail trade such as selling shoes & clothes, chicken & vegetables or alcohol & tobacco. The welcome is usually very warm. We are always offered the only chair they have got while they sit either on a straw mat on the ground or on any other item to be used as a seat. Even though most of the clients speak some English, Priscilla translates our questions into one of the more common Zambian languages (there are more than 70 idioms in Zambia!) so that the clients feel more comfortable.
Apart from the personal data, the number of household members and the type of business they are in, we basically focus on their living expenses for food, transport, rent, telephone, shoes & clothes, health as well as education expenses. For them as for us, it is not easy to come up with a good estimation of those expenses. Some of the interviewed clients even struggle with their personal data such as their date of birth or their home address. Thus, to get reliable data is another challenge we face.
The third challenge is to get the respective financial analysis from the Loan Officers. They are not put on a central server. Usually, we need to get a copy of the paper package which may easily take hours or even days. At last, you need to regularly double-check that all the data are correctly filled in our master template. Though challenging, it is definitively worth the effort. The direct interaction with the entrepreneurs getting to know about their ideas and experiences is just awesome! I am looking forward to the next few weeks visiting clients all over the country. I am happy to keep you posted with some of my highlights…