FinDev Blog

COVID-19: How Is the Pandemic Affecting Your Work and the Clients You Serve?

A discussion forum for the global financial inclusion and microfinance community
Photo by Simone D. McCourtie, World Bank.

As countries around the world take measures to protect their populations against the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, it is clear that this pandemic will have not only far-reaching public health consequences but also severe economic effects. As always, poor and marginalized people without access to adequate safety nets are the most at risk. 

We recognize that for the FinDev Gateway community of financial inclusion and microfinance practitioners around the globe - and in particular microfinance clients - each day presents new challenges. There are no best practices yet in place, so communication and knowledge exchange with peers can play a vital role in providing support in difficult times. 

FinDev Gateway would like to offer a collective space for our community to share experiences, ideas and lessons learned as we all struggle to manage this unprecedented global crisis. We are opening up the comments section of this blog post for the community to discuss how your organizations are dealing with this situation, what challenges you are facing, and ideas for supporting those who most need it.

Some questions to get the conversation started:

  • What measures has your country taken to secure its citizens and protect them from the virus and the high costs of healthcare?
  • What economic impact is the crisis having on you and your clients’ lives?
  • How is your organization dealing with the effects of this pandemic?
    • Any measures to help clients cope with the financial effects of the pandemic?
    • Steps to keep employees, agents and clients safe from the spread of the virus?
  • What role can donors and investors play in addressing the health and financial impact of the pandemic?

Please join the conversation and share your thoughts and experiences. Information and ideas can help us find solutions together. We encourage you to include your country and the name of your institution.

Our colleagues at FinEquity are encouraging a similar discussion on their DGroups Platform focusing on the specific impact this crisis is having on poor and low-income women around the world, who are already among the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in society.

If you have more to share and would be interested in writing a blog post for FinDev Gateway, please contact us.

Comments

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Brian Nyabadza 26 March 2020

In Zimbabwe, while the public appears to not take the pandemic seriously (because of ignorance), its a matter of time before the government initiates a proper lockdown. At the moment informal economic activities are visibly still taking place as evidenced by crowds of people in the usual trading places and I dread to say that a few more weeks from now, the death toll from this irresponsible behavior may be unimaginable. The call by government for people to stay home is not being heeded and this is because the economy is highly informal with a significant portion of the populace living from hand to mouth. The Zim-SA border closes for human traffic in about 10 hours, after this, reality will dawn on the masses. For financial inclusion service providers, we expect a lot of problems going forward:
Default will spike, the mandatory lockdowns mean micro-entrepreneurs will be unable to conduct their day to day trading, this will genuinely reduce household surpluses and as such ability to service loan facilities. The pandemic comes with an associated economic burden as households will groan under the burden of supporting the affected and infected. For the not so honest customers, the pandemic will be an excuse to not honor financial obligations. Loan portfolios will suffer, Loan Officers will be unable to track payments adequately as they will have to work from home or with minimal mobility. In any case, quasi-displacements will occur, remittances will thin as the pandemic is global and is having a more significant impact on the West from whence remittances ordinarily originate. Most FSPs have weak balance sheets that were already reeling from the onslaught from inflation, the same balance sheets are now expected to absorb the losses from heightened loan poor performance, wage bills for minimally productive employees, additional costs of managing the pandemic i.e sanitizers and PPE. Post Covid-19, a number of FSPs will not exist for long especially since new capital has been rarely visiting this market. Lets not forget that the pandemic will not spare critical talent, some of the development finance practitioners viewing or writing this comment will not be around to see the end of this "invisible enemy". In short, for us in Zimbabwe, this could really finish-off an already ailing economy and it sure breaks my heart to say this. We had pre-existing adverse economic conditions and we are likely to be swept away.

Larry Reed 25 March 2020

DSK Rao and I have been tracking the response of microfinance providers and the promoters of self-help groups and savings groups through a survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ZTJ6V5V

I've been posting the results and interviews with leaders in the financial inclusion community on my website: www.souloffinance.com.

Many of those who have responded are talking about a liquidity crunch. Clients have stopped paying back loans and are withdrawing savings. Clients need more support during this time. CGAP and the World Bank can play an important role in organizing financing facilities to help financial service providers weather this storm.

Raul Gomez-Velasquez 25 March 2020

As the impact of the coronavirus grows daily, we at Amarante Consulting are fully committed to doing our utmost to minimize any disruption and continue to deliver on commitments to our clients. To this effect, we are putting in place a few key actions:

We are placing a greater reliance on virtual spaces where people come together. We have invested in tools to facilitate virtual collaboration among our teams and manage virtual communication channels both internally and with our clients. This includes building the capacity of our consultants to enable them to facilitate virtual meetings while employing strong project management framework adapted for remote functioning. This is where technology meets soft skills and rigorous organization!

We continue to work with our network of partners and consultants both in-country and across borders to support our clients and take action locally. To ensure maximum effectiveness, we are focusing on customizing our services and support to best suit our client’s needs in these atypical times.

While we reinforce our remote & in-country support, we are very aware of the support that small business and under-served people would need in this time and the potential impact on local economies. For this reason, we have come together with like-minded impact driven companies to pool in our cross-sector expertise, and create a think-tank to respond with solutions for immediate needs and business continuity. Among our thought leaders and key experts we cover thematics related to MSMEs, gender lens, digital innovation, finance and youth and entrepreneurship.

In these unprecedented times, we turn to collective responsibility and commitment for rapid and sustained response. On our modest scale, we want to make our contribution to ensure support to our partners, clients and communities.

Kayanja Benon 25 March 2020

I work for an organization in Uganda that has interventions in Kasese district with communities that have Village Savings groups. Uganda as of 24th March 2020 had 9 cases confirmed of Coronavirus and government's response has since involved among others stopping any form of group meetings of people more that 10 as a way to reduce the infections. You will know well how the VSLA model works in the communities where we are encouraging access to finance among some of the remote places of Rwenzori hilly region. With savings groups of a membership of between 20-30 will greatly affect weekly member meetings and hence will affect group cohesion and finance mobilization among them, the way forward seems to be in the area of introducing a platform for digital finance systems, any suggestions on how to introduce digital finance in the remote mountainous places of Kasese region will be highly appreciated.

Emily Janoch 24 March 2020

CARE has just released new guidelines for savings groups and COVID 19. They focus on how to protect savings group members and their health, and how to put groups at the center of planning their own contingency responses: https://www.care.org/sites/default/files/documents/care_covid-19_saving…

France Michaud 24 March 2020

Like any responsible company, Développement international Desjardins (DID) takes the current situation surrounding Covid-19 very seriously. We have taken several measures to ensure the continuation of our activities while protecting our teams, our partners and the community in general: cancelled trips, virtual meetings and teleworking are now part of our reality.

The current global crisis has made us aware of the importance of adequate access to financial services. Savings, credit, insurance and money transfers are all tools that can help us deal with the many impacts that such a crisis can have.
DID is therefore committed to deploying all the necessary means to ensure the continuation of the projects it carries out in support of the financial inclusion of disadvantaged populations. We also salute the work of all the financial institutions that contribute, through their efforts and openness, to improving access for all to financial services.

In Canada, Desjardins Group is doing its part in a concrete way to help its members and clients better cope with the crisis by offering relief measures to people who are struggling to meet their financial obligations, by prioritizing telephone and mobile services to limit physical interactions, by increasing the contactless payment limit for credit cards, and by regularly sharing practical advice.

We firmly believe that it is by showing solidarity and responsibility that we will succeed, collectively, in getting through this unprecedented crisis.

Rafa Cavalcanti 24 March 2020

I am the CEO of a fintech startup that is providing financial inclusion to low-income via our app that can outreach users easily, evaluate the risk (with a behavioral credit analysis), KYC, and speed the loan process to who needs it the most at a fraction of the cost that a MFI would incur. Most of our users are informal entrepreneurs. Their work is directly affected by Corona virus as lockdown blocks them from being out, offering their services. Working from home is not an option. Besides it, they don't have the technological know-how or hardware to put their work online.

The financial institution that we serve is afraid that default rates are going to increase - they are not wrong. However, I think this more than never is the time that the low income will need support and trust from financial services. If the rich suffers from a financial crisis, imagine the poor. The difference I see is that the poor has already faced many challenges in life, and there will always be a way out - they just need a hand.

Defaults will increase, that is a fact, but I am thinking of ways to control it. More time to start payment? no fees or interest on delayed payment? I agree with Helmut's comment up here, that would be nice to have some sharing info from older organizations that have been through financial crisis.

Emily Jancoh 23 March 2020

At CARE, we've found a few key components are really critical for this kind of response: focusing on gender equality, building community alert systems, having good context analysis that we update frequently, and thinking about how the whole portfolio of programming can work together. You can see more about our lessons here: http://news.care.org/article/responding-to-epidemics-with-courage-and-h…

William King S… 23 March 2020

As a network of 20 microfinance institutions and banks spread across five continents, FINCA impact Finance is taking a proactive approach to the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 virus. This starts with prioritizing the health and wellbeing of our customers and staff while continuing to deliver on our mission.

Although the impact of the virus has varied within the markets we serve, we remain keenly aware of the hardships this pandemic is causing to our most vulnerable customers and staff members.

In order to to lessen unnecessary travel and exposure to the virus, we are strongly encouraging all customers to use branchless channels for transactions and communications (for more info, see link: http://bit.ly/35EFScP). These include social media, WhatsApp, website chats, call centers, cash-in/cash-out machines, as well as digital banking channels such as agency, mobile and internet banking. For customers whose only option is to visit a branch office, we are adhering to internationally observed health guidelines and protocol to safeguard our customers’ health.

To safeguard the health of our employees, we have requested that staff throughout our network work remotely where possible. We have also instituted a ban on all international travel and made an e-learning course available to everyone that provides critical information about COVID-19.

Because of the unpredictable nature of this crisis, FINCA Impact Finance will remain vigilant in prioritizing the health and wellbeing of its staff and customers and will continue to be flexible in its response to this ongoing global health crisis.

Helmut Grossmann 21 March 2020

It is very likely that many MFIs will soon face a loan delinquency crisis. But maybe we can learn from the past how to cope with such a crisis. Grameen Bank, for instance, experienced a very difficult time after the 1998 flood in Bangladesh but eventually came out stronger than before. I only know about this from literature but perhaps there is someone out there who has first hand experiences and can share with all of us. - I work as consultant and trainer in the MF industry and try to use this crisis as an opportunity to shift to more home office and virtual work (which will also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions).

Marion Evelyn Akumu 20 March 2020

Marion is my name from FRIENDS Consult Ltd in Uganda, a business and management consulting firm with 90% operations in the financial sector. Much as our country (Uganda) has not yet reported any confirmed cases of COVID-19, H.E the president in his state of the nation address on Wednesday 18th March directed the closure of all schools (from pre-primary to university and tertiary level), churches, mosques and banned all gatherings of more than 10 people for a period of 30 days starting on 20th March. The Ministry of Health has also set up and is circulating a tollfree line for anyone that presents with the symptoms of coronavirus to call for help. Public transporters have also taken the initiative to provide hand washing facilities and sanitizers at their stations to try and help keep the virus away.

The effects of this pandemic are already being felt in the business community and the entire economy. With the boarders closed in the neighboring countries, some businesses have had to be suspended. Some projects have been put on hold for example research projects targeting schools. People have been advised to avoid places that are usually crowded for example banks and other financial institutions. The good this is that with digital financial services, people can still access the much needed financial services without necessarily walking into the banking hall.

Mbinya 20 March 2020

In Kenya the situation is fast becoming critical. As an independent consultant I have already lost income from international jobs that required travel but were cancelled. Local businesses are tightening ship for an unexpected recession- advisory services are not a priority. I am looking for online work in translation/ editing services For the low income markets we serve, there is growing unease as a 'lock down' becomes imminent, meaning micro businesses that are sustained by daily cash flows will close. Medium and large businesses are already sending workers home on unpaid leave. We are already seeing increed petty crimes at the local level. As at now there are no national plans to subsidise incomes or health care- though testing and treatment of the Covid 19 are free at government centres. There is a general low grade panic growing. This is affecting us greatly, and can only get worse, unless.

Leah Wardle 19 March 2020

While there are no confirmed Covid19 cases within Haiti’s borders as of March 16, the government is taking measures to ensure the population is safe. They have canceled flights from "red zones" and require all US travelers to present documentation that shows they have tested negative for coronavirus before boarding flights into Haiti. The Fonkoze staff in Haiti are taking extreme care as they continue to deliver services to clients and have rolled out plans for training of proper sanitation practices. In the US, Fonkoze is committed to slowing the spread of the disease by eliminating travel and making it easy for our employees to practice social distancing and care for their families by encouraging staff to work remotely.

Ascanio Grazio… 19 March 2020

We relaunched a Projet started some time ago: COLLOQUIUM WITH DECISION MAKERS https://lnkd.in/gpPvnes, which is neither training nor course of lessons, but a Colloquium on strategic issues with micro finance top Executives in their own hub; so doing to avoid coming to Rome or London.

Currently, Corona Virus forcing to stay at home, we relaunch our Project “Online Financial Advice”: Upon request, Executives, Responsible Managers for MFI, Micro Finance Banks, Retail Banks, People Banks, Rural Banks, and related Associations, struggling with market & management challenges may contact us ([email protected]) on matters arising: they will receive a Document and the Budget.

Webster Mate 19 March 2020

Zambia just confirmed its first two cases of COVID-19 (18 March 2020). But even before then government already directed schools, colleges, varsities to close on 20th March 2020. Large gatherings are not allowed, not even at banks. Obviously, safety of citizens is being prioritised, which is good, but people will still need financial services for their day to day lives. It is good to note that people are being encouraged to use digital financial services to avoid handling of cash, a potential transmitter of the disease. Financial literacy week activities scheduled for 23-26 March 2020 have been postponed but also there are efforts to use digital platforms to disseminate messages in the meantime. During this period economic activity will likely decline especially going by what we have seen in China and elsewhere. For smaller economies like Zambia's already grappling with a high public debt, COVID-19 may just add to the challenges facing us.

Bishnu Prasad Pathak 19 March 2020

Nepal has recently closed all schools, collages, universities, cinema halls, health clubs, and restricted mass gathering and advise to main social distance. The government has band tourist.
This pandemic could effect our economy including our MF clients because of slow down the entire business activities. We have been focusing on individual safety by providing information on safety to clients. This time we are expecting medical support such as mask and sanitizers from donors to safe our entire nation including our clients.

Bart De Bruyne 19 March 2020

As freelance consultant in short term assignments, in Corona time everybody is focussed on Corona, all our travel and assignments are postponed or cancelled and as a consequence, we fall back into a position without any income. So hopefully this situation doesn't last too long, although I have the fear that Corona might be followed with worldwide economic recession, leaving less ressources available to attribute tasks to freelance daylabourers.

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