Pauline Ngari, Microfinance Cloud MIS Pioneer: Interview- Part 3

In the previous editions of our interviews with Pauline, we learnt about her holistic approaches, challenges faced in the Microfinance industry, successes and insights on the future of Cloud...

Devika Rani HJ 31st January 2014

microfinance-cloudIn the previous editions of our interviews with Pauline, we learnt about her holistic approaches, challenges faced in the Microfinance industry, successes and insights on the future of Cloud computing. In this interview, Pauline elucidates the benefits of cloud, mobile money transfer and the impact of technology on microfinance and rural development. Also, she debunks the myths associated with Cloud computing.



This is part three of Pauline Ngari’s interview with Warwick Aubin, Cloud Lending Inc.



1. Hi Pauline! Welcome back. How many years have you been involved in microfinance and rural developmentI have been involved in rural development through social mobilization and financing or Microfinance for about 24 years now.
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2. In these 24 years, you must have witnessed significant changes, particularly in the increased usage of technology. Can you tell us more about it?



Yes, during this period I have witnessed significant growth and transformation of the rural financing industry through the products and services offered by the existing players as well as the delivery systems and processes. I am happy to note that I joined the industry at a time when all the processes and the systems were manually done.



3. How do you rank the importance of ‘Cloud Computing’ to this sector?



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Cloud Computing is highly imperative for this sector especially for small upcoming institutions that may not have sufficient funds to invest on infrastructure or expensive servers. It is definitely the gateway to technological advancement for this sector.



4. How do you rank the importance of ‘Cloud Computing’ to this sector?



Cloud Computing is highly imperative for this sector, especially for small upcoming institutions that may not have sufficient funds to invest on infrastructure or expensive servers. It is definitely the gateway to technological advancements.



5. What are the key reasons that HiH East Africa have moved onto the ‘Cloud’?



HiH East Africa moved to the cloud because of the flexibility and adaptability provided for the HiH EA job creation model through enterprise development training, combination of tracking multiple transactions of the program with ease.



6. Cloud Computing requires internet connectivity. But, in developing countries not only is the internet unavailable everywhere, but it also is not always stable and reliable. How does HiH EA manage this challenge?



The offline option in the system helps in mitigating this problem and data capture can be uploaded once internet connectivity resumes. HiH EA was well aware of this underlying problem and with the help of the Developers, we were able to foresee the possible challenges addressed during the system development phase. The perpetual support from the Developers also makes it easy to sort out any impending challenges.



7. Most developing countries have high penetration of mobile phone usage even among the poor. Can you tell us about your experience in Kenya with mobile phones and include your experience with M-Pesa?



The presence of many mobile communication companies provides Kenyans competitive service in terms of reach as well as cost. In addition, the companies also provide internet connectivity to the underserved area. HiH EA is using Safaricom for internet connectivity. Mobile money transfer is highly utilized in Kenya. M-PESA offers comprehensive solutions particularly to the rural areas.



Some of the advantages of mobile banking offered by M-PESA are:



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  • Bill payments are now easy and convenient— making Kenya almost a paperless country by reducing paper transaction.
  • The commercial banks are also catered to, by this revolutionary technology.
  • You can easily withdraw, deposit, transfer money at the comfort of your office or home, irrespective of time and location.
  • Through mobile banking, M-PESA in particular has made school or college fees payment easy, where the school or college only needs a bill number to receive the fees directly.
  • M-PESA has climbed a step higher, by making payments simple even for smaller enterprises. All you need is a bill number; this can transact amounts as small as 10 KES ($0.11) for grocery payments and other minimal transactions, eventually minimizing the risks in handling cash.
  • Supermarkets are the greatest beneficiaries of mobile money transfer. Through interventions of M-PESA, customers can directly pay for their merchandise thus reducing fraudulent activities as well as massive cash transactions; both for the customers as well as the supermarkets.


8. Are there any solutions that can integrate mobile phones and cloud computing?



HiH EA plans to implement data collection by field officers directly on their mobile phones and download the same to their systems once they are back in the office. The mobile phone only needs compatible software  to facilitate the collection of primary data from the members.

9. Do you have any experience with this technology or do you know of organizations using it?

I have briefly interacted with the M-collector solution through software group.



10. Looks like technology is having a highly significant impact on microfinance and rural development. Why do you think that is?

The current technological interventions are all inclusive. This is true for the urban as well as rural, elite as well as to the common citizens, institutions as well as individuals. This way, microfinance and rural development have benefited greatly by reaching out to their customers, most of whom are unbanked and situated in the remote rural areas. Technology has made loan disbursements and repayments easy, cheap and convenient, both to the customer as well as to Microfinance. Also, system based transactions are easy to track and monitor.



11. Some people say that (SaaS) Software as a Service is expensive because you are charged on a per user per month basis. What is your experience with the costs?

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You need to look at the bigger picture and look at the cost benefits in relation to costing convenience, reliability or credibility, cost of time gained against the hard cash paid for the solution. In my own experience, before implementing the cloud, accurate tracking of our members was an ordeal. This was due to the challenges of human intervention caused by relying on data from the many field officers. The system’s controls demand authentication of data before capture and provide real time outputs. But now, I only need to command the system on which report I want to view. We must not forget, cheap is expensive in the long run.



12. What are the challenges about moving onto the Cloud?Our current challenge now, is the test on security of our data.13. What are the possible challenges as organizations heavily rely on technology? The main challenge resulting due to over reliance on technology is data security and reduced employment, especially for a country like Kenya where youth unemployment is predominant because of technological interventions.
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14. How have your clients reacted to your increased use of technology? Were they initially scared or sceptical about the changes?



The initial reaction was negative, especially our request for personal information. They were sceptical as to why we have changed our system from what was familiar to them. The staffs were equally resistant to adapt themselves to change, but after the implementation, the idea was well appreciated.



15. How big is the difference from the days of managing an MFI with only a pencil and paper, then moving onto Excel and now onto the Cloud with purpose built software incorporating other delivery channel technology?



The difference is major and demonstrates that a revolutionary progress has been made by this sector. I joined this sector at a time when manual ledger cards or books, calculators were used. The customers were less in number, but there were major challenges in accuracy, efficiency and reliability of reports. You could easily manipulate data when reconciliation posed challenges. Then came the advent of excel worksheets, the loan trackers, the loan performers and now cloud computing which is highly efficient and effective, if managed well. These have brought in the advantage of increasing the numbers as well as improving information management. Cloud computing is quite compatible with other credible systems, thus enhancing the usability factor of a service or software.



We hope you enjoyed reading this interview. Thank you Pauline for your time.     

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