After spending a week in Yehu's headquarters, I knew it was time to get out into the field and see what Yehu was really doing. I learned from my experiences in March with Grameen Bank and BRAC in Bangladesh, that the best way to find out how to best serve microfinance customers was to see them in their environment. So, Mel and I went to one of Yehu's 'urban' branches, Kusani. I met with 2 Credit Officers, which are the main point of contact for Yehu's clients. I asked them questions about their job, challenges, opportunities and customer needs. They provided a lot of insight that was starting to shape my thoughts about the marketing for Yehu. Next, we went with a third credit officer to attend her 'center meetings', where I would see how her weekly/biweekly meetings with groups of her clients are carried out and get the opportunity for the one on one interviews that were integral to my plan successfully meeting the needs of Yehu's clients.
Typically in the villages, the center meetings are in a central part of the village, or at someone's home. But because we were in the city, the center meeting was at a local restaurant/nighttime hangout spot. When we arrived, there were about 6 other center meetings being conducted, all by different microfinance institutions. This is quite different from what I am used to in the villages. These clients have choices in where they get thier business funding, and not just 2 choices, but 4 or 5 choices. It was exciting to see that microfinance was doing so well in Kenya, because I am of the belief that the more choices that people have for services, the better the services will probably be.
During the 3 center meetings we attended, I was able to interview 5 borrowers, including 2 men (microfinance is typically targeted toward women, so these were the first male borrowers I had ever interviewed) and have some group dialogue with one of the centers. The differences between the rural and urban borrowers became more and more clear during these interviews. The wants of the borrowers were typically lower interest rates and the products/services that the other microfinance institutions were offering. These were some pretty savvy borrowers. However, the bright spot in the middle of all of the other MFIs center meetings was that when I asked the borrowers why they continued with Yehu when other MFIs were offering better interest and more products, they said that it was the relationship and the ease of banking with Yehu that made them stay. I asked if they would leave Yehu if they needed the other products, and they all simply said no. They wouldn't trade the service that Yehu offered for the lower interest or diverse products. That type of loyalty was going to make my job much easier!!!
After meeting with all of the centers, we headed off to the village to get ready for the next day's round of center meetings and interviews - village-style.