Tuesday, 24 November 2009

At the coalface

Monday 23rd November

We left the hotel after a hearty breakfast at 7.50am and walked 7 minutes up the main avenue of Tete to the BOM branch. The bank opened for business on 11th September 2009. The security guard, José, welcomes us with a warm smile at the front door.

We step inside what resembles a highly professional and well equipped bank branch. Timóteo, the Branch Manager, shepherds us in, starts introducing us to the team and gives us a ‘behind the cashier’ view of the first few months of operation.
As a natural people manager Timóteo incentivises the introduction process withholding a chocolate (our gift to the staff) from each member of staff until they have come up to us, shaken our hand and told us their position. The branch has 16 staff in total; A Branch Manager, 2 Credit Supervisors, 2 Cashiers, 2 account registration supervisors, 6 Loan Officers (3 managing group clients and 3 managing individual clients), a Back office assistant, a Security Guard and a Cleaner.
Two of the key roles in the banking process - the Credit Supervisors – are currently filled by Elisabette and Vale, both of whom have served 5 years respectively in more established BOM branches in other locations – Beira and Chimoio. They are rising stars having achieved a record of constantly zero or negligible Portfolio At Risk (PAR) amongst the clients they have overseen.

It is clear within moments that people enjoy working together in the branch – there is a sense of family amongst the staff with the Timóteo (Branch Manager) as a mentor father like figure and Elisabette (the Credit Supervisor) a collaborative and supportive mother.

Business since opening in September has been brisk. They are close to reaching the 400 mark for loan clients (via group and individual lending) and on a good day about 30 deposits are made by clients in the branch. The Loan Officers spend on average 10% of their day in the office and 90% in the markets and encouraging clients, and raising awareness of the bank amongst the local market stallholders. Loan Officers currently rely on an overcrowded bus service to get to and from the markets – a process that can eat into 2-3 hours of the working day. This will all soon change as Timóteo took us around the back of the bank and showed us 2 big Honda emblazoned boxes in storage – these contain 4 motorbikes which Loan Officers will soon nimbly ride weaving through the standing lines of traffic in the city.

There are other microfinance banks in the city – Procredit, Socremo and Banco Terra – but none lend small amounts in groups like BOM nor allow for small balance savings accounts. BOM’s minimum balance for a savings account is 100 MZN (£2) and the average group loan size is about £70.

Without further ado we board the truck and head out to Moatize a small town 22kms outside Tete where the bulk of the group loan clients work.

The first clients we meet are members of the “Estamos contentes”/”We are happy” group and they do indeed live up to their name exuding a joy that overflows into peals of regular laughter. With only two months of transactional history with BOM it is clear that things have got off to a good start. The ladies who all sell maize (a cash crop with a good income yield) say how they have never been able to access loan funds before. They liken their first loan with BOM to a ‘first date’ and say they feel as though they are being courted by the bank. With a twinkle in her eye Teresinha, the Secretary of the group says she hopes the relationship will end in marriage (a second cycle loan and the opening of a savings account)!

As we continued walking through the market the backdraft of our flipflops blew the topsoil away under our feet uncovering a black seam of rock. Vale told me it was the coal deposits for which the region is famous. In more ways than one we realised in walking around the market and looking into the eyes of people like Teresinha we were at the coalface of all that Opportunity International does.

I could fill page after page here about the other inspiring clients we met on our tour of this market but that is not my intention. I will keep that for another time. ..Today has been a day when I can wholeheartedly re-affirm my passion for the cause of giving the poor a working chance.

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