Seeing customers and employees grow
My name is Mariam Djibo and I'm the managing director of Advans Côte d’Ivoire.
My mother is French, my father is Ivorian. I grew up in Côte d'Ivoire but left for France at the age of 15 to study. I stayed there, until, ten years later, on a particularly cold winter morning in 2004, I was walking through Paris and all of a sudden, I was sick and tired of being cold, and I decided to go home there and then. I haven’t regretted it since.
Advans is a microfinance institution that serves about 120,000 clients with the goal of including them in the financial ecosystem.
For people who are excluded by the system - because they cannot read, for example – it is hard to enter a bank and most banks don’t send customer advisors to their villages and small towns. It is our job to serve these people by means of a sustainable economic model.
When Advans Côte d'Ivoire was created in 2012 there were only a few big players in microfinance. Since then, there are many more of us. On the one hand, that’s a good thing, because there are more people to serve those excluded from the formal systems. On the other hand, because we are all serving the same people, this risks leading to over-indebtedness due to customers taking out multiple loans.
To avoid this, every time we grant a loan, we check if our customer is in debt elsewhere. Secondly, we do not serve individuals, but only groups of entrepreneurs who pay off their loans by means of their activities. And finally, we mainly target the underserved rural population, while over-indebtedness is mostly limited to urban areas.
More than half of the employees are women. And half of the Executive Committee are as well, so Advans sets a good example of gender equality.
Mariam Djibo, Managing Director Advans Côte d'Ivoire
A field job
What gives me the most satisfaction is to see people grow.
Because of the difficulty of the job – which really is a field job – Advans recruits young people who often have only six months or so of professional experience. We offer our recruits a framework in which they can grow and flourish and acquire a professional ethic. After a while, these inexperienced employees become managers. And I will continue to make them grow by gradually increasing their responsibilities.
In Côte d’Ivoire today, we are faced with a generation that has lost its values, looking only to make a quick buck. Stealing is not acceptable, but school doesn’t teach ethics anymore. What is great about Advans, is that it allows us to educate and help them grow as responsible and ethical individuals. If they want to make money, they will have to make the effort – but they’ll also realise that the mission is more important and that the way you conduct yourself is more satisfying than just making money.
Our job is to see our customers grow. We give them a first loan, a second loan, and by the fifth, a customer has built a warehouse and has he sent his son to the United States to study. That really encourages you to do more.
At the start of the crisis, our government learned from what had happened (and hadn’t) in the “developed” world – we started social distancing before the first Ivorian casualty had fallen, and were asked to wear masks when the death toll reached 15. People were able to maintain some normality, although the measures did lead to an economic slowdown.
Even before any government measures were announced, Advans had already put a prevention policy in place; imposing social distancing in the offices and establishing a rotating programme with telework, alternating between home and office. We also stopped field visits to our clients because these are done by "gbaka" (minivans that hold 12 to 20 people), although this severely limited our ability to track our clients and offer them services.
These measures allowed us to maintain our entire workforce and their salaries. At the peak of the crisis, in August, we had about 50 cases of covid amongst our employees.
Beyond the cases, there were other impacts as well: On average, our employees are 30 years old and they like to mingle at the office, in the kitchen or outside. Suddenly, we had to stop this and find a way to maintain our community spirit. Each agency manager was asked to create WhatsApp-groups with their employees, where we exchange information and socialise. We also launched a game on our intranet called "my contribution" where each employee describes an action taken during the crisis that benefitted our company, mental health or sense of solidarity. As CEO I also communicate regularly – through videos, emails or WhatsApp - to inform them about the situation and foster staff commitment.
Our clients were also impacted, with about 35% of our portfolio seeing a decrease of more than 50% of their turnover. To help them, we called 9,000 of our 12,000 customers in just under three weeks, to ask them how it was going and to offer them due date suspensions. Some 8,000 customers accepted the offer.
For those customers that are badly impacted, we also provide emergency credit, called “Crédit Oxygène”, as well as a specific life insurance covering covid.
To maintain the relationship with our customers, we have been using a digital app that allows us to monitor the customer call campaigns and centralise the feedback and requests.
Even before the pandemic, we had already invested heavily in digitalisation. All Advans accounts interface with electronic wallets of telecom operators like MTN and Orange, with around 40% of our repayments done through these. And for our agri-customers, we are now able to open bank accounts directly in / on the field!
But more was clearly needed. Some of our customer managers had to use their own mobile phones to conduct call campaigns, as they weren’t equipped with work smartphones. Many of our staff were not comfortable using Zoom, and not all had access to a laptop to work from home. Many clients also realized they didn’t know how to use the interface with their mobile money wallet. The crisis has illustrated the need to further invest in digital communications technology, both internally and externally, and work on a change management programme.
BIO has granted a € 3 M loan to Advans Côte d’Ivoire and technical assistance of € 123 K.
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