Accenture volunteers enable automation of MFIs
Every microfinance practitioner knows it requires more than funds to generate an impact in poverty alleviation. Lifting lives from poverty calls for dedication and patience—you have to be selfless in sharing your talents and knowledge.
It is hence inspiring to meet people like Alexander Anden, Jennifer Meily, and Mia Taroy—Accenture Philippines volunteers who are taking time off work to contribute their expertise to make microfinance a more successful tool against poverty.
Accenture is a global company that provides consulting services in business process outsourcing. Accenture has been active in the Philippines since 1985, and now employs about 20,000 staff in the country.
Alex, Jennifer, and Mia are the first batch of Accenture staff who will serve as pro bono consultants to MFIs seeking to automate their existing operations and client information. They are currently providing technical advice to help automate accounting and collection systems and data backup and documentation processes for Bicol MFIs to achieve greater efficiency.
They also served as the resource persons for the management information system (MIS) training. MIS is a general term for the system of organizing and managing information about one’s business operations. The training seeks to provide MFI workers with a perspective on how to apply information technology to this essential aspect of microfinance operation.
Dan Songco, president and CEO of the PinoyME Foundation, explained: “The training gives the MFIs a perspective on what it takes to have an automated system. PinoyME has conducted trainings like this before, but without the consultant we were not able to track its effect on the operations of the MFIs.”
“This is a unique intervention because no one else is doing this. We’ve had a lot of discoveries in our past training workshops, and one of them is how important the MIS is to both the MFI and the client. If you have a weak system, you would not know if your MFI is already suffering losses. That’s critical and what’s even more critical is computerizing that system. We’ve heard a lot of horror stories of MFIs hiring consultants to design software only to find out that it does not compliment their operations.
“The course helps them understand, ‘If you want to automate this is how to do it’. If we are able to help MFIs systematize their MIS, then we can really make the industry more efficient and we can make it grow faster and reach more poor people. The big MFIs can already afford to buy software and hire consultants. But there are only a few of those. The program targets the medium-sized MFIs who would not have the resources for automation. This is a strategic partnership with Accenture. We convinced Accenture that they can really make a difference in the microfinance industry if they partner with us in this program.”
The Accenture team spent April 26 to May 6 in Bicolandia to conduct training and immerse themselves in the communities they would be serving so they would learn more about the challenges that microfinance practitioners confront. “We needed to understand the issues to know how to help them,” said Alex.
The project brought them to Legazpi, Naga, and Camarines Sur to work with the Consuelo “Chito” Madrigal Foundation, Kolping Society Philippines, Inc., Simbag sa Pag-Asenso Inc., Rural Bank of Guinobatan, Inc., and the People’s Center for Sustainable Development, Inc. It was their first time to visit Bicol, and they were graciously received by the MFIs. Aside from tours to the Mayon Volcano and the lava wall, Cagsaua Ruins, and Linon Hill, they were treated to mouthwatering meals of laing, Bicol express, and grilled blue marlin.
Technology is not enough
When asked to describe the information technology problems of MFIs, Jennifer said “Technology should not be seen as the only solution. While it allows you to achieve a lot of things, proper implementation of processes is still necessary,”
She related that while some MFIs hired programmers to turn out data management systems that were customized to microfinance activities, there was “no knowledge transfer.” The programmers did not provide users manuals, and so MFIs had to call on their services even for trivial operations. This brings about a great deal of delay or disorder in the work of MFIs as the programmers only drop in on the offices once or twice a week.
Moreover, employees who have left the MFIs have not properly passed on knowledge on the customized software. The MFI workers hence do not have the same proficiency in using the data management systems. Jennifer said: “If they don’t know how to use the system, the values they compute become inaccurate.”
The Accenture team is providing the MFIs with recommendations and templates to make their processes more efficient, as well as practical solutions to glitches like sites that go offline. The team is currently monitoring the implementation of the proposals.
“The solutions go beyond automation. There must be organization policies and human intervention,” Jennifer said.
Rising to the challenge
Alex, Jennifer, and Mia revealed they became part of the project after volunteering to Accenture’s Skills to Succeed Program. According to them, the program is meant to “enhance the skills of the employees, and is also a way of sharing their experience, knowledge, and skill with others.”
Aside from providing technical support, Accenture also donated one million pesos to the PinoyME Foundation for the implementation of a microenterprise financing program for the spouses or selected beneficiaries of Accenture’s security guards and custodians. Accenture’s 20,000 employees raised P200,000 while the Accenture Foundation provided P800,000 for the program.
The volunteers said the project was “challenging, but at the same time also very rewarding,”
“This is the first time for us to do consultations as our work in Accenture mostly involves testing, programming design, and production support. This is also the first time for us to handle local clients.”
Jennifer added: “We see giving the MFIs the groundwork for automation and solution planning as challenges. So we are not doing this only for the aim of the company, but also for personal development. By providing these free consultations, we are enhancing not only our skills in testing and programming, but also in dealing with people.”
“Moreover you tend to help people,” Jennifer said: “During the immersion when we met microentrepreneurs visiting the offices, we saw that if we help microfinance practitioners, in a way we are also helping struggling Filipinos improve their lives.”