What are the benefits of listening to impact investment clients?

What are the benefits of listening to impact investment clients?

ECS image07 February | 2024

In anticipation of Oikocredit’s annual Client Self-Perception Survey Programme report, a look at how the initiative enables partners to improve services in response to changes in clients’ lives.

Microfinance institutions can measure their financial performance by looking at records such as loan repayment percentages. However, when it comes to tracking social performance, they often struggle to collect, analyse and action the information they need from their clients.

Oikocredit’s pioneering Client Self-Perception Survey Programme aims to provide this direct form of end-client feedback.

For three years now, the programme has supported partner organisations in effectively collecting information on how their clients’ lives have changed. By asking about specific life changes over the past year, and tabulating and visualising these responses, participating partner organisations bring their clients’ voice to the centre of decision-making in a structured and effective way.

Oikocredit’s partners take part to better understand their clients, to strengthen products, adjust delivery mechanisms or offer non-financial services in response to their voiced needs.

Survey questions look at changes related to income, savings, health, education, extreme weather, for example. They also ask about how products and services from partner organisations have impacted their wellbeing.

The resulting insights provide valuable information, directly from the end-clients’ perspective, giving Oikocredit partners’ the tools and insights needed to better understand risks, needs and opportunities.

These insights have helped build capacity, drive innovations and, above all, supported programme partners in improving the lives of the people with lower income.

Working collaboratively with programme partners, Oikocredit helps partners’ staff to develop their own data collection, analysis and management capabilities. Early-stage partners are mentored through the process.

Co-creation and collaboration facilitated, and opportunities for peer learning across organisations are created.

Findings from the latest survey will be published later this month.

Biggest year yet: More than 1 million data points

In 2022, a total of 16,471 end-clients responded, involving 19 partners across 12 countries and an impressive 510,601 data points.

In 2023, this has nearly doubled to a staggering 42,710 responses, encompassing 34 partners in 15 countries – and more than a million (1,366,720) data points. More than two-thirds (77%) of respondents are women, reflecting the fact that many of Oikocredit’s partners focus their outreach specifically towards women with lower income.

The digital survey encompasses 30 multiple-choice questions spanning eight dimensions that cover the financial and non-financial changes in end-clients’ lives. Results are made available to partners in the form of a customised digital dashboard that is designed to be user friendly and easy to analyse and act upon. These dashboards, created using Microsoft PowerBI, are available in English, Spanish and Portuguese, with ready-to-use visualisations. Participating partners can immediately see how they are doing in each area and gain insights into potential opportunities and challenges.

“With insights into tens of thousands of clients’ lives, Oikocredit’s Survey Programme is unparalleled in its  approach,” says Ging Ledesma, Director Strategy & Sustainable Impact at Oikocredit. “The programme not only builds capacity within organisations to collect, manage and use data but also highlights key action areas for our partners – so they can align their operations to customers’ needs and serve them more effectively, supporting a change in mindset and enabling partner organisations to become even better at doing good and report on this.”

The survey in action: On ground in Kenya

Kenya’s U&I Microfinance Bank has been a programme partner since 2021. It principally lends to small businesses in the East African country.

“We didn’t have a documented and structured way of getting information from our clients. Before joining the survey programme, we used to send our credit officers or the branch managers in the field to tell us how customers feel about our services,” says Benard Koech, Head of Marketing and Social Environmental Performance Management at U&I.

Filtering responses through the lens of a survey gives programme partners a more nuanced view and highlights potential action areas.

“It’s a way of bringing the client to the boardroom,” Benard says.

In 2023, results revealed that 51% of U&I respondents were interested in trainings that focus towards adapting to climate change. Acting on this result in December 2023, U&I implemented workshops in their rural branches to better understand their clients’ particular challenges related to climate change. With these climate change workshops confirming a finding that was first signalled by the survey, U&I are now developing solutions for expanding their environmental offering towards rural clients.

How does the survey programme help build resilience?

Behind the scenes, the central survey team works with partners to ensure that conclusions developed develop from the results are informed and reliable. One way this is achieved is by promoting the importance of having robust, representative sampling. Another measure is hypotheses testing, where the key learnings from survey results are confirmed (or rejected) by a deeper layer of data analysis by Oikocredit.

For 13 programme partners in 2023, testing revealed that respondents who improved savings were more likely to experience a greater number of positive changes in terms of their households’ ability to cover health needs and emergencies. By confirming this relationship at a statistical level, relevant programme partners are given the authority – reinforced by reliable data – to consider an enhanced savings strategy as a viable approach to enhancing clients’ resilience.

Triple victory for end-clients, partners and the sector as a whole

Oikocredit’s work is guided by the principle of empowering people. Our experience proves that the most effective and sustainable means of assisting those in need is providing them with an opportunity to help themselves.

We see the survey programme as integral to achieving that goal. Actively listening to end-clients and collating their feedback enables each organisation to strengthen their Social Performance Management and, in doing so, to serve their customers better.

The programme’s success has resulted in more partner organisations wanting to participate than initially anticipated. We now aim to scale up the programme faster to meet demand.

In a world where many aim to be impact-driven, Oikocredit’s Client Self-Perception Survey Programme is a true differentiator.

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