First day in Bangalore I visited the Grameen-Koota head office, where I got a feel for the issues that they are facing with respect to upgrading and keeping financial records. Second day was a visit to the field. Grameen mostly deals with group loans, so their model is that each day a loan officer goes out to a center (kendra) to meet with 2 or 3 groups. In urban areas, such as Bangalore, most center meetings are held at someone’s house in the slums. There the loan officer collects money from the group for each person’s weekly loan payments. If anyone needs an emergency loan (such as for school fees, utility bills, or hospital bills) they can make an on-the-spot loan for up to 1000 Rupees (approx. $18.50), which several people did at this meeting.
After the center meetings, we went back to the branch office, where the loan officers count up the money they collected and enter all the data into Mifos. In the afternoon, they make disbursements to anyone who had a new loan approved. People come to the branch office to collect their disbursement. Then, within 2 weeks, they must prove they purchased what they asked for a loan for, such as a 3-wheeled taxi, fruits and vegetables to sell, or shoes and clothing to sell. Often, these products are purchased from a wholesaler and resold.
After all this, all the data about payments and disbursements needs to be entered into Mifos. I got to watch these guys enter the data and see the pain points they have with Mifos. As an example, they must select a loan type, such as emergency loan. Then they must select the purpose of the loan, such as taxi, utilities, or school fees. The problem is that after they choose a loan type, the loan purpose is not limited to purposes just for this loan type, so that it is easy to make a mistake, which then must be corrected later. One simple area for improvement would be for all fields to be limited to valid data, so that it is more efficient and much less error-prone.
What surprised me:
- the head office has no air-conditioning. I thought this would be more like an American office building. I like it warm and it was too hot for me. (I got used to it by the second day. Dressing “Indian style” in a tunic and loose leggings helped. Rain helped cool it off a bit, too.)
- the branch office is in a residential area and looks like a house. In fact, the loan officers live in rooms off the main meeting room and they pay a cook. You take off your shoes at the entry.
- the ancient computers, but I knew about the unreliable electricity.