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What are microfinance clients’ thoughts on fair treatment from financial services providers?

My Turn to Speak coverThe “My Turn to Speak: Voices of Microfinance Clients in Benin, Pakistan, Peru and Georgia” report summarizes and analyses the key findings, takeaways, and recommendations across the four comprehensive country reports. The report encapsulates the voices of over 4,500 current and former microfinance clients in Benin, Georgia, Pakistan and Peru, sharing their experiences with financial providers and their thoughts on what constitutes good and bad treatment. The Client Voices project aims to catalyze improvement of client protection across stakeholder groups.

Under the leadership of the project’s International Advisory Council and four National Advisory Councils, the Smart Campaign conceived the research to identify and contextualize the experiences and concerns of microfinance clients. The Campaign commissioned Bankable Frontier Associates (BFA), as research partner on the project, to talk with thousands of low-income microfinance clients face-to-face in the four diverse country markets. The intent was to hear from clients in an open-ended way, without pre-judging their concerns, and then to follow up this qualitative work with quantitative surveys to determine how representative the concerns expressed were. The intensive research captures, first-hand, clients’ interactions with the institutions that lend them money and keep their savings, and are therefore instrumental in their lives. Between May 2014 and October 2015, BFA carried out the project’s research.

Compiling data from 1:1 interviews, the research in all four countries found that clients are generally satisfied with their financial institutions, proving that microfinance has an important role to play.  However, some troubling themes arose that damage client trust, such as inadequate explanations of loan terms, lack of redress mechanisms and opportunities, and disrespectful treatment. The Client Protection Principles that emerged across the board were around Transparency, Mechanisms for Complaint Resolution, and Fair and Respectful Treatment of Clients. On Transparency, for example, in Benin, Pakistan, and Peru, 50 percent, 49 percent, and 43 percent of respondents reported that they understood loan terms only somewhat or not at all at the time of taking the loan.

The research was conducted so that it might serve as a catalyst for improvement in client protection by financial service providers, regulators, industry associations, consumer advocacy groups and others – not only in these four countries, but as guidelines for the protection of low-income clients around the world. Overall, we hope the research informs the work on the ground. In 2016, the Campaign will continue to partner with dedicated regulators, institutions, rating agencies, and individuals to ensure that the voice of clients is heard.

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