Closing the Gap with Technology
By Caroline Mwendwa
Fintech has taken the banking and other financial subsectors by storm creating unprecedented convenience among customers and service providers in equal measure. Waumini Sacco is one such financial institution whose embrace of technology has been significantly influential in service provision and internal operations. “Our Sacco serves a customer base of more than 23 thousand people and giving individual attention to such a multitude can be quite tasking and equally expensive, ,” says Christine Owande, the Chief Executive Officer at Waumini Sacco. Solving this problem, she says is just a shell of what technology has helped them achieve in terms of efficiency and service delivery.
A closer look at the impact of technology in this organization reveals a whole overhaul of operations all leading to more convenient and water tight functions; a pivotal aspect of any financial organization.
“Through technology, we have been able to put up a portal where all our members can log in and get quick access to any information they may be seeking,” she explains. In the pre-digital era, everything was manual and people had to make a physical appearance to the facility in order to get services such as loan application which would be followed by a totally lengthy procedure before approval and further depositing. This portal Owande says, summarises all these procedures into simple tap on the mobile phone or computer and all information is accessed.
This she says has not only helped serve the customer better but also helped eradicate errors as automated processes are easy to detect errors as compared to manually keyed data.
The Sacco has an app through which all members can access services whether through the feature or smart phone. To enhance inclusivity, Waumini Sacco has availed other avenues through which members who are not in a position to connect to the internet are served and that is through the circulars.
The economic implication
The convenience of these technological interventions is a means of empowerment to members. “The option of applying for a loan on line or via the mobile phone makes it possible for low earners to apply for loans of low amounts, as low as Sh1000 without feeling embarrassed to go from one guarantor to another as was the case before.” This she says helps increase the economic activities of the people which generally improves the overall economy of the country.
The same goes for people who wish to save, the ease of depositing money nowadays is a motivation enough for people to develop a saving culture, and make sound financial decisions.
Technology uptake in the sector
As Owande points out, the uptake of technology in this sub sector has been slow as compared to other mainstream financial institutions such as banks. “The Saccos have been taking the already tested approaches to technology which is advantageous in the sense that the risks are already perceived and can be mitigated. She however admits that Saccos are reserved but are slowly catching up with the fast moving technology trends.
Challenges involved in transition
The journey to transition from manual approaches to digitized processes is not without its hurdles. Some of these come in the form of tedious initial procedures such as entering and transferring data. This Owande says can be marred with errors which necessitates reconciliation as the system picks. “Even purchasing the digital facilitation can be a challenge especially when vendors underestimate the size of the institution that is buying it,” explains Owande. This can cause compatibility problems which means back and forth before the right set up is achieved and this she says comes with a cost.
Working with the regulation institutions before being fully aware of the right kind of technological investments to make can also be a costly affair. “Sometimes one will buy a license for a certain kind of activity, only to find out later that there was much more needed, probably a different kind of license all together,” she explains. To avoid this, Owande advises institutions to be sure about the investment and activities they are embarking on before buying tentative licenses.
The same goes for human resource, where only after contracting them, terms change as the implementation takes off. “Sometimes they have to work overnight depending on the technological structures. This has to be perceived before signing a contract with service providers,” she warns.
Finally, when dealing with financial processes, the fear of facing risks of fraud especially where technology is involved cannot be overlooked. Vigilance is therefore highly important and to ensure that no fraudulent activities go unnoticed, Saccos have to establish mitigation procedures. “At Waumini Sacco, we ensure that there are regular system audits to check any loopholes,” says Owande, further explaining that errors happen, sometimes the system audits reveal faulty processes where money meant for another account are mistakenly sent to the Sacco, and vice versa. Also fraud attempts have been detected but so far none has been successfully carried out.
Despite all these hurdles, Owande says that there is potential in technology, and such challenges are expected but cannot impede digital exploration to improve service delivery.
Trends in the industry
“Kenya is far much ahead of the rest of the East African countries in terms of embracing technology in this sub sector,” Owande points out. Asked whether most of these digital products being used by Saccos and other financial institutions are locally sourced or imported, she says each of these options has its own good side and downside. Some choose to import, while the imported products are of better standards and offer state of the art services, they can be disadvantageous especially because more and more versions keep emerging and this means continuous investment if the Sacco has to keep up with the latest versions. On the other hand, purchasing them locally has only one downside; that the standards will not be at per with the imported one, but at least there will be much less upgrading, hence less costs.
Indeed technology is the panacea to better service delivery, and increased economic activities since it creates convenience. Even though technology literacy varies with different categories, Saccos are evidently innovating models to serve all people even bridging this digital divide with inclusive technological features such as those applicable on feature phones.