Thursday, November 3, 2011

NFS Series: Education Services Part 1: Financial Education

As our series on nonfinancial services continues, our second guest speaker is Monique Cohen from Microfinance Opportunities (MFO). She will be discussing Education Services and how they relate to microfinance and our borrowers.

Monique Cohen is the founder and president of Microfinance Opportunities. With more than 25 years of field experience, Ms. Cohen is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on clients and microfinance services. She founded Microfinance Opportunities in 2002 to dive deep into the study of how low-income individuals manage money and risk, and to provide them with the training and confidence they need to make wise financial decisions. Ms. Cohen spearheaded the groundbreaking “Global Financial Education Program” which builds the financial capabilities of the poor using a range of media tools and workshops.

Microfinance Opportunities develops ideas and solutions that help the financial community better serve the low-income consumer. Their commitment as a nonprofit organization is to develop a deep understanding of the financial realities and needs of low-income households in the developing world. By partnering with financial service providers, their research and expertise promotes the design and delivery of appropriate products and services — and as a result, attracts and retains consumers in increasingly competitive markets.

Here's part 1 of our guest blog post by Monique Cohen:

Families at all income levels share the same aspirations. They want to put food on the table, educate their children, secure a home of their own and plan for the future. To be poor is to have these goals with fewer resources and opportunities to achieve them. And while access to financial services has increased dramatically over the last few years, the pressures of uncertain income and rising costs make it difficult for many poor people to take advantage of these opportunities. Add in low levels of financial literacy – which can hamper the ability to make limited funds stretch through tough seasons – and making informed decisions about whether or not to take a small loan can understandably become overwhelming. This is where financial education can make a difference. Financial education provides people with the tools they need for good money management, and helps them to achieve their financial goals.

Many basic principles and concepts of money management are universal. At the same time, financial knowledge, experience and behaviors vary widely across individuals, households and populations, and are strongly influenced by context. For example, young people have less experience to draw on than older people. Someone who may not have previously had access to a microfinance loan may not understand the terms of what is being offered, or be able to calculate their ability to take on debt. And easy access to a cash loan can be tempting in a time of unexpected need (such as when someone is sick) even though borrowing may not be the best option for managing that particular situation.

This is where financial education comes into play. It provides people with the knowledge, skills and attitudes that they need to adopt good money management practices for earning, spending, saving, borrowing and investing. It empowers people to shift from reactive to proactive financial decision making. Ultimately, it enables people with the confidence and ability to take greater advantage of the financial services – formal and informal – that are available to them.

To bring financial education to a wide variety of learners, Microfinance Opportunities (MFO) developed a curriculum that contains nine topic-based modules.

Core Curriculum
• Savings – You Can Do It!
• Budgeting – Use Money Wisely
• Debt Management – Handle With Care
• Banking Services – Know Your Options
• Financial Negotiation – Communicate with Confidence

Specialized Modules
• Young People – Your Future, Your Money
• Remittances – Make the Most of Them
• Risk Management & Insurance – Protect Your Family’s Future
• Consumer Protection – Know Your Rights and Responsibilities

Based on extensive pilot testing and market research with microfinance institutions (MFIs) and banks, the curriculum was originally intended for use in classroom-based Training of Trainer (TOT) and consumer training sessions.

However, as we looked for ways to bring financial education to scale cost-effectively, we realized we needed to go beyond classroom training. In collaboration with partners like Faulu Deposit-Taking Microfinance Ltd. in Kenya, also a Kiva Field Partner, we began to translate training objectives into key messages, like:

• “Know your income sources, set a financial goal, and plan how to spend wisely.” (Budgeting)
• “Savings can help you invest, pay school fees, prepare for emergencies, and avoid
unnecessary debts.” (Savings)
• “There are many financial institutions providing various services. Choose the institution and
services that best meet your needs” (Banking Services)

Once we had trained Faulu on how to adapt and use our curriculum, they experimented with innovative ways to deliver those key messages. Their comprehensive financial education program now involves a mix of face-to-face client training, DVDs based on a popular television drama, comic strips, and booklets that promote savings and budgeting behavior. To take financial education beyond their branch buildings, Faulu has also created a cadre of community-based trainers (CBTs) – influential local leaders such as pastors or chiefs – to discuss financial education topics with their community.

Since 2006, MFO’s financial education messages have been used to reach more than 29 million people in 59 countries. In whatever form it takes, financial education is helping millions of people better manage their money as they look to the future.

In part 2 of Education Services Monique Cohen will discuss how financial education and financial literacy are being integrated with the credit operations of Microfinance Institutions.

For quick links to each part of the series click on Introducing Kiva's Nonfinancial Services Blog Series.