AUCA & IFC projects aims to strengthen the financial capacity of microfinance clients in the Kyrgyz Republic. Therefore, IFC has engaged AUCA and OSCE Institute students to carry out financial counseling campaigns.
One of the very important issues that the Kyrgyz Republic nowadays faces is the critical level of indebtedness among the population. Approximately one third of the population has difficulties to pay back their debts. Amid the many reasons that could explain the current situation, some recent studies highlighted the low level of financial knowledge and capacity of the population.
The same studies demonstrated that, along with for instance a proper law protecting the interest of consumers and a better supervision of the microcredit institutes, if those same consumers of microcredit services are better advised and informed, then they should be capable of taking a more appropriate decision regarding their finance and budget.
PRINCIPLES OF WORK
The campaign “My Harvest and my Financial Standing” is a part of the International Finance Corporation’s Central Asia Responsible Microfinance Program. This program works all along with consumers, regulatory bodies and financial institutions.
The general concept is to provide individual and customized consulting to the population. The original aspect of the concept is that instead of having professional consultants conducting interviews, the conversations here are led by students who volunteered to enroll in the project.
The summer campaign 2016 has been divided into three parts. During the first stage, the students received trainings from IFC and professional consultants. They learned how to conduct interviews, how to listen and understand the answers given by the interviewees, how to ensure the confidentiality of these answers, etc.
During the second stage of the program, the students have been sent to the field. Three groups were set up. One group covered Osh and Jalal Abad regions, the two other groups went to Issyk Kul, conducting interviews in regions around Cholpon-Ata, Karakol, the south part of Issyk Kul and Naryn.
The third stage, which is still going on, consists of analyzing the answers and combining them within a report to be delivered to IFC and the local microcredit institutes.
WHO IS INVOLVED?
Around 40 students have been involved in the project. The majority of them coming from the American University of Central Asia. Two students were from the OSCE academy. The students from AUCA were mainly from the Economics and Business Administration division.
The project coordinator at AUCA was Jean-Baptiste Jault, very well assisted by Bermet Samsalieva and Albina Ormokoeva for various issues such as logistics, finance and other administrative issues.
WHY IS IFC DOING THIS?
A growing body of empirical work suggests that personalized, just-in- time consultation about financial decision-making, with an emphasis on goal-setting, may be more effective to bring about improvements in financial consumer behavior than generalized, classroom-style education. What does this involve? These are individual conversations with financial consumers about their financial habits, their household income and expenses, their goals and aspirations, their risks and anxieties. These kinds of conversations are different from traditional text-book learning, because they are very personal, and the purpose of the conversation is to help the individual to recognize his own situation, and to identify his own financial goals.
And why do we think that these kinds of conversations are important? Actually, it turns out that financial counseling has a very significant impact on consumes’ behavior. We tested this hypothesis in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and our colleagues have tested it in other countries from Latin America to Africa and India. We have conducted control trials, which have shown that counseling can change planning and savings behavior. In particular, counseling causes a significant increase in consumers who can identify their monthly income and expenses with certainty, an increase in the number of consumers that make a family budget, a reduction in credit exposure by many who participate in counselling over time, and even an increase in household income with repeated counseling. Face-to- face counseling by peers really does seem to help! We even saw that non-professional interventions, reminders and phone calls from a friendly voice, can also make a (smaller) positive impact in all these behaviors.
Microfinance sector growth in Kyrgyzstan past few years, dynamics and indicators of microfinance credit growth (with participation of the Association of Microfinance Organizations of Kyrgyzstan and credit bureau)
Building More Educated Consumers: Understanding Personal Finance, and How Microfinance Companies Invest in the Clients’ Education (with banking faculty; leading banks/MFIs)
Behavioral Economics: How consumer psychology drives their use of financial services, and what financial institutions could do better (with IFC)
Designing and planning social experiments: How to test microfinance behavior hypotheses through field research? (With AUCA team; sociologist)
How to have an effective conversation about financial planning and other specific subjects. The training focused on particular themes in which students could engage microfinance consumers in 30-minute discussions and try to learn about behavior biases and potential ways to change behavior. For example: “How to increase mindfulness about small expenses?” and “How to encourage daily, small-value savings?” and “How to resist or limit social expectations to spend on things one can’t afford?” (with IFC team)