Monday, March 19, 2012

UOB Launches Western Union Remittance Service...

UOB has finally launched the Western Union remittance services in March. This is the first of three third-party global remittance services that UOB will be launching during the first half of 2012. The others are Money Gram and RIA. Western Union, Money Gram and RIA are the world's three largest remittance service providers in that order and UOB will be the only institution that will provide all three services in Rwanda. These third-party money transfer services are not the best affordable solutions for the poor, but they are the most prevailing services many people cannot afford not to use because they do not have access to formal financial services.

In addition to these third-party remittance services that may be made available to non-UOB clients, UOB is also providing global wire transfer services for its clients at lower costs. Through SWIFT, UOB clients can send and receive money to and from anywhere in the world. UOB is proud to be a low cost provider of this service.

Moreover, UOB is in the process of developing an affordable mobile banking service. It went through an alpha testing with UOB staff last year and is going through a live beta testing with 160 or so clients. This service, combined with an agent network that is under development, should provide affordable means of domestic remittances in Rwanda.

Remittance is an important part of holistic micro finance. This service is taken for granted in developed countries, but in many developing countries, remittance is still a foreign concept. Many choose to send their money to their parents or children through bus companies or their friends who travel to the areas where their parents or children live. It is unsafe and slow.

 I look forward to the successful launch of these affordable services, thus benefiting the underprivileged people of Rwanda. - Jeffrey

Sunday, March 18, 2012

UOB Roadside Signs...

Soon, UOB will be more visible in all over Rwanda. It is because 40 UOB roadside signs will be installed at the entrances of all major towns in Rwanda. These roadside signs will continue to be increased to provide people with guidance on what services available. The signs describe the types of services available in the towns.

The first ones were installed in Ngoma. The designs are appealing and so far the responses are positive.

The challenge is with the local authorities. We need to make payment to local authorities for the use of the land to install the signs. But the local authorities who are responsible for approval have not been very cooperative, except in Ngoma. That is why Ngoma has become the first district where the signs have been established. It is my prayer that local authorities will come to realization of the importance of basic customer care spirit to promote the interest of the district and to be a good example of public servants. - Jeffrey

Trip to Ngoma... March 14 2012

Ngoma Office and Eugenie, EBU Leader
On March 14th, 2012, I made the visit to Ngoma EBU with Marketing Manager, Associate Director of Branch Banking Division and Manager of Administrative Services. This was my first field visit in 2012.

The purpose of the visit was three-fold:

1. To meet the staff and listen to the market conditions and their suggestions on how and where to expand our service;
2. To discuss about the plan to convert the EBU office to a branch; and
3. To emphasize the importance of remaining alert for any illegal businesses in which our clients may be involved.

The following was discussed and decided:

1. I like Ngoma EBU staff, including its leader, Eugenie. She is a visionary with a proactive mindset and creative ideas. Ngoma EBU's loan portfolio is the best balanced among all EBU's. For example, some EBU staff is scared of New Solidarity Group loans because of their high Portfolio At Risk (PAR) rates on old SG loans due mainly to their improper structuring. But Eugenie and her staff are not afraid. They know how to take risks to expand their outreach. They are expanding into various areas and they recommended the opening of satellite offices in three areas. After discussion, we agreed to focus on Mulindi and Kirehe. We will add more staff to help with the expansion efforts.

2. We have already made a decision to convert the Ngoma EBU office to a branch based primarily on Ngoma EBU's rapidly growing client base, significant deposit base and Ngoma EBU staff's proactive attitude.  We went there with other staff mainly to figure out what needs to be done to effect the conversion. We have prepared a floor plan and established a plan that covers the scope of construction work, marketing, staff selection and training. I am confident that this branch, upon the opening, will perform very well.

3. It has been brought to our attention that a couple of staff discovered a few clients of ours have become involved in illegal mining trade transactions. Whatever the reason may be, I emphasized that UOB should not be involved in such illegal transactions and all staff must be vigilant in fighting against such activities. If the discovery happens during the loan cycle, then we should wait until the loan is paid off and discontinue the relationship. If the discovery happens to happen after a loan cycle, we should discontinue the financing. Meanwhile, this position has to be communicated clearly to all clients as well as the lending staff to avoid any confusion or misunderstanding.

We hope to open the branch by no later than July 2012. - Jeffrey

Input Financing for Maize Farmers in Gatsibo District...

With maize farmers
A storage facility
UOB provided input financing for maize farmers in September 2011 through three cooperatives. The harvest has been more than projected, but maize farmers now have a concern about inadequate drying and storage facility. The final buyers of the maizes have not been decided yet, which remains another concern for the farmers. But, they are reasonably sure that the maizes will be sold at a reasonably good price soon.

UOB is now increasing its input financing for more farmers due to the growing demand. Having experienced that UOB provided input financing at an affordable interest rate in a timely manner, they have brought more farmers with confidence.

Listening to farmers
Maizes stored for drying
UOB is also increasing the number of agricultural finance officers to be able to accommodate the increase in demand. In 2011, UOB provided assistance for approximately 1,600 farmers and this year UOB plans to increase the number of target farmers to 6,000. Lord's willing, this will be made possible exceedingly.

Agricultural finance is a high risk business without adequate compensation for the risks it has to take. But it is one of the strategic industries that UOB must finance in order to carry out one of its triple bottom lines: Outreach, Sustainability and Transformational Impact. Lord, you know that we are moving forward with agricultural finance despite the risks embedded in it. Please give us your divine wisdom not to suffer unbearable losses due to the lack of intrastructure and to the lack of adequate risk mitigants. - Jeffrey  

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Ministry Updates - February 2012

Dear friends, family and fellow Kingdom workers,

February also kept us busy with many visitors. The following are the highlights of our ministry in February

1. UOB received several groups of visitors in February. First, we received 20 people from Canada who came through OI Canada. They held a leadership forum (Made in Rwanda) and visited our clients. Second, we received two OI UK staff who came to write a proposal for a funding. Third, we have received a delegation of 18 people from the U.S. who came through OI US for Insight Trip. There were several meetings and presentations along with their visits. It was encouraging to hear that they have been blessed and inspired by what God is doing through UOB. Jeffrey also received Goran Skytte, a Swedish journalist, Dr. Mija Kim, a nursing scholar. All meetings were informative and beneficial. On the other hand, Saangkeub Lee, an intern from Korea went back to Korea after his voluntary service for seven weeks. His contribution was impressive and I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with him.

2. I chair the board of directors at BDF, Rwanda's leading credit guarantee agency. In February, we held an all-daystrategic meeting with BDF's senior leadership team. We established a series of frameworks that reflect "paradigm shifts" necessary for BDF to be effective in providing credit guarantee to facilitate provision of credits for SMEs and agricultural farmers. The meeting was constructive and fruitful.

3. All UOB business unit leaders signed their MoUs documenting their key performance goals and objectives for 2012. In Rwanda, there is a concept called, Imihigo that all government officials sign for the same purpose of establishing their goals and objectives. There seems to be a little side effect of Imihigo but UOB's MOUs have been very effective in achieving the targets.
4. I attended the Rwanda Monetary Policy meeting where the country's overall economy and monetary policies are shared. Rwanda registered a healthy 8.8% growth in real GDP with the inflation controlled at 8.3%. Particularly, Rwanda's inflation rate was exceptionally low compared to its neighboring countries that reported the inflation as high as 35% (Uganda). For 2012, Rwanda is projecting its real GDP growth at 7.6% and inflation at 7.5%. In many aspects, Rwanda's economy remains safe and sound.  

5. UOB senior leadership had the quarterly off-site prudential meeting with the BNR (Central Bank). The governor said that UOB is one of the best run banks in Rwanda. Also, UOB received a significantly upgraded rating on Opportunity International's Business Risk Review. We thank God for His guidance in stabilizing and strengthening UOB's operations.

6. UOB's loan portfolio bounced back to Rwf7.56 Billion from Rwf7.4 Billion, a month earlier, despite the slow seasonality. UOB's loans are outstanding with women at 86% and with group clients at 97%. The deposit balance also increased to over Rwf5 Billion. UOB's loan portfolio quality remained unchanged with PAR>30 days at 1.43%

7. In January, we reported an operating profit despite a slow seasonality and significant salary adjustments that we made for annual performance review. Also in February, we anticipate an operating profit despite a short month of only 29 calendar days of operation.

8. For the month of February, the number of clients who received at least one lesson of HLI training was more than 8,000. This reflects an increase and we desire to see this number grow even further in 2012. 

9. UOB began the best pilot testing of mobile and agent banking in February with four groups in Kigali. We disbursed loans to approximately 160 clients and they withdrew their money from agents. There was a little glitch with the first group, but all went through well. Also we started collecting loan payment from clients through agents and it has been going well. We were excited about this progress and praise the Lord for His grace with thanks to you who have prayed with us. This pilot testing will continue through May 2012.

10. We held the UOB Leadership Retreat in Gisenyi. 31 people of managers and higher level officers all attended. Through this retreat, we laughed together, loved the food and fellowship and learned from each other.    

11. Korean missionaries in Rwanda continued the monthly prayer fellowship and it was a blessing to us all. We hope to see this fellowship develop further to collaboration that will produce synergy for His Kingdom. 

12. Jeffrey continued serving God's people through preaching at UOB staff devotion and Agape Korean Church in Rwanda. He also led the weekly Shalom Bible Study, studying the Sermon on the Mount. It is a time of mutual blessing and spiritual growth.

13. We have the following Prayer Requests: Please...

      * Pray for the UOB's continuing holistic transformational development through Christian micro finance in Rwanda.
      * Pray for the continued beta pilot testing for mobile and agent banking until June.
      * Pray for a scaled-up progress in UOB's agricultural lending program.
      * Pray for successful development of financial resources for several projects under development. 
      * Pray for God's wisdom and guidance in designing effective educational finance products that will benefit many students in Rwanda
      * Pray for our children (Amanda + James, and Joyce) to figure out what God has in store for their lives on earth. 
      * Pray for God's peacefulness in the heart of Kristin's mom during her last days of life on earth

We appreciate your partnership with us through your prayer and support!   

Gratefully IN CHRIST,

Jeffrey and Kristin Lee from Kigali, RWANDA,

Thursday, March 1, 2012

OI US Insight Trip (February 2012)

Daniel, Transformation Director explaining...
A delegation of 18 people have visited Rwanda on their Insight Trip from February 26th to March 3rd. The delegation included OI's former Acting CEO for OI Network Service Organization, Ken Vander Weele. Until he retired in March 2011, he had served OI for 25 years in many different capacities.

Their schedules have been pretty tight.

Ken Vander Weele

  • I gave a presentation about UOB over dinner on Sunday, February 26th. 
  • On Monday, Feb. 27th, the delegation met a Rwandan author over breakfast. Then, they attended UOB Home Office staff devotion. After the devotion, they visited rice farmers in Rwamagana, for whom we provided input financing. The delegation hosted a dinner for UOB executive officers.
  • On Tuesday, Feb. 28th, the delegation met the country director of CARE International Rwanda over breakfast. UOB is working with CARE in providing linkage loans for CARE's VSLA clients. VSLA stands for Village Savings and Loans Association and it is an informal financial services program for the poor in the upcountry. The delegation then visited UOB trust groups and met clients. In the evening, the delegation met Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy and Mission Director of USAID Rwanda over dinner.
  • On Wednesday, Feb. 29th, the delegation visited the Genocide Memorial Museum in Gisozi in the morning and headed north to Musanze to visit UOB trust groups in the afternoon.
  • On Thursday, March 1st, the delegation trekked Rwanda's mountain gorillas. 
  • On Friday, March 2nd, the delegation will come back to Kigali, tour the Kigali City and buy Rwandan traditional souvenirs from UOB clients.
  • On Saturday, March 3rd, the delegation will leave Rwanda to go back to the U.S. 

It was greatly encouraging to hear the delegation witness and testify God's marvelous work being done through UOB for Rwandans in their holistic transformation. We all praise the Lord for His goodness and faithfulness. God is good all the time! Glory be to our God! - Jeffrey