Wednesday, February 27, 2013

UOB Leadership Retreat February 2013...

Group Photo with some of the UOB leaders
Two nights and three days (February 22-24), UOB Leadership Retreat took place at Lake Kivu Serena.  This is the second year of this kind. Managers and higher ranking officers all joined except three who were sick. They totaled 33. It represented approximately one tenth of total number of staff working at UOB, including temporary staff of 60.

Leadership Retreat includes praise, worship, thanksgiving, testimonials, fellowship, team building and learning. Learning has a theme and this year it was "Lead Like Jesus."

I has the privilege of leading a 6-hour session on Lead Like Jesus, based on a book with the same title, authored by Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges. According to them, a leader is anyone who influences the thinking, development, or actions of others, including parents, siblings, and friends, as well as coaches, congresspeople, and CEOs. In other words, at some time or other we all are called on to be leaders. Ken and Phil assert that the greatest leadership role model is Jesus as a servant leader.

Praise and Prayer
The workshop was a great blessing to us all. We all did Lead Like Jesus Readiness Exam and evaluated our leadership styles using the Evaluation Form and Action Planning Guide in the book. It is my prayer that all of us apply at least a few lessons that we learned to our daily life to be like Jesus in our leadership roles.

Also, we practiced team exercise with group discussion and presentation on the 2013 spiritual and management theme of "TRANSFORM." Nine teams worked on their assigned themes to respond to three questions: where are we? where do we need/want to go? and what do we need to do to get there? They all worked hard and well to come up with their presentations that were evaluated on the basis of substance, styles and sensitivity to time limits. These will be documented and shared with them all.

Team Presentation
Also, we all agreed to be more proactive in reaching out to other leaders to learn about what they are doing, rather than waiting for a training session put together, and to be available and responsive to such requests for mutual learning. It will help us form and develop a learning culture and learning community. May the Lord bless each and every one of us in realizing and accepting the leadership opportunities to be a privilege that may not be neglected or abused.

Of course, the foods and fellowship were priceless. - Jeffrey

Monday, February 25, 2013

Monetary Policy Meeting February 2013...

Rwanda's central bank is Rwanda National Bank or BNR in French. It holds monetary policy statement meeting twice a year. The first one takes place in February. I have been attending all of them for the past four years, including this past one.

Ambassador Claver Gatete is the current governor. He loves to carry the Ambassador title because like marines he claims that once an ambassador you are ambassador for ever. He was Rwanda's ambassador to the U.K. prior to his coming back to Rwanda. While he was in the U.K. Rwanda became a member of the Common Wealth Nations. So there is no longer ambassador but only high commissioner. He loves to use this title perhaps because there is no longer ambassador.

Ambassador Claver Gatete, the Governor
At any rate, he is a highly intellectual governor. Every time he is presenting, he does not lose the control of the flow of his presentation. He is a great communicator.

Not only his style is impressive but also Rwanda's economic growth and overall monetary policy have produced steady GDP growth (mid 7%), FX rates (2-4% devaluation a year) and inflation (mid 5-6%). This performance is exceptional. Moreover, all sectors in the financial services industry are showing positive signs. ePayment system continues to improve. He even mentioned the mVISA, VISA's mobile banking platform and ackowledged that Bank of Kigali and Urwego Opportunity Bank will first join this interoperable mobile banking solutions. Card solutions and branch network also continue to improve.
Governor and Vice Governor

Some people asked cynical questions, such as "So Rwanda has no challenges?" He aptly replied with a list of challenges that the BNR still has to manage, including regional uncertainty, global financial crisis, oil prices that can have significant impact on a small economy like Rwanda. .

Out of eight monetary policy statement meetings that I have attended so far, none has disappointed me so far.

May the stable and steady economic growth continue in Rwanda at least in the foreseeable future. - Jeffrey

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Fish Farming, Cattle Breeding and Biogas...

Jean Baptiste by his fish farming pond
[Many micro businesses are retailers. It is typical. But there are exceptions. Jean Baptiste is one.

He is involved in farming Tilapia fish, breeding cows and donkeys in addition to running a retail store where he sells medicines for animals. Moreover, he is using biogas for his home and business. That is quite unique. 

The following is an article that Louise, who is a former banker and now a KIVA fellow working at UOB, put together after she visited Jean Baptiste with George Willaims, KIVA Coordinator for UOB in February 2013. - Jeffrey]

George asking questions

Jean Baptiste lives with his wife and children up on a hilltop in Gahengeri outside Nyamata. He is really a true entrepreneur. Jean Baptiste believes in working hard and has a strong passion for farming. He runs multiple businesses, such as tilapia fish farming, cattle breeding (cows and donkeys) and a store that sells medicine for animals. He is also very keen on green energy and understands the importance of recycling to preserve the environment.
Bio Gas is generated in this tank

All food for the cattle and fish is grown on his own land and the cow dung is used for his very own home-built biogas system, where 10 kgs of cow dung a day is enough to power his stove and all lamps in the house!

Jean Baptiste has used the UOB loan to invest in expanding his farm, but also to obtain insurance for his cows. They are high-breed Friesian cows worth 800,000 Rwandan francs ($1,100 equivalent) each and Jean Baptise has five. These loans, thus, have been vital to his continued success as an entrepreneur. His dream is to expand his farm further to include pigs and chickens. 

“I love farming” he says. “I work hard and never stop. There are always more opportunities out there and thanks to the UOB loan I have been able to pursue my ambitions”.  

- Louise

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Triple Jump Covers UOB's mBanking...

[This article is from Triple Jump's January 2013 News Letter. Triple Jump an investment fund that specializes in providing financial support for the MFI industry in developing countries. Triple Jump also has an Advisory Services arm and it has provided UOB with technical advisory assistance in UOB's mBanking project.]

Triple Jump news - Thursday, January 24, 2013

Advisory Services helps Urwego Opportunity Bank in Rwanda

JANUARY 2013 - Triple Jump Advisory Services provided technical assistance to Urwego Opportunity Bank (UOB) in Rwanda from mid-2012 through January 2013 to help them launch a mobile banking channel in partnership with Visa.

UOB's new service, branded mHose ("Hose" means "everywhere" in Kinyarwanda), allows UOB's customers to make loan payments, deposit savings, earn insurance coverage and check account balances on their mobile phones. UOB formed a partnership with Visa so they can leverage the mobile money payments platform offered by Visa in Rwanda, branded as mVisa. UOB piloted the system with two groups of loan clients for six months, which provided valuable findings for the rollout.

The mVisa system also allows UOB's customers to perform a wide array of other mobile wallet offerings such as sending money to others using mVisa, paying bills and other transactions. For a microfinance bank like UOB with 45,000 loan clients, 150,000 clients in total, and a countrywide presence, their objectives in launching this mobile banking service include increasing outreach, allowing customers to transact at lower costs and more efficiently, and reducing operating costs. And UOB is well placed to achieve these goals – with the support of Triple Jump Advisory Services, they have redesigned their business procedures and processes to incorporate the mobile banking channel; reconfigured and reinforced their IT infrastructure; hired new staff to manage the channel, the Agent network and customer service; and taken care of other details required to launch and manage an M-banking channel.

Additionally, Triple Jump Advisory Services helped UOB develop their own Agent network, which allows UOB's customers to cash in and cash out from their mHose account. We did all the work required to create, launch and successfully manage a mobile banking Agent network. For example, we designed the Agent network structure, analysed the business model for the channel to determine optimal agent commissions and customer fee pricing, and selected an Agent network manager and the businesses that could act as agents, as well as other related Agent network tasks. Despite the existence of MTN MobileMoney and, more recently TigoCash, continuing to find qualified and reputable businesses that can act as agents, especially in rural areas in UOB's operational zone, remains a challenge.

To support the needs of customers and agents, we helped UOB create a Customer Service department. Our business consulting team also designed a full training program that included a ‘train-the-trainers' element to ensure that UOB had their own internal trainers capable of successfully training employees and staff for the launch and for the lifetime of the channel. Ensuring staff members are comfortable and confident with the system is key to fully supporting end customers, since customers often go to loan officers with questions or concerns about the system.

On the technical side of the project, after we drew up the business requirements document, our technical consultants created the functional specifications for the system. They primarily focused on working with the Visa team to integrate UOB's core banking system (eMerge) with Visa's mobile money system (VMMS), and the installation and configuration of UOB's new SMS alert system. After developing and integrating the required functionalities in the test environment, the TJAS consultants performed various user acceptance tests and modifications and trained UOB's IT staff. A go-live release was prepared and installed and full support was provided to UOB to ensure the success of the go-live.

What is very promising about this new service is that it is based on an interoperable business concept and system. In this sense, UOB customers can use any mVisa agent in the network and are not restricted to only using UOB agents. Other financial institutions thatr are partnered with mVisa will also provide agents, thereby increasing the number of agent outlets in which customers can transact. Another promising feature of this service is a new product that UOB is offering exclusively for this channel; micro-insurance. Partnered with MicroEnsure, UOB offers customers the opportunity to earn life insurance for themselves and their family members based on the balance in their mHose accounts. They are notified of coverage via SMS, a simple and transparent way for customers to learn about and earn this important insurance coverage.

Having piloted the system and effectively prepared the organisation, the personnel, the Agent network, the market and their technical infrastructure, UOB is well positioned to provide real benefits to customers using this channel as well as streamline their banking services. UOB is launching the service in three different regions of Rwanda and will continue the rollout in various geographic stages during 2013.

Carol Caruso, Director, Triple Jump Advisory Services

Friday, February 1, 2013

Ministry Updates - January 2013

The year 2013 has opened with apparent growth in environmental challenges. Due mainly to DR Congo's domestic conflict and UN Report's allegation that Rwandan government is supporting M23 rebels, foreign development aids have been reduced or received a lot more slowly than projected. This has caused the government to cut back its budgets, thus creating lower construction projects leading to lower income and thus lower purchasing power. Lower purchasing power has been resulting in reduced demand for loans, increased withdrawals of savings, slower collection of loan repayments and rising portfolio at risk ratio. 
Clients meeting at UOB Office

Moreover, a significant portion of liquidity has dried up mainly because Rwanda's largest institutional investor, RSSB or Rwanda Social Security Board, pulled significant amounts of term deposits out of commercial banks to buy treasury notes issued by the central bank (BNR) to support the government spending that would have been funded by foreign development aids which have been reduced or cut. This liquidity crunch in the market has put many banks to stop their lending during the fourth quarter. This has worsened in January 2013, combined with slow seasonality in January. So it is a tough time in Rwanda.

Nonetheless, we have reasons to praise the good Lord on many fronts. The following are highlights:

UOB Day Group Photo
1. UOB held its UOB Day in January. We praised God and shared the blessings we received in 2012 and also the plan we have established for 2013. We have chosen TRANSFORM as the spiritual and management theme for 2013 based on Romans 12:1,2. This was shared with all staff. We will put transformation first in what we do in 2013 and we plan to return to basics by enforcing standardized practices for conducting meetings and HLI teachings.  

2. Secondary Student Loan (tuition fee loan) was pilot-launched in January. Approximately 27 clients in 7 groups received this loan with terms and conditions that are better than group loans. It will be scaled up to all clients in April.

3. UOB hired Agricultural Finance Manager and EduFinance Manager who started working on January 2nd. 
With these two managers on board, UOB will be able to scale up these two important products to help Rwandans advance their agricultural activities and education for children, respectively. 

4. Opportunity International IT Conference was held in Kigali, Rwanda for three days. This conference painted its future strategies towards more collaborative shared services and the upgrade of the core banking application, T24 to R10 model bank. UOB was honored to host this conference and show the delegates how UOB has well maintained its IT infrastructure.

5. UOB has signed an MOU with USAID dairy project for Rwanda to help 60,000 plus dairy farmers to access financial services better. This 24 month project will help UOB develop, design and implement dairy loan and savings product. Also, UOB joined Womens World Banking in a proposal to Access to Finance Rwanda to develop a women youth savings product. Moreover, UOB worked with OI US in submitting a proposal to Visa International for an innovative delivery channel.

6. UOB finally deployed all 100 NetBook computers to its relationship staff in the fied. These NetBook computers are equipped with Enterprise Open Sky platform that enables our staff to access the system from the field real time. This would enhance the operational efficiency and productivity significantly. 

7. UOB held its quarterly prudential meeting with the central bank, BNR, for its fourth quarter 2012 performance. As expected, the meeting went very well and we maintained a favorable rating.

8. As a continuing measure of providing affordable pricing for our clients, UOB lowered its group lending rates by 0.5% per month in January. This measure has been taken again after it lowered the group lending rates by 0.5% per month in February 2012. We praise the Lord who has enabled us to do this based on continuing operational sustainability.

9. English bible distribution continued with six thousand bibles now have been distributed. They have been distributed not only to UOB clients but also almost 100 pastors who will produce greater impact because their influence over their congregation members. A final report should be made in February.

Gicumbi Nursery under construction
10. Gicumbi Nursery project is progressing well. Foundations were completed about three weeks ago and now walls are rising, taking shape of the building. The external construction works are expected to be completed in two months after which furnishings and interior construction will continue. We expect to finish all required work and start the operation in four months. We are grateful for all the support we have received from the friends and supporters for this project.

11. We received many visitors in January. They included Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade who has come to visit with the Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Retired Pastor Mark Kim and his wife Dr. Kim who plan to come to serve Rwanda next year despite their ages being at 75 and 73, Tom Phillips, the long time friend and supporter of many ministry works in Rwanda, Johns Hopkins University Global MBA students who worked on a project for UOB. 
12. We continued to fellowship with Korean missionaries through a monthly prayer meeting. Jeffrey continued ministering to Agape Korean church, UOB staff and Shalom Bible Study through preaching and teaching of the Word. It is great joy to participate in these Word ministries on top of living the Word in deeds.

13. We have the following prayer requests:
  • Please pray that various external factors adversely affecting Rwanda may get resolved sooner rather than later so that Rwanda's transformation may continue to be an exemplary case for a developing country.
  • Jeffrey's father has now been confirmed to have Alzheimer's disease. Please pray that this disease may progress slowly and that he may live the last days of his life on earth in peace with the hope for the life to come. Kristin's mom has started losing her consciousness in a nursing home. May God grant her the peace of Christ through the last days of her life also.
  • UOB has continued debugging its mobile and agent banking platform, mHose, in January. Now it is very close to get ready for the commercial launch in February. Please join us in prayer for this project to progress for launch.
  • UOB is still waiting to hear from IFC on the implementation plan for its approved grant support for UOB's agent network development. Also, UOB has launched its Innovation for Education program with the support from DFID Rwanda. Please pray that the implementation plans for these programs may gain traction for timely launch and implementation.
  • Please pray that UOB's initiative to put "Transformation" first in 2013 may also gain buy-in and support from all staff so that UOB may advance His Kingdom further through these initiatives. 
Significant challenges that we face now keep us humble to go on our knees to the Lord. These challenges also remind us that we should always put our trust in the Lord no matter what the circumstances are. We are deeply grateful for you all for standing with us with your prayer and support. May the Lord bless you, keep you and make His face shine upon you and your family!

Jeffrey and Kristin Lee from RWANDA