Monday, July 29, 2013

Agricultural Finance Program at UOB...

90% of Rwanda's population is directly or indirectly related to agriculture. So, agriculture is a basic economic sector for Rwanda, particularly for the poor people. If our mission is to serve the poor, then it is essential for us to do something about agriculture.

Thus, UOB started offering agriculture finance from 2010. But, due to unexpected government intervention, the program could not produce any results. From 2011, however, UOB started serving the farmers initially with input and production financing. UOB's initial focus was on serving Irish potato, rice and maize farmers for their input and production financing needs.

In 2011, UOB served approximately 1,450 farmers. This number increased to 4,500 in 2012 and in 2013 we aim to serve up to 8,000.

The increase was attributed to the scale up of the tested crops into other geographical areas overcoming the challenges that are coming from inherent risks to the agriculture finance, such as weather risk, disease risk, price risk and regulatory risk on top of credit risk. To make this challenging service possible was the credit recourse through Kiva. Kiva offers an internet-based individual lending platform through which individuals all over the world may be able to lend to the poor in developing countries around the world via micro finance institutions like UOB. They can lend from $25 and when the money is paid back, they may re-lend or ask for repayment. Under this program, UOB may not have to pay back the loan if UOB incurs any loss. UOB is the largest Kiva implementing partner in Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. For more information about, click here   Through this program, UOB was able to mitigate high risks associated with agriculture so that UOB may be able to offer the financing at affordable prices to the farmers.

In 2013, we are exploring the possibility of introducing dairy credits and top up credits to small coffee farmers during their low cash flow season. This way, we may help them avoid side-selling or selling the crops for urgent cash needs at deep discounts before the harvest. The ultimate benefit for farmers will be regularizing their irregular consumption patterns.

UOB was recognized for its genuine spirit of participating in the agriculture finance at the Rwanda Agriculture Show in 2012 and 2013 consecutively.

We praise the Lord for the vision and mandate to serve them in Rwanda and pray that He will continue to provide us with resources and insights to be able to continue serving them without taking excessive risks coming from the agriculture finance. - Jeffrey

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Client Service Point (CSP) Strategy at UOB...

UOB is the second largest institution in Rwanda in terms of the number of clients it serves. It serves almost 180,000 clients. The clients are all over in Rwanda. UOB has operational presence in all 30 districts, but it does not have physical presence every where. 
It is serving the clients through 44 business outlets, comprising 10 branches, 33 credit offices and 1 mobile branch operating on a hard body Land Cruiser truck. To serve 180,000 clients, 44 business outlets are absolutely insufficient.

We could not open brick-and-mortar branches fast enough to accommodate the growing number of clients. Such branches are costly to begin with and take quite a few years to break even. It is more challenging to achieve the break even in rural areas. Moreover, there are restrictions in the percentage of fixed assets compared to equity. Then, how do we serve the clients?

God has given us an insight to develop and launch what we named "Client Service Point" or CSP Strategy. CSP Strategy includes interoperable solutions that allow our clients to access their savings accounts or other financial services without having to go to the traditional bank business outlets. Interoperable solutions are coming in two channels. "Interoperable" means that clients can use the delivery channels of other institutions through third party intermediaries that clear and settle such transactions.
The first form of interoperable solution is UOB's mobile and agent banking solution, called mHose. "Hose" means "everywhere" in Kinyarwanda. mHose is using mVISA platform that allows for all basic mobile banking features, such as send, receive, loan pay, top up air time, pay bills etc. 

Moreover, mHose pays interest on mobile money balance and also offers free life insurance tied to the savings balance. These features are the first of their kinds. 

So far, we have signed up more than 3,000 clients and serve them via 35 agents. These numbers are expected to scale up quite rapidly for the rest of this year. UOB plans to expand the agent network to 200 by YE 2013 and another bank plans to establish a network of up to 500 agents, all of which will be available to our clients for use.
The second form of interoperable solution is UOB Grace Cards. They are chip-based debit cards that clear through RSwitch, Rwanda's national payment switch. Currently we are in the process of distributing up to 50,000 cards to our clients. Our clients will have access to their accounts through ATMs (250 spread across Rwanda) or POS-enabled (Point of Sale) agents (approximately 400). We project to complete the initial distribution by the end of August.
We are excited about this creative strategy that enables our clients to have access to various formal financial services without having to sacrifice their precious business time for banking transactions. These techonology-based tools are enablers for financial inclusion. 

We are dreaming of a day when our clients have access to the financial services almost any where in Rwanda without having to pay a lot of money and without having to compromise on their dignity. May the Lord continue to bless us with persistence, creativity, team work and strong partnership! - Jeffrey

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

An International Bean Selling Boy Story...

Entrepreneurship... is a buzz word for many.

Young entrepreneurship is a fancy word for even more people with some illusion. Many times, it is just another story of young entrepreneurship that touches your skin and sense, but that is it. It is usually a story of good intent. Not effective. No success.

But not all stories are just stories. Some stories are worthwhile reading and listening.

Keith is a young boy from the U.S., eight years of age.

His father is Peter Greer, CEO of Hope International, an international Christian NGO based in Lancaster, PA, focusing on micro enterprise development around the world. He must have taught his son something about entrepreneurship.

As we know, not all teaching translates to learning and not all learning produces action.

But here is a story that you should read.

Keith is a prime example of a young entrepreneur who has turned what he learned into action immediately and proved his entrepreneurial effort to be not only possible but also successful.

Keith started his business with no capital and produced Rwf3,500 or $5.00 in only two days. Given that a constructor worker earns Rwf1,500-2,000 a day, his income from these two days of business was not bad at all.

He is now a proven international bean trader.

For more details, please Click Here

May his entrepreneurship develop further and bear many fruits for His Kingdom! - Jeffrey

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Ministry Update - June 2013

The month of June showed signs of hope, but the numbers did not reflect the hope. Nonetheless, we were able to finish the month with an upbeat tone.

The following are highlights of the ministry activities during the month of June:

Solar Lamp Program Launched
1. UOB signed an agreement with Great Lakes Energy that will supply Sun King solar lamps for UOB's clients. These solar lamps will help bring lights to rural Rwandans who have had to depend on kerosine lamps. For more details, click here

2. UOB participated in the Rwanda Agriculture Show 2013 and was acknowledged for its effective participation in the agriculture finance program. This acknowledgement is the second year in a row. For more details, click here

3. UOB received approval from Rwanda Development Bank (BRD) on our request to increase its credit line to Rwf1.2 Billion from Rwf560 Million. This will help manage the liquidity comfortably.

4. Finally, UOB received the first installment of the grant from IFC. It has taken so long to come up to this point and I hope the process will be smooth.

UOB Recognized at Rwanda Agriculture Show
5. UOB's client service point (CSP) strategy continued to be implemented. Currently UOB is focusing on rolling out mHose and UOB grace cards. But this CSP strategy will expand to work with other institutions for easy access to their saving accounts by UOB clients. A major roll-out marketing plan is currently under development.

6. T24 R10 model bank migration work has begun officially. We formed a task force, led by the COO, which will spearhead into several key tasks to be ready for the migration during the third quarter.

7. UOB also received a notification from Access to Finance Rwanda (AFR) that it has approved our grant proposal for $600,000. This will help us accelerate the deployment of mHose agents.

8. UOB's story has been included in a book, titled "The International Bank of Bob." Authored by Bob Harris, this book covers several stories that demonstrate how effectively small loans can help micro entrepreneurs in developing countries. UOB's story is in the entire Chapter Eight. For more details, click here Also, UOB was mentioned in an article of the Wall Street Journal which covered what Visa is doing in Rwanda. We are thrilled to be part of this project.

9. Jeffrey continued to serve God's people through preaching and teaching the Word at Agape Korean Church, St. Etienne Cathedral, UOB staff devotion and Shalom Bible Study. It is a bubbling joy springing up from my inside to be used for this Word ministry.

10. Kristin's Gicumb (Yaramba) Nursery project is almost completed. The water tank has been installed, the fences have been erected, the gutter work has been completed. Currently, the toilet work is being done and should be ready for operation that will start from August.

11. Family News Updates:
Jeffrey's parents in May 2010
  • Jeffrey's parents celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in June. What a great blessing to see them still remaining on earth! We are delighted to see and grateful for their 60th wedding anniversary.
  • Joyce returned to Senegal safely and has resumed her work with the Peace Corps.
  • Amanda is adjusting to a civilian life after nine years of military life while James is under training in several locations.

12. Prayer Requests:
  • UOB, its staff and its clients are still struggling to recover from the economic recession. We are told that the money started flowing again, but people on the ground just do not feel it yet. Please remember to pray for quick and complete recovery from the shock.
  • UOB is going through heavy loan write-offs and intensive recovery process. May God intervene to stabilize and normalize the operation.
  • Please remember to pray for successful rollout of mHose agents. In June, we experienced several glitches that disturbed the operations. Now they have been fixed, but we feel like we are walking on thin ice.
  • Please pray that our field staff will not neglect the Holistic Life Improvement teaching in the midst of intensive recovery efforts. These two issues could easily collide with each other in conflict.
  • Please pray for God's grace in securing a competent teacher and administrator to lead the Yaramba Nursery operation. The hardware may be good, but without as good a software operation, the project cannot be called a success.
  • Please pray for God's grace upon our spiritual life to continue to be growing mature every day as we are in a position to lead and influence many people in different capacities.
Again, we always thank you for your standing with us through your faithful prayer and support.

Gratefully in His service,

Jeffrey and Kristin Lee from Kigali, RWANDA