Accion Ambassadors Blog

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Two Weeks at Akiba in the Rear View Mirror

DSC02393My time at Akiba is drawing to a close. When I think back to the day I arrived here, stumbling into the hotel at 4:30am in a zombie-like state after 26 hours of traveling, it seems like months ago. Yet my assignment at Akiba has flown by. Over the past two weeks, I’ve been working on developing recommendations for Akiba’s website redesign – specifically on how to better communicate its mission and work in a more dynamic way that involves stronger branding and sharing client success stories.

Akiba faces an interesting branding challenge. Its client base is diverse. Those at the top of their client pyramid have comparatively larger businesses and aspire to a middle-class lifestyle and socioeconomic identity. The broad base of clients resemble a more traditional microfinance segment, with small businesses in relatively poorer communities. The question is how Akiba can represent all its clients while retaining a singular brand and communicate to all audiences without alienating any? The good news is that Akiba a strong story to tell, based on years of microfinance operations and developing close connections in communities. The fact that other banks in Tanzania are now direct competitors, emulating their microfinance model, is a testament to Akiba’s success. Continue reading


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Two Days and Three Nights in Zanzibar

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I raced from Akiba’s offices and down Azikiwe street toward the waterfront, walking at my native New York City speed, darting through pedestrians and dodging motorcycles and cars to make the 3:45pm ferry to Zanzibar. I just made it. Two hours later, as Stone Town’s ancient mix of Arabic, Indian, and African architecture came into view and the dhows in the harbor came closer, I smiled to myself. I had wanted to visit Zanzibar for years and could now cross off one of my top goals on my travel list. Continue reading


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Hitting the Ground Running with Client Visits on my Second Day with Akiba

At some point during our walk down the dusty, uneven road packed with minibuses and motorcycles inches away from hitting me, unfamiliar music and sounds blasting from unseen speakers, people selling everything from plastic toys to Adidas shorts to cell phones to furniture, and a profusion of life and color all around, I thought to myself, “This is exactly what I was hoping to see in Tanzania.” Continue reading


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A first week full of firsts

My first week as an Accion Ambassador went by in a flash, but being assigned to Accion’s partner Akiba Commercial Bank in Tanzania has already resulted in a number of first experiences for me. It is my first time in Dar es Salaam, in Tanzania, and in Africa. My first time on the Indian Ocean, and in a city with a large Muslim population (a fact that greatly adds to its diversity). And last, but not least, the first time I had to deal with a significant time difference from my home in the Boston area (which gives me a greater appreciation for colleagues that have to deal with jet lag on a more routine basis). Continue reading


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Customer Care at Akiba Commercial Bank

In April last year, KPMG released the Africa Banking Industry Customer Satisfaction Survey for banking institutions across 14 African countries. The study ranked financial institution on their retail customer service based on service factors such as convenience, customer care, transaction methods and systems, pricing, and product and services. Akiba Commercial Bank came third in Tanzania scoring 74.5 with a .1 difference from Access Back (came second at 74.6). For the formal report see African Banking Industry Customer Satisfaction Survey.

Intrigued with their customer service performance, I went out on a Branch visit to talk to staff on the ground and inquire about their customer service philosophy. These are some of their customer service practices

“It all begins with the frontline staff” said Agness Nyakali, the Branch Manager at Akiba’s Kijitonyama branch. For Agness, microfinance clients do not forget first encounters with loan officers, branch managers and other front line staff. “Whenever a new client or new group comes to apply for a loan from us, I introduce myself as a branch manager and tell them if there is anything you [the clients] need, please come and see me” said Agness. Clients remember their first encounter because for most it is their first time to ever walk into a banking institution.

In addition to the help desk, in every Akiba Branch there is a visible suggestion box with instruction on how to submit complaint and feedback to the bank. These suggestion boxes are opened and reviewed bi-weekly, and complaints are resolved timely depending on the nature of the problem.

Another important component of customer service is client follow-up meetings. Every quarter, a sample of microfinance clients are called to discuss issues they face with the banking services at Akiba. These clients are invited to air their opinions, complaints, and feedback on services rendered to them. These follow-up meetings are essential because they help the bank identify client needs and how they can improve services to cater for those needs. Continue reading


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The two things new loan officers need to know

“When you go to a new client during to gather information about his business, how do you ask him about his equity in the business?” Tito, Akiba Commercial Bank’s (ACB) Training Manager, began during the new loan officers training on repayment capacity analysis. “Most of the time the customers[clients] do not know the technical terms [like, formal financial concepts] but you need to let them understand what you are looking for, so you can get the information” Tito explained.

ACB’s new loan officers training is very extensive and is designed specifically around a common understanding of their current clients. I had an opportunity to attend a session on financial and non-financial assessment in the repayment capacity analysis session. Here are the two things that I found most important for all new loan officers to know:

1. Processes and communication must be client-focused 

Every concept covered in the training was broken down into terms and language that the client can understand. Loan officers are taught the basics of balance sheets and income statements. But those tools are structured and designed in a way that the loan officers can easily obtain the relevant information they need about the business type from the client himself. “Clients may not understand or even know what a balance sheet or income statement is, so we have to make sure that we ask questions that they can understand and answer” said Tito

 2. Non-financial assessment skills are of crucial importance

“Suppose the client’s financials are sound. How do you go about knowing if the client is willing to pay or if the client is dishonest about his willingness to pay?” asked Tito. Tito stressed the importance of understanding the non-financial aspects of the client’s application too – and how to go about collecting information that would help the loan officer assess this part of the client’s application. Multiple case studies and scenarios were used in which a typical ACB client and loan officers were each asked to decide how to assess the client’s willingness to pay. Neighborhood references at the client’s business and residence are usually very indicative in assessing the willingness to pay. “The neighbors usually know.” Continue reading


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From worker to owner: Teckla’s story

Dar es Salaam is the financial capital of Tanzania. Over time, the city has attracted many small and micro-enterprises that cater to the rapidly growing low- and middle-income populations. And luckily, many of these entrepreneurs have also been able to take advantage of some of the microfinance opportunities around the city to build their small businesses and better reach more clients. Last week, I had an opportunity to meet with a small entrepreneur. This is her story:

Meet Teckla Kiswaga, a mother of two and an owner of a beverage orders and delivery business.

Teckla came to Dar es Salaam in 1996 at age 13, and began working for a local beverage distributor. In 2005, she found herself out of work after her boss had passed away. It was then that she decided to try her hand at the business herself, building off the network she had built over the last nine years. There was only one problem: Teckla didn’t have any capital to start her business. She was lucky to find a former colleague from the industry who lent her  the 6 million Tanzanian Shillings ($4,000) (at zero percent interest) that she needed to acquire a business license, setup a shop, and begin her operations.

Soon, business was booming, and she badly wanted to expand her operations to serve the growing demand. Over time, Teckla has received five loans from Accion partner Akiba Commercial Bank. The first was for 5 million Tanzanian Shillings ($3,125) to increase inventory space by acquiring a second shop. Then, as each loan grew in size, she further expanded her business operations and increased her inventory capacity. Now, she employees three workers and manages three shops, two of which are used just for her inventory. Continue reading