A Different World View

January 5th, 2016

If you internalize La Ceiba’s motto of ‘clients come first’, it changes how you see the world.

La Ceiba talks a lot about being fair to clients. When you hear this kind of talk, you think ‘oh that’s nice.’ You’re a little happier that MFIs are being considerate and you move on. But if you hear this talk and really internalize it, it becomes a completely different thing.

Today, we met with Finca Microfinance.

We walked in and started a very cordial, informative conversation about accessible credit for the less fortunate. The woman was kind and patient with our questions. We discussed products and strategies. When we began discussing clients, we realized just how different we were.

The room was tense. The woman’s expression turned to concern and confusion, as if she suddenly realized we were aliens in disguise. Both of us felt a frustrated feeling in our chests – a need to defend the client. It almost seemed like this woman was out of touch with reality.

The thing that struck us most was when she said to look at the quality of the client. It bothered us because we didn’t see one client being better quality than another. How would you articulate that to someone who comes to you asking to be a client with your organization? Sorry but according to our calculations and impressions, you are not a good quality person and therefore we cannot offer you our services. Goodbye.

The importance placed on ‘good quality’ clients having ‘good quality’ businesses is ironic, because it’s exactly how the client is being treated: as a business. Who are we to decide if someone’s is good enough or not good enough? Where is the human connection? In some cases, there may not be one. They place the importance on the business doing well, the client repaying the loan, and the organization benefiting. It bothers them when a client goes into arrears and makes excuses.

When a client with La Ceiba goes into arrears, we meet, we listen, and we try to reassure them that we’re not going anywhere. We try to understand their situation. When they find a way to pay the loan back, they can take out another one. If they leave, we welcome them back with open arms, whether it’s been a few months or a few years. It’s an entirely different world view.

The way the microfinance sector continues to view clients as a resource instead of a community, will forever conflict with La Ceiba’s ethos. Having internalized that ethos, and experienced it here in Honduras, we can proudly say we see things differently.

Alex Rodriguez & Jeff Paddock

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