Interview with Krishna Thacker, Director – Financial Empowerment (Asia) at MetLife Foundation

Krishna U. M. Thacker, the Director – Financial Empowerment (Asia) at MetLife Foundation, discussed MetLife Foundation’s initiatives to promote financial inclusion with Microfinance Focus on the sidelines of the Asia Microfinance Forum 2014 in Shanghai.

Financial empowerment

Krishna U. M. Thacker, the Director – Financial Empowerment (Asia) at MetLife Foundation/ Photo Credit: Vikash Kumar Photography

Please mention two specific examples of how MetLife Foundations’ Global Campaign for Financial Inclusion has impacted Asia, and what you have learned thus far that will guide MetLife’s future endeavors in the region.

We are working closely with financial inclusion experts and organizations in Asia to identify the key issues in each country.  We may work with, say, a Microfinance Institution (MFI) to develop new, mobile-phone enabled products in one market, or we may find that the industry in another country needs better training to increase the availability of skilled financial inclusion staff. For instance, we are working with an MFI in Bangladesh that is harnessing the power of “digital financial services” created by that country’s mobile money services.  We are working in several countries with financial inclusion partners who are seeking to become better providers of customer centric services.  We are working with FI partners in several countries to introduce the power of Behavioral Economics to design products and service that help their customers to achieve their financial goals. We are working with urban and rural MFIs, with “meso-level” actors (like microfinance associations) and with organizations that are creating research and demonstrating the impact that financial inclusion have for low income people.

In Korea, MetLife Foundation supports Seoul Welfare Foundation to help 18,000 low-income families establish savings accounts and skills to manage their finance. In China and India, we support regional financial inclusion conferences to share best practices and learning with industry experts in financial inclusion. In Vietnam, we are working with the association of financial inclusion organizations to promote the growth of a professional, sustainable Vietnamese microfinance industry.  Let me also tell you about our overall strategy:

We’ve committed $200 million in global funding over the next five years to advance Financial Inclusion; we have a significant presence in Asia and look to continue growing our portfolio of grant relationships in the region. In addition to this commitment of financial resources, we also have the opportunity to leverage our large and experienced global talent pool of financial services experts who look forward to volunteering their time and skills with Foundation grantees.  Considering what we bring and given the level of commitment both by the international community and by the local governments in most countries in Asia, we are quite confident that, together, we will be able to demonstrate significant progress in achieving our goals of meaningful financial inclusion.

The emergence of micro-insurance is an important development within the field of microfinance. How is the MetLife Foundation supporting micro-insurance in Asia?

We agree that micro-insurance is an important development – allowing low-income households to better manage their risks and have a reliable safety net is key to keeping people above the poverty line.

However, micro-insurance is one area that the MetLife Foundation will work in only with very careful consideration.  As a corporation which provides insurance products and services, we take utmost care to ensure that the activities of the Foundation are not to be confused with our business activities.  We are exploring ways to support micro-insurance activities at the macro-level and to be supportive overall to the industry via broad based research.  We do indeed believe that micro-insurance is certainly a very important element in financial inclusion, and where it is possible, we will be happy to contribute.

Women are a major focus of many microfinance organizations. How do MetLife’s financial empowerment goals reflect the importance of women to regional economic growth?

The MetLife Foundation is pleased that there is an increasing level of awareness on the role of women in managing finance and participating in financial planning for their families.  In financial inclusion, our goal is to ensure that women’s financial needs are met – both in terms of the kinds of products they may be interested in (e.g. savings for children’s education or a loan to run their own businesses) and in ways that they can pursue. MetLife Foundation is working with organizations like Women’s World Banking and its partner Ujjivan in India to develop individual loan products for women.  We are working with BURO in Bangladesh to assist their development of digital financial services – which can increase convenience and decrease costs for their 1.3million women clients, but does face the challenges around women’s phone ownership and comfort with the technology.  MetLife Foundation and its partners want women – and men – to have access to excellent financial products.  We have and track specific gender metrics such as the numbers of women reached and using a particular service.

Please give some examples of various initiatives in financial empowerment in Asia. What have you learned from these experiences?

At present, we are supporting, or about to support more than 20 projects in Asia, we plan to further expand our activities.  Below are a few of examples:

  • In Bangladesh, we are supporting BURO (a medium sized MFI) currently serving ~1.3M women customers. The goal of this project is to support BURO in offering technology enabled (mobile based) and a wider range of customer-centric financial services. The project will reach customers with improved products and services and if successful, can prove to be a landmark project for the industry.
  • MetLife Foundation is supporting Sesame Street Workshop  (GaliGaliSimSim in India) to develop a multimedia global financial empowerment campaign that targets families with carefully honed messages with an aim to promote financial inclusion and build financial empowerment in multiple countries both in Asia and globally. The ultimate objective is to help more families save for the future and to provide a cushion in the event of setbacks.
  • In China, we are supporting CFFPD to build financial libraries across 12 schools in the country providing approx. 15,000 students and teachers access to financial knowledge in their schools. We are also supporting Accion in China. Accion in partnership with CMIA, CAM, and Tsinghua University has conducted a Training Needs Assessment (TNA) to understand the needs of the financial inclusionindustry in order to help the organisations deliver better products and services aimed at low income people.

What we have learned:

  • Each country, each institution and each project is unique. That is why we don’t go with a predetermined solution but rather support experts and institutions to develop customized customer centric solutions.
  • It is important to leverage what has been achieved in the sector to date: scale, efficiency, technology and channels. That is why we support developing and testing technology-led financial inclusion business models which have the potential to reach greater numbers of people with convenient, affordable financial services.
  • It is important to actively collaborate, learn and foster partnerships to achieve meaningful and sustainable outcomes. That is why we support and participate in events such as this.

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