Independent Research and Policy Advocacy

My day at a KGFS branch

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On 31st August 2010, I spent a day at Annappanpettai Branch.  The branch was opened on 20th November 2009 and has enrolments of around 1750 when I visited.

As soon as I entered the branch, I was greeted by our Wealth Managers (WMs) neatly turned up in their uniforms and looked all set for yet another exciting day at the work.  The three WMs in the branch were Mr. Ramesh (Teller),  Mr.Prabhakaran (the senior-most WM) and Mr. Ayyappakumar (one of our newest WMs). The ARM was on sick leave as he was down with fever.  After the brief introductions I realised that I am in the company of talented guys who had their own reasons of why they are with Pudhuaaru, the details of which are in the later part of this post.

Having had the introductions, it was time to enquire about the enrolments, their daily routine and plan for the particular day, details of which were promptly given.  They seemed to have a well laid out plan for the day that I am spending with them (I must mention here though that the branch was randomly picked up just before leaving Thanjavur and they had no clue of my visit).

As we were talking, a group of women of a JLG hastily entered the branch and with a request (that started right at the entrance of the branch) that the transaction be done quickly so that they can catch the bus that is expected in next two minutes and if they miss the next bus is only after 60 minutes.  The request from their side did not sound unreasonable and they seemed to have experienced these “TAT’s” earlier too.  But my presence in the branch seemed to be interfering as our WM started insisting on their reading our “Reminder” (a process of building solidarity within the group).  Here was a situation where the customers want to do the transaction and leave in two minutes and our WM saying “But….you know today is not one of those days…one of our “Chennai” guys is sitting there”.  I couldn’t help but notice a big disappointment and frantic negotiation happening to finish the transactions early and some of them also looking at me with mixed feelings of angst and hope that I would do something.

I intervened and asked them as to the reason for being in such a great hurry and pat came the reply, one of the family members of one of our customers was sick and that she had to hurry back so as to attend the person.  I requested our WM to complete the transaction only to realise that he had almost concluded the transaction and that the group could leave to catch the bus!  I then checked with our WMs on what they would have done on the question of “Reminder” in such situations if they were the only officials in the branch and the answer was that they would not have insisted in such cases customer centricity in letter and spirit!

The branch then was deserted for a brief while and I was wondering why the customers weren’t coming as I knew that around 250 customers were expected.  I spent this period talking to our Wealth Managers about the service area, their knowledge of the households in the service area.  They seemed to know a great deal about the households in their service area.  As we were discussing Ayyappakumar took leave of us to go to the field so as to be on time for an appointment.

The rest of the session till lunch witnessed a thin stream of customers walking in with varied queries and needs.  One customer came with her mother-in-law to enquire if we have a loan against the hypothecation of her Light Commercial Vehicle.  While the vehicle was in her name, her husband ran the same for hire.  The customer was willing to provide land and building as collateral, provide credit history of how they have successfully honoured their repayment schedule for the same vehicle and closed the loan with a Private Finance Company and was carrying a “no-dues certificate” from them.  A classic case of Asset Back Loans based on cash flows.

The number of footfalls slowly started increasing as the lunch time approached and Ayyappakumar also returned from the field so that he could be available for the peak part of the day. That is the time when (Regional manager) RM Mr. Suresh also visited the branch as part of his routine.  When enquired, he mentioned that he took care of 19 branches and visited three branches a day as part of his routine.  Since there was a small crowd at the branch, RM and I decide to take a stroll in the village and visited a small hotel near the bus-stand, the owner of which also happens to be our Retailer Loan customer.  Suresh introduced me to this husband-wife team that was busy packing lunch for their regular “corporate” customer, a SME in the vicinity that purchases around 25 lunch packets a day.  Both of them seemed to be quite industrious and involved in the business.  While the lady mentioned that the loan from Pudhuaaru enabled them to move from snacks to lunch ( a big graduation in the segment), the husband was happy to inform that thanks to Pudhuaaru, footfalls to their hotel had increased since people from neighbouring villages who visit the branch also visit their hotel.  I got to have a great filter coffee from this shop for just Rs.5/- which, if lucky would be available in Chennai atleast five times the price!

Post lunch Suresh and I had a long walk when Suresh informed me of how he manages his day, the Wealth Managers meetings that he conducts at regular intervals, the feedback from the field and his men. Here we were met by another customer of ours who was enquiring about setting up of a mini dairy plant and how Pudhuaaru can structure a financial product for such projects.

Back in branch, the footfalls had increased and the number of people in the branch also increased as there was a JLG loan disbursement that had hit a “technical snag” in the form of one of the members of the group not being able to come for documentation.  The RM and the Wealth Managers explained them in great detail of the process of loan disbursement and that all the members had to be present for the disbursement to happen.  The best part of the whole conversation that I witnessed was the exposition of the need for process discipline by the branch staff and appreciation of the same by the customers.  Both the parties were trying their best to arrive at best possible solution to their current situation which ended with the fixing up of a convenient time the next day for disbursement.

I also witnessed a live family enrolment in the branch with not only the members of the family but also other visitors participating in the enrolment on questions like yield per acre of paddy etc.  When asked about the insurance cover the family, they had replied that they pay Rs. 3000/- p.a. for insurance cover, I asked them if they understood what kind of policy they have taken and the sum insured etc. Another customer who had come to repay her Jewel Loan explained me the entire process of availing of the insurance cover, payment of premium and how important it was to have a passbook and get an entry of the premium paid, made so that irrespective of people being there or not, the entry in passbook will ensure that their money was safe. It was baffling to notice that customers take comfort in various components of these age old processes like entries in the passbook.

Soon it was EOD (end of day) time and there were frantic activities.Prabhakaran the Senior Most Wealth Managers started the “countdown” for EOD when he started asking the details from the Teller if all the repayments are received, number of enrolments made etc., all across the counter with monosyllabic answers coming from Ramesh in the cash counter, who was busy segregating and preparing the cash to be kept in the vault.  And in exactly 15 minutes, Ramesh declared that the cash is tallied and ready to be checked by the other custodian, Ayyappankumar, who promptly started checking the cash, verified the entries in the vault register and both of them then moved cash into the safe and locked the same together. That was the end of the day for cash department.

Then were other steps in terms of switching on of burglar alarm, switching off of lights and the shutters were down for the day.

I thought this was a good time to get to know our stars of the branch a bit more and better.  I started with Ramesh and asked him as to how and why did he join Pudhuaaru. He quickly replied that being a Graduate in Commerce he wanted to be in banking or financial services but ended up working in FMCG and call centre for few months in Chennai and Hyderabad before getting to know about Pudhuaaru KGFS through one of his friends.  While he and his friend both appeared for recruitment, he made it and his friend didn’t.

Ayyappankumar was much more interesting. He was from Varagur village where we have opened one of our initial branches and his mother is our JLG customer, the proceeds of which were used to pay his first semester fee at his college where he was doing his MBA in one of the prestigious institutions in Thanjavur.  The burden of second semester became unmanageable and he was asked to look out for a job and the first thought that came to him was to apply for Pudhuaaru, earn sufficient money so that he can save and then continue his MBA. He proudly informed that he is well on his way of fulfilling this plan of his and has set aside 50% of his earnings so far for this.

Now it was the turn of the senior member of the Wealth Managers of the branch, Prabhakaran. He too was a graduate and pursuing MBA from Bharatidasan University as a Part-Time student. He explained in great detail on how he manages to attend the contact classes on Sundays and holidays, payment of fees out of his savings and how he considers acquiring of this MBA to be critical for his career advancement.

It was time to say goodbye to the branch and the Wealth Managers. What a day! On my way back, my head was swirling with all the observations. The process level improvisations that we can make, the number of products that we need to structure, realisation on how our branch has become first port of call for all the financial requirements of the households in the service area and their expectation that Pudhuaaru indeed is capable of providing these services to them. There were lots of ideas on how we as an entity can facilitate our field force acquiring higher education and plan their career advancement both internal as well as external so that the inquisitiveness to learn is kept alive in our Wealth Managers.

The best part was the comfort that the customers have with Pudhuaaru and its Wealth Managers and vice-versa. I came back to Thanjavur with pride and humility – pride because our Wealth Managers have understood the “spirit” of our Wealth Management and humility because there is so much to do in terms of products and services and how the households are coping up in the absence of these.

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8 Responses

  1. Anil, an excellent experience. The customers are indeed very happy that a financial services company has come to their doorstep (remote rural) where all along there was no such formal institution. This one full day at the branch has helped us understand the challenges of customers and our Wealth Managers. I share your view that our Wealth Managers are our greatest asset, very clearly exceeding expectation on customer focus. As you rightly said there is a great expectation on more asset products with flexibility of repayment plus savings/investment products. While we can derive satisfaction that there has been a continuous process improvement and new products have been launched, there is scope in terms of further process improvement and launching more products so that 'access to complete range of financial products becomes a reality' as quickly as possible. There is a great opportunity waiting for the entire RF team. I am also delighted to see that Training Team has played a role in moulding them . We will reinforce the Wealth Managers with refresher training so that they always exceed the expectation of our clients. Yesterday we celebrated enrolment touching the lives of 100000 household. Very eager to see the numbers increasing exponentially.

  2. Great post Anil. Clearly our Wealth Managers are our biggest "Assets" and we are building a great wealth management culture in the team. I was keen to learn more about two things from your visit:

    1. If the daily ritural of a wealth management discusison for a client has begun in the branch what was the story that they had picked that day and what your experience of that discussion was. I remember being very impressed with how the ritual was played out in the branches I visited in Dhanei.

    2. What were the process learnings and whether there were any messages for in terms of (a) automation; (b) shift planning and staff load balancing through the day; (c) use of paper?

    I am certainly also very pleased that we have crossed 100,000 numbers but I am even more keen to see entire villages in which have been operating for a number of years now completely transform and change and for poverty to be eliminated from these villages. i would be eager to hear if that is indeed happening and to more carefull discuss villages / households which are not benefitting from our presence on the ground.

    1. The daily ritual has not begun in this branch yet Nachiket. However, we discussed about one of the households that they had enrolled the previous day – the KYC of which Ayyappankumar went to the field to fulfill. The Wealth Managers were able to give a good picture of the household, the earning members, school going children and the products that are relevant to them.____On the process related learnings, there are several areas where we need to improve. These incude jewel loan process, registers, papers, reports. Have given detailed feedback to Raman and team and Kanak was in Tanjore yesterday to streamline all these.

  3. Excellent post. Its indeed great to see the impact that we had made in the minds of the customers through the financial products and the dedication & commitment of our staff at KGFS in sticking to our mission. I am confident that each one of our periodical visist to KGFS, will help in noticing some wonderful observations in the field and to contribute our views, ideas for continous improvement.

  4. Nice and detailed post which is quite informative and as well as encouraging for all us. This definitely motivates all of us and will also make us ensure that we exhibit the same spirit and enthusiasm as our Wealth Managers do in the field. It is also heartening to note that we have been able to identify the Wealth Managers who contribute for the mission and are focussed in the execution despite several odds.

    I'm sure we will be able to help our Wealth Managers in pursuing their career aspirations.

  5. Two parts to our wealth management efforts may be
    1. Knowing each household’s past, present, and future, in great depth, based on which one-on-one household conversations and product sale would be structured.
    2. Having this information on the fingertips to make quick wealth management interventions when customers come for their transaction needs.
    Both together would decide the quality of wealth management we want to provide. Looking forward to the full potential that wealth management would achieve, which will be made possible with processes/operations that are unprecedented in the rural finance space.

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