How to successfully implement innovation – insights from AB Bank Nigeria
AB Microfinance Nigeria has been working on digital transformation for five years now. As part of this journey, a field app was introduced to improve the efficiency of loan disbursement. We explored how the innovation was perceived from the point of view of a loan officer, supervisor and branch manager, providing insights into successfully implemented innovation in the bank.
Nanji is a long-standing employee with nine years of service. Despite mixed reactions to the idea, the loan officer participated in the tablet-based pilot for the loan App. Although excited by the thought of not having to cart around the loan-related paperwork anymore, the change to a new technology and a new way of working provoked some anxiety. Would it be that easy? Would it slow down their work?
As with any innovation, there were some errors in the early days, but the technical team was able to work through these and make the necessary adjustments. Overall, this adjustment process took 2-3 months, although it was faster for the more tech-savvy loan officers. The fact that the App was essentially built on the previously employed paper-based process helped dispel any potential fears. In fact, using the App quickly provided a whole new dimension to the loan officer’s role due to its convenience. And the client’s reactions were very positive.
Wow. That AB Microfinance is upgrading. The clients were actually giving us Kudos. Clients were okay with signing electronically too.
The App (particularly the most recent version) has made work faster, more convenient and more efficient. Clients can get their loans quicker since loan officers are not obliged to return to the branch office to process requests and obtain approval. Instead, loan officers can dedicate more time to keeping an eye on repayments, identifying those overdue from their tablets, and taking necessary action.
Before leaving the office, Nanji typically synchronizes the App, checks repayments and reviews the scored loans and associated information. Once the App has been synchronized, the working day can begin.
Loan officers need to go to the field to disburse approved loans, and assessments for new clients are still done in person. Loan officers still spend approximately the same time with customers, especially new ones, as they need to gather the data from scratch. Before using the loan App, the main challenge was the delay incurred by inputting the assessment into myMBS, which had to be done in the branch. This is no longer necessary. Despite some network problems, this innovation has benefitted staff and clients. Clients are happy to get the loans within 3 hours once the required data has been collected, and the team saves time by not needing to re-enter all the information for a new loan.
For this loan officer, there is no going back.
No! I will not go back to the manual system. No way!.
That said, there is some concern that the increased productivity leads to higher targets being set by the bank. Although the loan officer has been able to reach those targets so far, it is a worry, as higher targets mean more work.
GROUP LEADER (TAIWO)
Taiwo has been with the bank for 13 years and is responsible for approving loans, quality and quantity of group loans, assisting in recovering loan repayments, supervising loan officers and training on the job. Again, the introduction of the loan App provoked a mixed reaction initially.
The App was introduced after 12 years of working in the same manner. I was anxious – taking away all the papers and putting them into one small tablet.
That said, she recognized the importance of innovation.
Change is inevitable; if we don’t do it now, we will be left behind.
Taiwo took part in the pilot test and then promoted the adoption of the App among loan officers since leading others and supporting loan officers is part of her job. Despite some initial problems, including network issues which were quickly resolved, paper use was simply stopped. Processes were implemented to escalate any concerns and ensure a rapid response. Lending is the bank’s core business, so the speed of response was a must. She can review her work at the end of the day, and by morning, the loan officers are set for the day. Looking back, she realizes that the App made the process faster and her life easier.
Instead of paper, you are using the tablet. It makes your job easier.
This also makes life easier for the client. The App has positively impacted the achievement of targets, as eligible clients can be assessed immediately.
Our group disbursed 27 loans last month. Before the field app, our target was lower, but it was harder for us to achieve the target.
The process within the App removes the need to dedicate time to using a calculator or to printing out documentation. The supervision process is automated. The group leader reviews cases directly from the supervisor’s page, visits the client and records the data in situ.
Before the tablet, there was a lot of paperwork and editing, which was very stressful.
The turnaround time was slower – 3 to 4 days, and now it can be done in a day.
There have been additional benefits for the entire branch, as the tablet allows all departments to see the full client’s history at a glance. Taiwo recognizes the importance of digital innovations in providing better service.
We are in a digital world. There are other systems that can be automated. Technology is not standing still. Whatever is working for the customer, we should continue doing.
BRANCH MANAGER (MICHAEL).
Michael began his career with the bank as a trainee loan officer 14 years ago, and, having moved up through the ranks in another branch, he returned to his original branch to take up the manager post. Michael was part of the committee that decided what paper-based data should be migrated to the App before it was piloted. Reviewing everything and understanding what data was critical was an enriching experience for him.
One group leader and two loan officers were involved in the pilot test. During the pilot, the branch manager did have some doubts, primarily caused by network issues. Network failure led to loan officers complaining that their cases were lost, resulting in several requests to return to the original paper-based system. This problem was solved by creating an email channel to collect all complaints and issues and establishing a small multi-departmental team to address them. The branch manager was active in testing out proposed solutions to see how they worked before helping the lending officers. He realized that it was also essential to consider the human factor in making the App successful.
Initially, we thought this was an IT issue, and then, we realized that the users of the App also have a big role to play in the success of the field app. With every change come challenges.
Technology fixes only go so far. In fact, the rollout was much smoother compared to the process in other branches because of the pilot experience. Michael believes in the App because he sees how it helps the branch.
I heard that my competitor has a field app. I didn’t want to be in a situation where my loan officers would move to that bank. When the idea of creating a field app came up, I was ready to support it in any way I could. My core business is lending. 70% of what we do is lending. If you are getting me a tool that will help my staff and me, I will welcome it 100%.
Prior to the introduction of the App, each time a client asked for a new loan, it was necessary to repeat the approval processes all over again, so there was clearly room for improvement. With the App’s introduction, Michael believes they can match more than what the competition is doing.
Michael and his group leader need to spend time in the field. But now, when they are stuck in traffic, they can log on and make four or five credit decisions instead of wasting three hours. The customer does not need to wait for him to get back to his desk, thereby benefitting from this more agile process. The client can sign the documents in the field without coming to the branch.
When the field App came, finally, we saw the light.
As soon as the decision is made, the client receives an SMS. The actual approval process is much faster than the traditional method, as the necessary calculations are done automatically on the App, and only the ratios need to be reviewed. According to Michael, notifications highlighting outstanding tasks would make this process even more efficient. It is now easier for loan officers to meet their targets. Productivity has increased, and monthly targets have been achieved. When the App has scored loans, a loan can be disbursed in 24 hours. Scored loans are part of the target.
Loan officers achieving their target get a bonus. I have loan officers that are happy doing their work. When you have a happy environment, you are motivated to do more.
The App has played an essential part in helping the branch achieve the highest loan portfolio across the entire bank, going from 1.475m Naira in 2018 to 2.240m Naira in 2022. PAR has not changed, but this needs to be seen in the context of bringing in more new clients. The loan portfolio increase has been accompanied by a reduction in loan officers (from 28 to 16) and admin staff (from 5 to 3). Version 2 of the App is even more efficient, as it includes both credit scoring and integration with the credit bureau.
Lessons. One of the key lessons from the experience of adopting the loan app in ABN was the importance of the need to factor in the human element and plan for the process of change management. Although overall, staff members were positively disposed towards the introduction of the field app, there were some worries about the need to develop new skills, the impact of the App on current working practices, and the increase in targets set for loan officers.