By Roxanne Alvarez
On a very muggy Monday morning in the seaside city of Punta Cana on the Dominican Republic’s (DR) eastern coast, over a dozen Accion staff piled into vans to head to the branch office of Accion’s longtime partner, Banco Ademi. It would be the first stop of several the group took that day that included visiting bank branch staff, as well as bank clients in the neighborhoods nearby.
Banco Ademi, Accion’s field partner for ten years, welcomed Accion staff to its Bávaro branch in the province of La Altagracia and generously spent the morning meeting with Accion staff and reflecting on the bank’s history, discussing its client-centric approach to providing microfinance customers an array of products and services, and considering what the future of financial inclusion could mean for all in the industry especially as more digital alternatives to traditional microfinance make their way to the market.
Mr. Junior Roa, Director of East Regional Business, discussed how Banco Ademi ensures that the communities they serve are not only provided excellent financial tools for their businesses but that the people in those communities are respected by staff while working with them. Roa described the various ways in which the bank ensures that clients are kept at the center of Banco Ademi’s work. He offered insight into how new clients are acquired and introduced to the financial tools they can use to start, maintain, and expand their businesses. For example, staff regularly communicate with customers about not only their bank business, but also more broadly about their families, their lives, and their dreams. This holistic approach serves a dual purpose including providing the bank a more complete picture of who their clients are and what kinds of services could be useful to them. It also facilitates customers’ confidence in the bank and to make clients feel that they know with whom they are doing business.
Banco Ademi, known as “El Banco de la Mujer” (“The Woman’s Bank”) to many in the local industry given its focus on businesswomen (61 percent of the bank’s microloans are made to women) seems to have very little competition in the microenterprise market in this part of the DR. And even as Banco Ademi changed its regulatory structure from a nonprofit microfinance institution to most recently a commercial bank offering a greater variety of both credit and savings products, the bank staff insist the focus has always remained on the client. The change to offering more mature financial products and services was to be able to offer a continuation of financial tools for entrepreneurs who began to grow their microbusinesses into more medium-sized enterprises.
With an average loan size of the equivalent of $2,000, a 96 percent repayment rate, and many available financial education programs, Banco Ademi strives to meet customers’ needs with the customers’ financial capacity in mind. Roa made clear that building social capital into a strong business community is very important to Banco Ademi.
In addition, the bank’s enthusiasm for pursuing its social mission of improving the economic development of its clients while increasing financial inclusion through its microfinance work was palpable at the branch offices.
After thanking bank staff for a very informative morning, Accion staff, accompanied by Banco Ademi field officers, headed out again. This time, the staff had a chance to meet the microfinance customers the bank serves. Walking through the modest but vibrant streets of the neighborhoods near the bank’s branch office, Accion staff gained insights into not only what life is like for Banco Ademi clients, but also what a day might be like for a field officer following up with customers and seeking new ones (field officers have goals to make between 30-40 new microloans a month). Neighborhood storefronts included those for businesses such as mobile phones, hair salons, furniture outlets, and cafes that also served as social gathering spots for locals. The heat of the midday sun didn’t seem to slow residents down from going about their day’s business. In many ways, the scene in the neighborhood was familiar to anyone reflecting on their own communities — connecting with your neighbors is important to learn about local news and to cultivate future relationships, whether they are for business or pleasure.
In particular, one client who stood out among the cacophony of the neighborhood was a hospitable woman who had taken out a home loan from the bank to expand her apartment property. This microcredit allowed her to expand her business and rent out more units to newer residents to Punta Cana. These newer residents, she explained, were moving to the area to work in Punta Cana’s lucrative hospitality industry. She saw an opportunity in the market and unsurprisingly, given her evident entrepreneurial spirit, she created ways to capitalize on that opportunity — but, as she noted, not without Banco Ademi’s support. She expressed gratitude for the work that the bank staff does to be sure she has access to business services that will help her succeed and to accommodate her when unpredictable life events happen, as they do for all of us from time to time.
Ultimately, Banco Ademi’s work — and Accion’s as well — is about people: ambitious, creative, and inspiring people. For Accion staff, meeting customers and frontline staff from Banco Ademi highlighted what is important in the financial inclusion work we do and why we likely got into this line of work in the first place. As part of Accion’s mission, “to give people the financial tools they need to improve their lives,” we strive to serve, support, and showcase entrepreneurs all over the world as they pursue their business dreams and work hard to make them a reality.