A case for elevating ‘capacity building’ in the Indian MFI sector.

In the ever-evolving landscape of microfinance, where the empowerment of women borrowers is central to the mission, the role of education and training cannot be overstated. With the proliferation of low-cost smartphones and accessible data, the microfinance sector in India is witnessing a dual phenomenon – an increase in borrower awareness and simultaneous exposure to digital and financial risks. In this scenario, it becomes imperative for microfinance companies to revamp their training and capacity-building game plan for both customers and internal staff.

The Changing Dynamics of Microfinance

Microfinance has long been hailed as a powerful tool for poverty alleviation and women’s empowerment. Through initiatives like Joint Liability Groups (JLGs) and Self-Help Groups (SHGs), it has enabled millions of women to access financial services and build sustainable livelihoods. However, the landscape is evolving rapidly.

The widespread adoption of smartphones has brought unprecedented access to information for microfinance borrowers. They are now more aware of market trends, business opportunities, and the various digital and financial platforms and tools. Yet, this newfound awareness comes with its own set of challenges. The digital world is rife with fraud, misinformation, and rumours, posing significant risks, particularly to financially vulnerable individuals.

Customer education: financial and digital literacy

A recent survey suggests that most MFIs are still using the training material that was created on an average 5+ years ago! This may no longer suffice in addressing the complexities of the digital age. Upgraded content should be designed to include newer topics and aspects, such as equipping borrowers with the knowledge and skills to navigate digital platforms safely, identifying and mitigating risks, and making informed financial decisions. Even the so-called ‘evergreen’ topics need to be re-articulated in today’s context. Simply put, the audience has evolved, and the content should too!


i. Relatability & localisation: Language barriers often hinder effective communication and learning. To ensure maximum comprehension and engagement, training content must be tailored to the local context and delivered in local languages and even dialects that borrowers understand effortlessly. This approach fosters relevance, relatability and inclusivity sans linguistic barriers.


ii. Frequently updated: The digital landscape is dynamic, with new trends and threats emerging constantly. Training content must be regularly updated to reflect the latest information, trends, and regulations in the financial and digital spheres. By staying abreast of developments, microfinance borrowers can adapt proactively and safeguard their interests.


iii. Engaging & digital-ready: Long gone are the days of dry, text-heavy training manuals. Today’s learners prefer interactive and engaging content that holds their attention and facilitates active learning. Short videos, infographics, quizzes, and interactive modules are effective mediums for delivering complex information in a digestible format. By leveraging multimedia formats, microfinance companies can enhance the effectiveness and retention of training content.


Internal Capacity-Building for Staff

While empowering borrowers is crucial, the efficacy of microfinance interventions also hinges on the readiness and effectiveness of internal staff. Field officers, loan officers, and branch managers serve as the frontline ambassadors of microfinance institutions (MFIs), interacting directly with borrowers daily. Therefore, investing in upgrading their training and capacity-building is the need-of-the-hour, and can pay rich strategic dividends.

a. Comprehensive Skill Development: Beyond the ‘must-know’ areas of technical expertise, product knowledge, SOPs and compliances, staff members must be equipped with soft skills such as communication, empathy, and problem-solving. Training programs should focus on holistic skill development to enhance the quality of customer interactions and foster trust and rapport.


b. Digital Literacy and Security Awareness: In the era of digital finance, staff members must possess a solid understanding of digital tools and platforms. Training content should cover topics such as digital payments, cybersecurity, fraud and data protection prevention measures. By enhancing staff members’ digital literacy and security awareness, MFIs can mitigate risks and safeguard customer interests.

Net, net, as the sector continues to evolve in the digital age, the need for upgraded training content for both customers and staff cannot be overstated. Empowering borrowers with the knowledge and skills to navigate the digital landscape safely is essential for fostering financial inclusion and resilience. Likewise, investing in the capacity-building of internal staff is crucial for delivering high-quality services and maintaining trust and credibility. By embracing localized, engaging, and updated training content in vernacular languages and digital-ready formats, microfinance companies can drive positive impact and sustainable development in India’s diverse communities.