The MasterCard Foundation has launched the third edition of the US$150,000 Clients at the Centre Prize, seeking the client-focused financial service provider that best responds to the needs and aspirations of poor people living in developing countries. We caught up with Roger Morier, Senior Communications Manager at the Foundation, to talk about learnings and achievements from the last two editions and the aims for this year’s Prize.
You are now running the third edition of the Clients at the Centre Prize. What do you see as the greatest successes and lessons learned so far?
In terms of success, I’m particularly happy to see the breadth of entries we received in the previous two Prize competitions. We have had entries from many countries around the world, and from many organizations within those countries working to bring financial services to poor people. It’s very heartening to see that so many organizations recognize the importance of financial inclusion as a key element in economic growth and poverty reduction, and that they’re taking concrete steps to be more innovative and, thus, more inclusive.
In terms of lessons learned, I’d have to say that our conception of what constitutes excellent client service continues to evolve. Some of the applications outlined client services that we had not imagined when we began this competition. Clearly, though, these services have enabled poor people, or those living in more remote areas of developing countries, to access the financial products and services that many people in richer countries take for granted.
How is crowdsourcing supporting and complementing The MasterCard Foundation’s mission and, more particularly, in identifying the most innovative and client-centric organisations in the world?
We see ourselves as a client-centric philanthropic organization, one that cares deeply about the needs and desires of the people we ultimately serve. If we embrace client-centricity, that means we embrace the idea that “ordinary” people who are not experts, for instance, in financial services can have original ideas about the kind of products and services that they want. Crowdsourcing solutions, such as what we’re doing with InnoCentive and this Prize, follows naturally. The wisdom of the crowd may well offer up client-centric practices that are exemplary and that deserve to be rewarded, and it may well come from an area that we hadn’t expected, thus complementing our own outreach efforts with the traditional financial services sector and the international development crowd.
Client centricity is again the central theme of the Prize and of The MasterCard Symposium on Financial Inclusion. Why is this such an important topic when it comes to financial inclusion?
Because we want to see a sustainable financial services industry that works with and for poor people operating in every country. That can only happen if financial services firms truly know and understand their clients. The days are long past when product development experts could sit and talk amongst themselves about what to offer or how to “sell” a product or service to clients.
Today, any smart financial services firm spends a good deal of time first listening to its clients, actual or potential, and only then developing products and services to respond to the stated desires. That will ensure, in the case of financial inclusion for example, that savings accounts are not just opened but that they are used frequently and to the benefit of the account holder, her or his family, and her or his community.
What can the Prize finalists expect when they attend The MasterCard Foundation Symposium on Financial Inclusion 2017?
The five Prize finalists, as chosen by an international panel of judges, will be flown to Accra, Ghana in early November to attend the Symposium. The top three will pitch to the audience of 300 financial inclusion professionals, which will then vote on who is awarded the Clients at the Centre Prize.
This means that all five finalists can expect to mingle and speak and network with some of the world’s most influential people when it comes to financial inclusion and financial services. The top three finalists can also expect to spend sleepless nights as they prepare their audience pitches, and a real rush of adrenaline when they step on stage in front of the audience to explain why they should be awarded the US$150,000 Prize.
What do you expect from this year’s applicants? Any final words of advice for an organisation wanting to apply to the Prize?
We expect innovation and proof of impact above all. If there’s any one area where we’d like to see applicants do better, it’s showing us what evidence they have that the financial products and services they are offering poor people are innovative, impactful, and appreciated by their clients. Many firms can say “We’ve introduced such-and-such a product, which is good for poor people and good for financial inclusion”, but fewer can say “Here’s the proof that our clients like what we do, that it’s innovative, and that it’s changing their lives for the better.”