Advans : a leading international microfinance group

Steven Duchatelle is CEO of the Advans Group.

Can you introduce the Advans Group?

The creation of Advans stems from a simple belief: small businesses employ the vast majority of the active population and therefore play an essential role in Africa’s social and economic development. These small businesses need financial support In order to foster development and reinforce their activity, support they cannot generally obtain from traditional financial service providers. Advans’ goal is to democratise access to financial services for these small businesses, and therefore contribute to inclusive growth in our countries of operations (Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, DRC, Tunisia, Cambodia, Pakistan, and Myanmar).

How does Advans help these small businesses?

By giving them access to tailored loans, so as to increase their working capital or to invest in productive assets that are key to their activity. In our African countries of operations, the percentage of the population using formal loans does not exceed 10% (2017 Global Findex, World Bank). Where a traditional financial player may refuse to lend to these clients, we aim to identify their needs, and imagine how we can serve them in a sustainable manner, whether they are an urban entrepreneur or a farmer. This, as an international group, is our main objective.

So you only offer loans?

No, we also offer saving solutions that are among the most competitive on the market. We have developed a full range of financial services adapted to the needs of small businesses, and more generally low income populations including current accounts, transactions, insurance and digital services. This enables our clients to have a better daily management of their money, to deal with emergencies, and to plan for future projects, like saving for their children’s’ education.

But what makes you different from other financial  service providers on the continent? 

Our mission and our target clients. We serve entrepreneurs with very different profiles, from cocoa producers who need a 200 EUR loan to buy farm inputs, to SMEs that borrow 300 000 EUR to develop their vehicle fleet. We owe our clients quality customer service which is transparent and responsible in terms of pricing, as well as sustainable in order to support them in the long term. Thanks to the financial solidity of the group, and the expertise we have developed over the past 13 years, we aim to become the preferred financial partner of small African businesses. Our new streamlined brand launched in March 2018 shows our maturity and our confidence, and affirms that our experience and our founding values will help us grow even more to support our clients in their building their future success.

With the increase of Telcos and Fintechs, will microfinance become a thing of the past?

Responsible microfinance, which aims to respond to the increasing needs of African entrepreneurs, has a bright future, but it is necessary to find a way to modernise practices while staying faithful to microfinance’s initial promise. Digital credit can be a motor for financial inclusion just as it can potentially cause further exclusion if it is not done in a responsible manner. Globally, we see the arrival of these new players as an opportunity that can benefit our clients to benefit. Advans has been a pioneer in terms of creating synergies with mobile operators which has enabled us to greatly improve our remote banking offer. Other partnerships are currently being finalised.

So Advans is adapting to the digital era?

Yes, today this is crucial. Besides our bricks and mortar branches, now clients can access Advans services through several digital channels. Going digital is also a chance for us to capitalise on  our experience, with more than 350,000 clients in Africa, in order to create complementary loan evaluation methodologies, and thus offer our loans and services more rapidly and at a lower cost. However, we aim to keep a good balance between human contact and technology, and to pursue the development of a personalised relationship with each of our clients. Building client awareness and training them on our new digital channels and products is therefore essential.