In the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, Advans is more than ever committed to fulfilling its mission – supporting MSMEs with adapted and tailored financial services that will help them overcome the challenges created by the pandemic. Steven Duchatelle, Advans Group CEO, and Grégoire Danel-Fédou, Deputy CEO, share with us how Advans is working to keep staff and clients safe and cope with the current crisis and its likely economic consequences.
“We need to act collectively to form a united front against the pandemic, to make sure that this crisis doesn’t reverse the vital progress we’ve made in financial inclusion over the past years, affecting the most vulnerable populations.”
Steven Duchatelle, CEO Advans Group
You have both been working at Advans since the start of operations 15 years ago, as its leaders today, how do you see the current crisis impacting Advans?
Steven: The Covid-19 crisis has really changed the way we work and live in just a few weeks. Since mid-March our subsidiaries have begun to experience the impact of the epidemic with both internal effects on our operations and external consequences on our clients’ businesses. In this situation, we need to be as agile as possible: we’re adapting our strategy on a daily basis because things are changing so rapidly. Our entire network is mobilised and we’re working closely together with subsidiaries to guarantee the safety and well-being of our staff and our clients. It’s undeniable that the crisis will severely hit our MSME clients in many countries, due to a combination of the restrictions on business and movement, the blocking of imports and exports and the overall slowdown of the economy. We need to make sure that we are here to support them.
In this uncertain context that you describe, what measures has Advans put in place to protect staff and clients?
Grégoire: As Steven mentions, we’ve taken a number of decisions so that our subsidiaries’ operations can continue. In the past weeks we’ve been raising awareness on basic protective measures we can take against the virus. For staff at head offices, this includes asking teams to work from home where possible and using online platforms for meetings, trainings and communication. On the field, we’ve adapted working hours for branches (where branches are open) and reduced the number of staff working in each branch at a time as well as the number of clients in the banking hall. We’ve also introduced extra hygiene measures. We’re reducing travel for field staff, with client visits and follow up done by phone to limit personal contact. We’re also promoting our alternative distribution channels, like Mobibank in Ghana or Advans Mobile App in Nigeria, in order to enable clients to access their accounts from the safety of their homes. We want our clients to know that their money is secure but accessible when they need it.
The progress made over the years to accelerate financial inclusion could be at risk during this crisis. What role do you feel Advans should play to support clients and broader communities in countries where you operate?
Grégoire: As a responsible financial services provider, what’s crucial for us right now is to ensure that our clients are safe and focused on the well-being of their families and loved ones. This is why we’ve taken a proactive approach to make sure that we relieve them from the burden of paying back their loans during this difficult time: we’re offering an exceptional grace period to clients in need across our network. Meanwhile, we’re still supporting customers from vital sectors who need funding whenever possible. We’re also making sure that we stay connected and close to our clients across our different countries – even when containment measures are in place. Our teams, especially our client officers and call centres are fully mobilised to find solutions adapted to clients’ needs as they cope with this crisis.
“As a responsible financial services provider, what’s crucial for us right now is to ensure that our clients are safe and focused on the well-being of their families and loved ones.”
Grégoire Danel-Fédou, Deputy CEO Advans Group
All the measures described will not be sufficient if Advans is taking this approach alone – how are you cooperating with other institutions and partners to get through the crisis? Is it enough?
Steven: The strength of our group lies in the solidity of our financial partners and shareholders, who are all dedicated to the same cause: supporting MSMEs. We're keeping closely in touch with them – to provide updates on the situation of each subsidiary and inform them on how we are dealing with the current crisis. In each country we are cooperating with other microfinance players to ensure that our response is in line with local regulatory authorities’ and central banks’ decisions. We need to act collectively to form a united front against the pandemic, to make certain that this crisis doesn’t reverse the vital progress we’ve made in financial inclusion over the past years, affecting the most vulnerable populations. This means that we also need to prepare for the end of the crisis: additional financial resources will be necessary to help clients restart their businesses. Institutions with a development goal will be key in this respect and can help through the set-up of guarantee funds or short-term facilities.
Do you have a message you want to share with staff and clients?
Steven: Over the past few weeks, I’ve honestly been very impressed by the work of our teams across the world and I’d like to send them a massive thank you: we’re stronger together and we will overcome this challenge.
Grégoire: As I mentioned, the most important thing for us right now is to do everything we possibly can to help our clients protect their health and their families. We’re here to support you during this crisis and we’ll be here for you when your business resumes. Stay safe.