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Simple MFI is an Android application built for microfinance loan officers, designed to help them be more efficient in the field, and to ultimately to be able to manage more loans more easily.
Most microfinance loan officers today maintain everything on paper, with a handwritten ledger. That means when it’s time to attend a group meeting, an officer has to go through the financial records of 20 to 30 clients, and sum up how much savings they each have, calculate who owes a loan payment, and for how much. Loan officers end up doing all of this paperwork by hand, even though the head office often has all of this loan, client, and repayment information in a database. Since a typical loan officer attends 40 or more group meetings a month, this paperwork and ledger maintenance really starts to add up.
To help address this, Simple MFI is an Android application that holds all of the client information that a loan officer needs, which synchronizes automatically over the Internet with the database in the head office. The application runs on any Android phone, but particularly it has been designed to run well on a sub-$100 Ideos phone.
To save costs, the app can work completely offline, running off a database on the phone's local storage, so that no connectivity is needed to look up a client’s balance or a group’s repayment schedule. Synchronization is controlled by the user, and can be done on a daily or hourly schedule, or can be done when the phone is on WiFi connectivity (if there is no data plan available).
The medium-term goal of the application is to ultimately make it possible for a loan officer to not need to record anything on paper, doing away with paper ledger books, by giving them current information on all their ~300-600 clients, that's automatically updated each morning.
The long term goal of Simple MFI is to make a loan officer’s job easier, so that they can handle an increased number of clients. The operating expenses of a microfinance institution are closely tied to the productivity and efficiency of loan officers. If you can make it possible for a loan officer to easily handle twice the number of clients, you can cut operational costs significantly, reducing the operating expense ratio of the MFI— and a low operating expense ratio is usually the most important factor in getting increased investment from external sources.
Simple MFI is open source, and is free for any MFI to use. Data synchronization and uploading from the head office database is handled by Manta, a simple, JSON-based synchronization tool. It's easy to adapt the Manta synchronization to any institution: just plug a few SQL queries into the configuration file, run it on a computer in your office, and you should be good to go. Any loan officer can then start using Simple MFI immediately.
To step back a bit, imagine how amazingly well loan officers currently do at a very hard job. What if I told you that tomorrow, you are going to have to head out into the countryside, and manage the savings accounts and loans of 600 people, spread across 40 groups, armed only with a pencil, a notebook, and a calculator?
Simple MFI hopes to make the routine work of loan officer's job easier, so they can focus on what really matters: working with clients.
But a picture is worth a thousand words. So, here’s some screen shots of Simple MFI in action:
When you first install the application, it asks you to select a loan officer. It then synchronizes all the data for that officer from the Internet.
Next, once an officer is synchronized, you select the officer and lending group that you'd like to work with.
In the application's main screen, you can see the collection sheet, which tells you how much each client should pay that month, as well as the receipt view, which shows how much you collected from the group treasurer last month.
Finally, the client detail view allows you to see the active and completed loans for each client, as well as the transaction history of each deposit and withdrawal.