Personal reflections from YouthSave’s Learning & Exchange Conference in Kathmandu

Originally posted on youthsave.org

By Rani Deshpande, Save the Children

In August, the YouthSave Consortium and partners came together in Kathmandu, Nepal, for our third Learning & Exchange Conference, to update each other on progress and brainstorm ways to overcome common challenges. Perhaps my favorite quote from that meeting came from Raju Shrestha, a YouthSave product champion at Bank of Kathmandu, when he said “It’s really nice to be able to stop talking about plans on paper, and start talking about what we did.” 

My sentiments exactly, Raju!

Not that the Consortium has just been planning for the past two years – far from it.  Many people have been hard at work doing market research, designing savings accounts, setting up research systems, conducting a huge baseline survey in Ghana, distilling early learnings from the project, and pushing the boundaries of our thinking.  But, somehow, it never quite felt quite real until we had customers on the ground.  And that’s what YouthSave can boast today: over 5000 of them.

This round of meetings was particularly rich, not only because our partner financial institutions could share their recent product roll out experiences, but also due to the combined presence of our Expert Advisory Board, research partners, trainers from SEEP’s Youth Financial Services Practioner Learning Program, and – for one evening – about 50 individuals from sectors related to youth savings in Nepal, including government, NGO, and donor representatives.  At that event-within-an-event, two young Bank of Kathmandu customers also talked about what having an account has meant for them (you can read local coverage of that panel here).

The conference discussions were wide-ranging and topical, and certainly more than I can recount here, but I’d like to share a few nuggets from those conversations that especially stood out for me:

  • YouthSave partner banks reported that they had derived significant value from the market research and pilot phases, which resulted in a number of changes to both product design and operational processes related to the youth savings accounts.  HFC Bank, for example, remarked that though letting the product name come from the clients (through market research) was a departure from their usual practice, it resulted in a compelling brand name – Enidaso – which connotes hope and aspiration.  Similarly, Kenya Postbank introduced flexibility into ID requirements when it became clear that this was a serious obstacle for out-of-school youth.  And Bank of Kathmandu has now applied elements of this structured product development process to other parts of its portfolio.
  • Now that the accounts are on the market in all four countries, many discussions converged on the critical question of how to sustain account usage and client retention over the long term.  The need to plan ahead for youth transitions and therefore changing product needs came out especially strong, and several financial institutions indicated that this would be an area of focus going forward.  Several participants underlined the importance of providing excellent customer service to young clients as a means to ensure retention.  The utility of going through peer networks to attract and retain youth was also highlighted, as was the additional work needed on the best ways of linking financial education and marketing as a sustainability strategy.
  • The business case for youth savings products received considerable attention, with most banks agreeing that their main motivations for offering such products were strategic, centering on long-term customer acquisition, rather than short-term product profitability.  That said, various ways to improve the economics of this type of product were debated.  Several banks either had or were considering not one but two youth savings products: a transactional account offering more control and access to youth, and a fixed deposit or trust account (from which withdrawals cannot be made until the age of the majority), which can have lower administrative costs.  Banco Caja Social currently has such a suite of youth products and is considering the best way to exploit their synergies.
  • It also became clear during the course of the discussions how important internal “champions” are to the success of a youth product – at all levels, from committed CEOs through to enthusiastic branch staff.  And it was great to see how much our YouthSave partner banks had, in the words of one participant, “taken this project to heart.” (That may be my second favorite quote from the meetings!)

These are some of the things I took away from our discussions, but I’d love to hear impressions from other participants, and reactions from others engaged in similar work.  Please post a comment with your reflections!