Tour of Opportunity International Bank of Malawi

Today, Marissa and I toured a successful microfinance bank, called Opportunity International Bank of Malawi (OIBM). The bank is quickly gaining international attention. For those wondering, microfinance is an effort to provide traditional banking services like loans and savings accounts to the poorer sectors of the population. These sectors of the population are generally excluded from financial services because most commercial banks believe that it is not profitable to serve them. From what I understand, OIBM differs from most commercial banks, not in the way it is run, but in the people that it seeks to serve as clients.

Interestingly, while OIBM is different from most commercial banks, it is also different from most other microfinance institutions which are typically run as non-profit organizations. OIBM aims to be a fully for-profit bank with specially tailored services to meet the needs and demands of people of lower levels of income. The bank offers savings accounts with a manageable minimum and small business loans to help people expand their home businesses into new areas. In just three years OIBM has already begun to return a profit and serves 40,000 clients!

Immediately when you walk into an OIBM bank you get the feeling that you are in a real bank that is doing well. People treat you professionally and are dressed in suits. The floors of the building are made of marble. Our guide explained that OIBM wants their clients feel proud putting their money in the bank.

The bank offers all services in English (the language traditionally used in banks in Malawi), and in Chichewa (the language the people actually speak at home). The ATM machines allow clients to get money at any hour of the day and use fingerprint scanners instead of PIN numbers. Another thing of note, clients of the bank are always address as sir or madam. For many of the clients, because they are in general poor, this is the first time in their lives they have been shown such courtesy by a large business.

Almost all of OIBM’s employees are Malawian, another rariety here for a larger business. We also were able to meet some of the bank employees who spoke passionately about the services they are offering and the work that they do to expand economic opportunities for all of Malawi.

Both Marissa and I were really encouraged by what we saw… there are so many “development initiatives” here in Malawi. Something about this one really gave me the impression that it is making a genuine difference in people’s lives. We will keep you posted on further developments. Tomorrow we are going to tour some of the client’s businesses.