30 March 2022

Interview with Andreas BRUNNER, Inspection Supervisor, Amundi
By: Mireille de Kerleau, Internal Communication Manager, CACEIS

Launched by the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation and Crédit Agricole S.A. in 2018, Solidarity Bankers is a skills volunteering programme open to all Crédit Agricole Group employees in favour of microfinance institutions and impact businesses supported by the Foundation. Discover the 2nd episode of the series of podcasts dedicated to Solidarity Bankers, the skills volunteering scheme run by the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation and Credit Agricole SA. The first episode covered Carolina Viguet, Communications and partnership Director of the Foundation and co-initiator of this programme. Today we have the pleasure of welcoming Andreas Brunner, Inspection Supervisor at Amundi in Paris. Andreas is a Solidarity Banker. He carried out a field missions for OXUS Kyrgyzstan in October 2021, when he worked at Credit Agricole Assurances.

First, some financial data concerning Kyrgyizstan. It is a former republic of the USSR and one of the poorest countries of Central Asia. With more than 12% of its GDP dedicated to the agricultural sector and a strong dependence on mining, the Kyrgyz economy is not very diversified and relies largely on money transfers from abroad. Although significant progress has been made in recent years in terms of financial inclusion, according to the latest figures available, barely 40% of the population over the age of 15 has an account with a formal financial institution. Microfinance institutions are trying to make up for these lack of progress by targeting rural populations excluded from the traditional banking sector, institutions like OXUS Kyrgyzstan, which Andreas supported in 2021 as part of a Solidarity Bankers mission.

Can you, Andreas, tell us about the institution and the objective of your mission?

Yes of course. OXUS Kyrgyzstan is a microfinance institution with approximately 10,000 clients. It operates in the various regions of the country, through a network of about fifteen agencies. It employs 130 people with about 30 people at the headquarters in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. Regarding the mission, there were two objectives. The first is to establish a marketing plan for the year 2022 and also a loyalty programme for their customers.

Going back a bit, how did you hear about the mission and what prompted you to apply for it?

It is a while ago now. In 2019, I had the chance to meet a former Solidarity Banker who told me about his own mission and told me that there were going to be other missions offered by Grameen. He told me about his own experience and I told him that I was also interested too. So I contacted the Grameen Foundation which had, at that time, several missions to offer. I looked at the terms of reference, we call it, it is a small description of what had to be done. And I immediately said, ok I’m interested and, in addition, it’s in a country in Central Asia that I absolutely did not know. It was therefore a good opportunity to go and help this entity, to immerse myself in the subject of microfinance, and at the same time, discover another country.

After that, you were selected. How was the preparation stage of the mission and the in-the-field part of the mission?

I had a few interviews before being selected and selection was not at all a certainty because it is true that there were other people who also wanted to do this mission. Once selected, I was really happy. I was supposed to leave at the beginning of 2020 but you all know what happened afterwards, so I could not leave in March. I left only at the end of 2021 but the preparation yes…. First of all, I did not know about microfinance at all. I had to make some research by myself, I had to read. There were a lot of elements on internet to understand the challenges of microfinance. Of course, there is aid for financial inclusion, that is kind of the overall objective, and then you had to understand how it works, how credits are distributed to people who need them. And then, the mission itself. It was also necessary to prepare it, therefore to understand the entity. I asked them to send me a certain number of documents so that I could learn about the entity, its operation, its positioning, its products, its customers, etc. I analysed all that and defined a work plan. I also defined a consulting approach, which was my consulting approach with this entity. Then I presented that and I did more research again before leaving.

How was your arrival in the country and the meetings? How was the mission on the ground?

Little anecdote: arriving at 2 am after a 12-hour flight, with a short stop-over in Turkey, I finally arrived quite tired and, a great surprise, normally there should have been a driver so I was a little worried because I didn’t see anyone. But it was the general manager himself who came to pick me up at the airport. Already, with this reception, I think we got off to a good start with a two-week collaboration and I was in good hands.

We started the mission the same day after a little rest at the hotel. The first week passed very quickly. There were a number of interviews that were already scheduled. I met the various directors, the financial director, the commercial director, a person in charge of marketing, so I was able to learn about a certain number of elements. I was able to ask all my questions that I needed to establish a structured document on the marketing approach that I wanted to bring to this entity. So the field mission is above all a lot of interviews, it is also a bit of evening work to put it all on paper, to draft a deliverable, several deliverables for that matter.

As I said before, there were two objectives. The first objective was to build a marketing plan and the second a loyalty approach, a loyalty programme. So there were two key deliverables. These deliverables had to be built, produced. I built them in English. At the end of the first week, I presented my first learnings by saying I am working on this. Is it ok with you, are we going in the right direction? They were very happy with it and it needed to be refined in the second week.

The question we ask ourselves when we listen at you is that we wonder how the exchanges went with the people working at the institution and the customers, knowing that the language and the culture are very different from ours.

Yes, quite! At headquarters, I was lucky to have people who spoke English, so it was easier. On the other hand, the second week I had a few interviews in agencies. I was also able to meet with one or two clients and there, indeed, it is more complicated. Fortunately, a translator accompanied me during these exchanges throughout the day, because even to go to lunch, for example, you had to speak either Russian or Kyrgyz. So luckily, I had this person with me, because otherwise, it is difficult to communicate, and it is also true that the people at headquarters who speak English, even sometimes for them, it was easier to answer to me in Russian and then the person translates. As a result, it added a little time to the exchanges, it was a little slower than during regular communication when you master the language, but it was very very interesting.

So you have travelled a bit around the country. You have been to visit other towns and villages I imagine. Did you have some time to visit this beautiful country?

Yes it is true that the main work was in and around the capital. And between the two weeks of work, I was able to take two days on the weekend to discover the country. There is a very large lake called Issyk-Koul, which is a lake that is almost 200 km long and 60 km wide, so it is almost like a sea.

Is it almost as big as Luxembourg!

These two days I went around the lake. So this huge lake, when you look to the left you see a mountain range, when you look to the right, there is the other mountain range. So it is true that by doing the whole route, quite a small circuit around the lake, I was able to discover this country. I was even able to sleep in a yurt. That, too, is an unforgettable experience. In addition, I met someone who makes the yurts. So he explained to me how it works. There I also had a guide with me. I was able to talk a little bit in Russian too, because I have some basic knowledge of Russian. When I was in high school, I learned a little bit so it was nice to get back into it too. As we said earlier, it is a human experience.

If you wanted to know, what I remember from all this, it is above all also these experiences, these human relationships, these encounters. With the different people, not only through the mission, with the teams, but also with the people we were able to meet over the weekend, spanning the country. Very warm people.

Even without the language, there is always a way to understand each other, with gestures, smiles, expressions, I imagine.

It is true. We were able to do a little local dance one evening in a yurt, in a big yurt by the way. It was the yurt where we had dinner and in fact there were only locals and it was very difficult to be understood but there was the telephone, the applications and we put music on and immediately it gave us confidence and it allowed us to communicate also through music because we found songs that they knew and …

Such a great event! Listening to all this, my last question is, would you go back on a mission? I imagine so…

Absolutely, absolutely, yes. Right away! Maybe not tomorrow because there is quite a bit of preparation involved but anyway yes, with great pleasure. The skills sponsorship is about applying the knowledge we have and sharing it with others and not being paid for it because there, every day, we work, we are paid, it is our job. There, to be able to share it with others is gratifying; it gives meaning to what you do.

Thank you, thank you very much for agreeing to take part in this interview. I, for sure, invite our listeners to the next edition of this podcast series, focusing this time not on one banker, but two, who are currently preparing a remote mission in favour of a microfinance institution in Palestine. Goodbye.

Listen to the podcast here