7 Questions for FINCA Honduras' CEO
We recently spoke with Juan More, the CEO of FINCA Honduras, about the importance of providing financial access to people in poverty and the special challenges of providing financial services to women entrepreneurs in the country.
Why is microfinance important for Honduras?
Microfinance is very important for Honduras because it is an escape valve for low-income people to get ahead, to educate their children, to build a home. Offering access to financial services is the key to this. Conventional banks do not provide these opportunities, particularly for people with low incomes. But many people have used microfinance to educate their children and to acquire a home.
Microfinance has a very important role in Honduras, where we have a high crime rate* and a lot of social problems, including drug trafficking and violent street gangs. We do everything possible to support people so they can keep their businesses. It has become very difficult to serve some dangerous neighborhoods, where some of our best clients have their businesses.
How many women clients do you serve?
Women are our reason for being. Some 80 percent of our 45,000 clients are women.
Do you have a strategy to focus on female clients?
Well, at FINCA, we can’t forget that our essence and our origins as an organization are rooted in women. Women are the foundation of our society and are responsible for much of the growth of societies as mothers, as workers and entrepreneurs. That is why women remain the core of our business philosophy and strategy at FINCA.
What are some of the problems faced by women who own businesses in Honduras? How does FINCA support these women?
Women business owners in Honduras face special problems due to criminal activity. In the north, some women clients are forced to pay off the gangs—they call it a “war tax”—just to stay in business. Sometimes they have no choice but to move or close.
We support women who have to move to a new city and sometimes provide extra loan capital so they can stay in business without impacting their standard of living.
Tell us about some of the most remarkable female entrepreneurs you have met and why these women have impacted you?
When FINCA celebrated reaching our one millionth client three years ago, there was a woman client in our branch in Choluteca (in southern Honduras, about 250 km south of the capital Tegucigalpa) that I remember well. She was part of a Village Bank group in the area and had been since the earliest days of FINCA Honduras (founded in 1989).
She had stopped borrowing for a time from FINCA, but she reinstated as a client. She told us she noticed that the environment had changed, that our customer service is warmer and said that she is very grateful to FINCA. Her business has grown and she now sells used clothing in the city of Choluteca. And, she has created employment in her community.
What is interesting is that she started with us as a client back when we were founded. She came back to us for a larger loan to help her develop her business because of our focus on customer service and on responsible banking, which offered her a better banking alternative.
Within FINCA Honduras, how do you try to promote the careers of female employees?
Diversity for us is a mandate. Promoting the careers of women that are part of our institution is an essential part of our focus on promoting the attributes of the FINCA brand because this is part of our brand promise. We focus on how to support our fellow women employees so that—without distinction of gender—they can reach any position.
We have removed antiquated and limiting paradigms and requirements. For example, before people used to have to ask for special permission to take time off for their families. This was particularly an issue for single mothers, who needed this time more than other people.
What we have done now is offer our employees more freedom, so that when mothers who want to go to the doctor with their children, or don’t feel well themselves, or want to spend time caring for a relative or go on a trip, they can just do so on their own initiative, as long as they fulfill their work commitments and goals.
In addition, we have taken another measure. We realize that with the level of income we have in Honduras, our employees—especially those with children—cannot afford to travel and do tourism far from home. FINCA Honduras provides women with free transportation within Honduras so they can travel and enjoy some activities with their children.
Another action that has to do with the professionalism of women employees is promotion. Promoting women in their careers is a priority for us and we do it with concrete actions. There are other actions that we have taken that have to do with eliminating the traditional macho mentality (common in Honduras and much of Latin America). Previously, the male staff of FINCA Honduras were accustomed to having the women serve coffee to them, take away their cups, wash the dishes and take out the trash.
But over the five years, I have been with FINCA Honduras, that has changed. We now have a culture where everyone does their own thing and is responsible for their own stuff, and men even prepare coffee for women. So we have eliminated that macho mentality. Today, men and women take out their own garbage, etc.
We have created rules that state that this company is globalized and has standards that are different than typical Honduran companies. These small, symbolic measures we take help promote diversity within the institution.
Do you have any advice you want to give to both women employed at FINCA to grow in their careers and to our women clients who run small businesses?
My advice would be that—once they have reached economic stability–they have to think about how to continue with their education. Their education was perhaps interrupted for lack of resources or because they had rigid work schedules, and now they have more flexibility.
Because education is the key to the freedom and development of the person. Education is for us a very important attribute in the professional growth of women at FINCA. Education, particularly for our more senior staff, is essential so they can keep growing in their careers with FINCA.
For entrepreneurial women at FINCA and among our clients, education is very important because it can open their eyes to another vision, and help them see other perspectives and other sides of people. I would say that I would strongly recommend education both for our staff and also for our clients.
*Honduras lead the world in homicides in 2014, with a rate 22 times that of the United States.