Coaching in Togo: back to the essence

Eric and Hugo coached an association of savings and credit cooperatives in Togo

“You have to adapt to the situation on the ground and determine together what works, while always showing respect for each other.”

Coaching microfinancing institutions on their path to independence is sometimes a process of trial and error. Something that Eric De Vos and Hugo Vleeracker, who volunteer with BRS, experienced first-hand. After retiring from the bank, they spent the past few years coaching an association of savings and credit cooperatives in the very poor north of Togo. Offering the kind of coaching that relies on perseverance and trust.


On the path to financial independence

Hugo: “UCMECS is a local umbrella organisation that controls eight savings and credit cooperatives. At BRS we undertake to assist organisations like these on their path to financial independence. While UCMECS has made significant progress, the organisation finds it relatively difficult to achieve full independence in a very difficult economic climate. They need to do this sooner rather than later however, because the external financial aid that they are currently receiving is being phased out.”

Eric: “They face problems on every level. The credit process is one of them. We mapped out the bottlenecks together with the management of UCMECS. It soon became clear that they cannot afford to waste time and need to spring into action, which is why we are currently developing a concrete action plan with them. Although it’s not that easy.”

They remain responsible

Hugo: “What may seem obvious to us is not always obvious to them. They lack know-how and experience on some levels. And because it really is important that they break even as soon as possible, we developed a working method whereby we submit a proposal for action and they analyse it and discuss whether it works for them.”

Eric: “In this way they’re learning by doing. Obviously, we take their input on board when developing the proposal, with a lot of feedback from both sides. We also try to implicate their executive committee wherever we can. It is important that we make them feel part of the process and that they remain responsible for decision-making.”

Determining together what works

Hugo: “This method is also very time-consuming. But it’s vital that we do this together. A top-down approach won’t work. Nor would they accept this. You have to adapt to the situation on the ground and determine together what works, while always showing respect for each other.”

Eric: “Coaching microfinancing institutions is all about custom work. We find that this approach works very well for UCMECS. We have a good contact and trust is gradually starting to build. They now realise that we know the bank, that we are genuinely interested and that we are happy to share our knowledge and experience with them.”

Coaching from the side-lines

Hugo: “Where necessary, we provide coaching. And we give information and advice if they ask for it. But always from the side-lines. They call the shots. Ultimately they need to manage their story themselves.”

Eric: “I think they’re really on their way now. In 2018, their management team visited Belgium to gain a better insight into the operations of a developed bank. After broadening their banking horizon, they now have all the tools in hand to grow. Yes, I’m optimistic! They really are heading in the right direction now.”

In 2016, Mathieu Tallon joined them on their mission. Read his story here.


Back to the essence

He was already familiar with Africa. And BRS too. So Mathieu Tallon, a KBC employee of Strategy & Development Belgium, was more than happy to fly to Togo in May 2016 on behalf of BRS. His first mission took him to Dapaong, where UCMECS, (Union des Caisses Mutuelles d’Epargne et Crédit des Savanes) has its registered office.

“I had already known about BRS since my studies in economics. I wrote a dissertation on microfinancing and as a renowned knowledge centre, BRS soon showed up in my research. When I read a while back that they were looking for an organisational consultant with financial-analytical knowledge at KBC, I leapt at the chance.


UCMECS, the project for which I was retained, is a federation of savings and credit operations in North Togo, with which BRS and the NGO Louvain Coopération have been working for some time already. In the meantime they have a solid customer base and very good repayment figures. To date, they have not succeeded in being sufficiently profitable to achieve financial independence, however. Together with the employees of this microfinancing institution I explored strategic inroads so they could achieve this financial self-sufficiency.

I started by mapping out all the financial flows, with Issa, the financial manager of UCMECS. We then unleashed all the stress tests on them. These tests simulate every conceivable scenario to understand their effect on financial results. We discussed these scenarios during a workshop with the managers of eight local bank branches and the employees in head office and discussed solutions that would increase their organisation’s financial clout and self-sufficiency.

My contribution in Togo consisted of facilitating this workshop. Ms Fessoribe, or Madame la Directrice as they call her, also participated. And just like the situation here, participants in a large group often tend to be less inclined to make suggestions if their manager speaks first. That is why I split them up into small break-out groups to think about solutions. In this way, people are more likely to share their ideas and everyone gets to have their say. Afterwards, the large group discussed all the proposed solutions at length. The group was able to rely on the knowledge and experience of two other members of the BRS team for this. Hugo Vleeracker, a former director at KBC Bank & Insurance, and Eric De Vos, a former CEO of CBC Banque SA. They shared their feedback based on their banking experience. They didn’t say what to do or how to go about it, however. BRS positions itself as a partner that with the right questions triggers a number of ideas, developing the skills that help people devise solutions themselves. I find this very important.

I learned a lot about the essence of banking in Togo. The importance of an organisation’s own resources, for example, and of good credit ratios. This mission also taught me a lot about the role that financial institutions can play in regional development. In the 1980s and 1990s, there was famine in the north of Togo. Now that they have surpluses, they are considering serving other markets as the next step in their development. Keeping focus on the essence is sometimes difficult in the complex operation of a large bank. Thanks to my experience there, I realise yet again how important banking and insurance institutions are. That goes for Belgium too. And so I returned to Belgium feeling super motivated!”