You don’t have to wait until the paper runs out to automate

The signature under Johan Laeremans’ emails contains a thought-provoking quote: “Stone age didn’t end because they ran out of stone”. It’s better to look forward, Johan thinks. And to keep innovating. In the thirty years that this KBC employee worked on credits, he has seen many new applications come and go. He oversaw the transition from working on paper to automatic processes. The mission that BRS had for him was therefore entirely up his alley.


From paper to Excel

Johan: “In 2018, I was approached by Elke Struys, a KBC colleague who went to Togo for BRS. She visited UCMECS (Union des Caisses Mutuelles d’Epargne et Crédit des Savanes) there, a microfinance institution with head office in Dapaong. Credit applications there were still largely handled in paper format. Could I help them automate that process? From early January to July, I condensed all forms used by UCMECS for the credit applications into one Excel document. After feedback and suggestions from Togo, I had created an Excel file that helps the credit decision-makers to automatically go through the credit application process, store data and keep records.”

Off to Togo in good company

Johan: “Would I also like to spend a week in Togo training the UCMECS staff? Yes of course! I love giving training, and it sounded rather like an adventure. So I left for Africa at the end of November, together with Erik De Vos and Hugo Vleeracker from the BRS Institute, KBC colleague Elke Struys and CBC employee Barbara Mestdagt.”

Cut to their cloth

Johan: “On site, I mainly worked together with Barbara, who is a credit decision-maker. First we visited a few savings and credit associations that are part of UCMECS. With the information from the credit decision-makers there, I spent the evening further refining the Excel file and fine-tuning it to their way of working. On day two, the managers also added their ideas and comments. Then it was time for the training session.”

In practice

Johan: “All UCMECS credit decision-makers - around thirty people - were present for the session. In small groups we worked around an existing case that they themselves presented as being representative. Together we looked at all the credit processes, formulated the application and linked it back to the Excel file. This practice-based exercise was very well received. The credit decision-makers went to work enthusiastically, asked questions, came up with their own ideas and presented them to the group. In this way, they helped to finalise their new instrument.”

Laré and Sidiki

Johan: “What sticks in my mind most about the training is the half day I took aside Laré, the ICT expert at UCMECS, and Sidiki, the person responsible for risk monitoring. Outside, on the terrace of the hotel, we went through all the questions they still had at the end of the training. We also had the opportunity to get to know each other better and chat about our families and life in general. And to have plenty of laughs! My assignment for BRS was a fun experience and above all very instructive. Before I left, I didn’t know all that much about microfinancing. There I found out how it works. And how enthusiastically the people of UCMECS are using it to give low-income people opportunities. I am happy that my knowledge and practical experience help them to do this. The smiling faces at the end were a great reward!”