Experts from Business & Finance Consulting GmbH (BFC), with support from the Central Bank of Uzbekistan, recently presented the results of the first-ever independent sales & service quality audit (SSQA) conducted in Uzbekistan on SME and agricultural financing to more than 120 representatives of Uzbekistan’s financial sector. The SSQA was based on BFC’s leading-edge methodology, which focuses on assessing financial institutions’ capacities to meet the needs of specific customer segments through a combination of in-depth research and mystery shopper contacts.
BFC experts conducted the SSQA throughout April 2021, visiting 66 branch locations of 11 of the largest financial institutions in Uzbekistan. BFC experts also contacted each of the financial institutions via other sales and communication channels (e.g. call centers, online application forms, messenger communications) and gathered other publicly-available information on each financial institution’s product offering. The findings were then divided into three main areas for further analysis: product assessment, sales quality and service quality.
Overall, the SSQA revealed that the product offering of Uzbekistan’s financial sector to SMEs and agricultural producers differed greatly by financial institution. The main findings of the product assessment were:
- Interest rates vary greatly (a minimum rate of 14.0% and maximum rate of 26.6%) and are often subject to factors such as source of funding and liquidity. This causes large disparities between financial institutions and can create unequal access to finance for similar consumer groups.
- Maximum loan tenures are appropriate for working capital loans but insufficient for investment loans.
- Time for decision-making (i.e. time-to-yes), as announced by financial institutions, is surprisingly short; however, actual processing time (as reported by consumers) may be longer than reported times.
- Collateral remains an issue, as most financial institutions request business-registered real estate and are reluctant to accept other forms of collateral.
- Grace periods are mostly unavailable.
- There is a general lack of flexible products (e.g. revolving credit lines, overdrafts) and bundled products (i.e. packages with credit and non-credit products).
In general, the financial institutions assessed demonstrated consistency in terms of obtaining basic information from business consumers, including the reason(s) for a loan request; however, more in-depth questions to assess repayment capacity were often lacking. Furthermore, most financial institutions did not adequately detail documentation requirements or the loan process. Additionally, there was a general lack of effort to emphasize the strengths, values and advantages of products and financial institutions as well as post-consultation follow-ups. Cross-selling efforts were also extremely low.
The financial institutions assessed, for the most part, offered a polite experience and requested relevant basic information. Additionally, most highlighted important key product conditions. This demonstrates an overall sufficient level of competency among staff dealing with SME and agricultural consumers. At the same time, a few issues were identified that, once addressed, will further strengthen service quality:
- There were sometimes difficulties in identifying and contacting the right staff person for a consultation.
- Initial client segmentation and eligibility identification was sometimes performed by a branch security officer instead of by a qualified bank staff member
- Staff motivation was often markedly lower for agricultural consumers.
- In a significant number of branch locations, the conditions of the consultation did not ensure confidentiality.
Detailed results of the SSQA were shared with both the Central Bank of Uzbekistan and the management teams of all 11 financial institutions assessed. All identifying information was redacted to preserve confidentiality. The detailed findings are expected to assist financial institutions in Uzbekistan in their efforts to further enhance product offerings, sales efficiency and the quality of services. They will also likely serve as a basis to improve local regulations governing specific aspects of customer service within Uzbekistan’s financial sector.