Q&A with New FIF CEO Jeff Flowers
Jeff Flowers spent 17 years at FINCA, first as Country Director in Azerbaijan and later as Vice President and Regional Director for the Eurasia region. After five years away from the organization, Jeff will return to FINCA Impact Finance as its CEO on January 1, 2024.
His predecessor in the CEO role, Andrée Simon, took over leadership of the entire FINCA enterprise in January 2023. Andrée led both FINCA International and FINCA Impact Finance throughout the year. After Jeff agreed to return to FINCA to handle the day-to-day operations of FINCA Impact Finance, he sat down with Andrée to talk about his philosophy towards financial inclusion and his plans for his first weeks and months on the job.
Jeff, as you know, I’m tremendously excited about you coming back to FINCA. What made you want to return after five years away?
It is a privilege to return to FINCA at such an important time for the organization and for the people we serve. FINCA has been a pioneer since the beginning of the microfinance movement, and the opportunity to carry this work forward is truly compelling.
Advances in digital technology, combined with trusted relationships with millions of customers, offer us the opportunity now to more fully realize the promise of microfinance. FINCA is uniquely placed, in many markets, to deliver products and services tailored to individual customer needs, on terms that will expand opportunity for people who have yet to benefit from financial inclusion.
In the years that I was away from FINCA, the world experienced COVID-19, and I had my 50th birthday. For me personally, each of these events imposed a certain clarity of perspective on the value of every day that we are given to be forces for justice in our world. The decision to return to FINCA is grounded in this self-reflection – and a determination on my part to make the biggest impact that I can. I believe that rejoining the talented team at FINCA offers the opportunity to compound this impact many times over.
What do you hope to accomplish at FINCA?
When FINCA was established, its founders dedicated themselves to fighting poverty through the power of microfinance. I am fortunate to have worked closely with Rupert Scofield and John Hatch, and to have been part of building the FINCA Network so far. Clearly, there is much work still to do. Millions of people remain unable to access financial services that meet their needs.
My goal is to keep FINCA at the forefront of financial inclusion – always amplifying the voice of the customer, and never losing sight of its mission of ending poverty through sustainable and scalable solutions driven by the insights and needs of people in the communities where they live and work. With the strong support of our stakeholders, I hope to achieve the institutional transformation set in motion under your leadership at this institution: bringing today’s digital technology fully to bear on the challenge of reaching still-marginalized communities and delivering excellence in customer experience. I want to ensure that FINCA has the institutional strength, talent, and resources to grow and to realize its global potential. I believe that together we can make the FINCA Network more resilient, more agile, more innovative, and more impactful.
Some would argue that microfinance has a reputation problem because it hasn’t done enough to solve poverty worldwide, and interest rates remain high compared to commercial institutions.
These days, I think, it is generally accepted that microfinance is only one ingredient among many in the recipe for eliminating poverty. In its early years, microfinance may have been over-sold as a solution to poverty. We are better grounded now. In recent years, FINCA has done its part to ensure that we – and the microfinance industry as a whole – have a rich evidence base from which to tailor our approaches and make the greatest possible contribution to eliminating poverty.
I am excited about the new possibilities that are emerging for closer collaboration between FINCA Impact Finance and FINCA International to integrate responsible financial services with other interventions in areas such as public health, education, and climate adaptation. By marshaling our respective strengths, I believe that the FINCA Network will produce impactful results that will in turn offer even more impactful models for microfinance and international development more widely.
Microfinance is different from traditional commercial banking in the sense that our customers are among the most vulnerable people in the world who need support beyond just access to credit, and who are difficult to serve using traditional and even fintech models. FINCA must continue to be a voice of conscience in the microfinance industry and be unwavering in our determination to set an example for responsible finance at every step. And we must continue to drive efficiency along impact, and not leave the poorest behind.
What will be your approach for the first weeks and months of the job?
In the new role, it will be essential for me first to listen, to learn, and to re-establish connections with people across the network and with other stakeholders. Microfinance has adapted and evolved over the past five years – in response to the pandemic, and also in pursuit of possibilities afforded by developments in digital technology, innovation in service delivery, and dynamics in individual markets. I look forward to visiting each of our teams in the countries where they work and to better understanding the challenges they are facing, as well as the opportunities in front of us. Together with the Global Leadership Team, HQ staff, and Shared Services Centers, I trust that we will find ways to be increasingly responsive to the needs of FINCA subsidiaries in pursuit of our mission.
As you know, FINCA is a learning institution. Many of our 7,000+ employees begin their careers at FINCA and develop valuable skills they can use to advance their careers at FINCA and elsewhere. How do you think about supporting and mentoring our employees throughout the world?
FINCA has good reason to be proud of its global team. Results speak for themselves, and it is because of this team that the organization has successfully weathered the pandemic and other major recent challenges. Fulfillment of FINCA’s future aspirations will certainly demand a great deal of talent. As such, we will continue to invest in our people and to make FINCA a great place to work.
From my point of view, this means cultivating a workplace that is diverse, empowering, healthy, and filled with positive energy. It means continuing to build a culture where everyone feels a genuine sense of ownership. We must remember that from the customer perspective FINCA’s employees are the face of the organization. Each team member’s own experience as part of the organization will have direct influence on the customer experience.
Andrée: You spent all of your 17 years at FINCA working in countries where FINCA has microfinance operations, not at the head office in Washington, DC. What advantages does that give you?
I believe that my experience has given me the range of perspective needed to empathize with people across the network. We deal with competing priorities and complex challenges that often look very different depending on where you sit. Our ongoing challenge will be to optimize FINCA’s approach – ensuring that we leverage the resources of the network as a whole, while empowering local teams to respond as rapidly as possible to new opportunities and to the evolving needs of our customers.