The purpose of this paper is to explore the ways in which accountability is operationalised within the context of a South African microfinance institution (MFI). In particular, the authors consider the introduction of a tool to enhance consumer protection, the Client Protection Card (CPC), to deliver accountability within the case organisation. In contrast to prior research, the authors focus on accountability from the perspective of clients and fieldworkers.
A single in-depth case study of the introduction and implementation of a CPC in an MFI operating within South Africa was conducted. The case study and timing afforded an opportunity to gather unique data, given the MFI’s client-centred philosophy and the recent introduction of the CPC. The qualitative approach adopted for this research allowed collection of data through direct observations, interviews, a fieldwork diary and documentation. The theoretical framing for this paper views accountability as involving social practices, allowing us to foreground the existence of interdependencies among people interacting within the same organisation or system (Roberts, 1996).
The case study demonstrates that three aspects are critical to the success of the card: the design, which requires sensitivity to the local culture; the distribution, which demands for significant “sensemaking” work to be undertaken by fieldworkers; and the drivers for introducing the card, which need to be responsive to the clients’ perspective. The paper illustrates how well-intended tools of accountability can fail to deliver effectively, both for the organisation and the users, if they are not tailored appropriately to the needs of clients.
This paper differs from prior research as it explores the ways in which fieldworkers and MFI clients make sense of a tool of accountability, the CPC. Given that the CPC was designed to meet guidelines produced by international policymakers and domestic legislators, the paper provides a grassroots analysis of the effectiveness of the implementation of such tools from the perspective of clients and fieldworkers. This local focus allows the authors to examine the ways in which mounting global expectations for increased accountability of MFIs are being operationalised in practice.
Marini, L., Andrew, J. and van der Laan, S. (2017), "Tools of accountability: protecting microfinance clients in South Africa?", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 30 No. 6, pp. 1344-1369. https://doi.org/10.1108/AAAJ-04-2016-2548Download as .RIS
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