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> Posted by Julie Fawn Earne, Senior Microfinance Specialist, IFC

The Investing in Inclusive Finance program at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion explores the practices of investors in inclusive finance. Across areas including risk, governance, stakeholder alignment, and fund management, this blog series highlights what’s being done to help the industry better utilize private capital to develop financial institutions that incorporate social aims.

A good number of greenfield MFIs in Sub-Saharan Africa now have sufficient track records to enable an analysis of their institutional performance and role in the market. A stocktaking of their experiences to date can help inform decisions that will shape the coming generation of investment in African microfinance. Could this business model play a central role in increasing financial inclusion on the continent, where currently only about a quarter of adults have access to formal financial services?

But first, let’s start with the context. Financial services in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) are provided by a disparate group of relatively small providers. At one end of the spectrum are indigenous NGOs and informal microfinance providers. On the other end are commercial banks, which offer a full range of banking products and services but generally exclude the vast majority of the population. Between these two poles are cooperatives, government institutions, such as postal banks, and other non-bank financial institutions, which fill some of the gaps but have failed to reach widespread sustainability and outreach. According to the MIX Market, in 2009 less than half of the MFIs in SSA (of all institutional types) demonstrated financial sustainability. As a result, few of these institutions are likely to grow to meet the needs of large numbers of unbanked households and enterprises.

In light of this, a number of global holding companies and investors, largely comprised of development finance institutions (DFIs) set out around the turn of the Millennium to develop a group of well-managed, sustainable, and commercially-oriented formal financial institutions that offer a range of financial products through a scalable operating model. Today, there are more than 30 greenfield MFIs spread over at least 12 African countries, including frontier markets such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, and Liberia. While many greenfield MFIs are still young, the analysis in Greenfield MFIs in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Business Model for Advancing Access to Finance, published last month by IFC, CGAP, and The MasterCard Foundation, shows signs of solid institution building for the longer term. While there is a range of microfinance providers in SSA, the proliferation of greenfield MFIs expands the commercial end of the spectrum with regulated, mostly deposit-taking institutions, focused on low-income individuals, microenterprises, and small businesses. At the end of 2012, 31 greenfield MFIs had more than 700,000 loan accounts, an aggregate loan portfolio of $527 million, and close to 2 million deposit accounts with an aggregate balance of $445 million. At the end of 2012, collectively they employed more than 11,000 local staff and had 700 branches.

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> Posted by Bob Bragar, Principal, Strategies for Impact Investors

The Investing in Inclusive Finance program at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion explores the practices of investors in inclusive finance. Across areas including risk, governance, stakeholder alignment, and fund management, this blog series highlights what’s being done to help the industry better utilize private capital to develop financial institutions that incorporate social aims.

The following is the second of two posts in which Bob Bragar discusses some of the unique governance challenges faced by microfinance institutions, as explored through a governance workshop that Bob chaired at European Microfinance Week in November 2013. In this post, workshop panelists Matthias Adler, Principal Economist, KfW and N. Srinivasan, an independent director at Equitas Bank in India, discuss the importance of their positions for effective microfinance governance. To access the first post, click here.

Institutional microfinance investors have a special role to play in maintaining good governance in an MFI, and this can take unexpected turns.

Matthias Adler from KfW spoke about the special concerns that his institution has. KfW is a major German public sector investor that is required by law to have board representation in the institutions in which it invests. As a result, KfW has developed special practices to strengthen the quality of their widespread board participation.

In particular, KfW has developed rules to create strict “Chinese walls” (information barriers) between their board members and the investment staff at KfW. Why? Because they are very aware of the potential for conflicts of interests between a board member’s duty to look (only and foremost) after the interests of the MFI, and the interests of individual investors. They make sure that a KfW board member will not return to headquarters and report on an MFI board meeting to his colleagues. In KfW’s view, this practice increases transparency and reduces the potential for distrust on the part of the MFI’s management. Management may need to obtain guidance from its board without always speaking directly to the investors. And if management is less forthcoming, the board cannot do its job.

Numbers And Finance

While this concern is not exclusive to MFI investors, in the small world of microfinance, with its limited number of players, the concerns are all the greater.

KfW, as a leading microfinance investor, also wants to ensure that boards of directors have all of the skills they need. So KfW helps boards with needed training.

In the final presentation, N. Srinivasan, an independent board member of Equitas Bank in India, spoke persuasively about the value of truly independent directors who balance the needs of all MFI stakeholders.

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> Posted by Bob Bragar, Principal, Strategies for Impact Investors

The Investing in Inclusive Finance program at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion explores the practices of investors in inclusive finance. Across areas including risk, governance, stakeholder alignment, and fund management, this blog series highlights what’s being done to help the industry better utilize private capital to develop financial institutions that incorporate social aims.

The following is the first of two posts in which Bob Bragar discusses some of the unique governance challenges faced by microfinance institutions. The posts examine governance through the guidance of three experienced board members. This post shares the experience of Tamar Lebanidze as Constanta Foundation, an NGO she founded, underwent the change to become Constanta Bank, a regulated bank. To access the second post, click here.

“I don’t see why we have to reinvent the wheel. Good governance practices for microfinance institutions are just the same as for any other business. Why should we spend so much time talking about ‘MFI governance’ when there is so much information already available about good governance?”

This question was raised during a recent meeting of the Center for Financial Inclusion’s Governance Working Group, of which I am a member. The question really surprised me. I had always assumed that governance for microfinance institutions was special. It is not exactly the same as good governance practices in other businesses because microfinance is not the same as other businesses. Even so, it’s a good question. It got me thinking.

Of course, many good governance practices are the same from sector to sector. Running an enterprise well involves challenges that are not specific to the product or service the enterprise produces. Any institution can suffer if the board functions badly, risks are not managed, or management lacks transparency. And there is a lot of good work that is already out there on the role of key stakeholders to maintain good governance in financial services and other industries.

So why do we bother to re-think these issues for microfinance? Because microfinance is a more complex business than most. Going beyond just earning profits, the double or triple bottom line that we ask MFIs to achieve makes success, and therefore governance, very complex. Moreover, microfinance’s particular history of migration from NGOs to semi-regulated financial institutions to formal banks adds challenges to achieving good governance. The stew thickens when we bring multicultural perspectives to MFI boards through the presence of international investors from various countries.

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> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Senior Program Specialist, CFI

The Investing in Inclusive Finance program at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion explores the practices of investors in inclusive finance. Across areas including risk, governance, stakeholder alignment, and fund management, this blog series highlights what’s being done to help the industry better utilize private capital to develop financial institutions that incorporate social aims.

The Council of Microfinance Equity Funds (CMEF) was recently renamed the Financial Inclusion Equity Council (FIEC) in order to reflect both the evolving nature of the industry and Council membership.

In my recent interview with Jim Kaddaras on the landscape of microfinance equity investing in 2003, it quickly became evident that in some respects much has changed over the past decade, while in other ways many of Jim’s comments still ring very true today.

Different Context:

Since 2003, like the expanding industry, Council membership has both grown in numbers and also changed in composition. For instance, a few direct financial service providers have joined the Council as they have now started to invest equity regionally.

Likewise, as impact investing has become far more mainstream in the last decade, some members (e.g. Triodos Organic Growth Fund and responsAbility Fair Trade Fund) have increasingly started to invest in adjacent impact investments. These investments go beyond traditional microfinance to include agriculture, housing, energy, etc. However, microfinance is still by far the majority of most Council members’ portfolio – and also the main proven model for returns.

In addition to the advent of new adjacent impact investment funds, the Council now increasingly has other “beyond microfinance” topics on its agenda, including disruptive technologies and the incredible potential for mobile banking given the now ubiquitous presence of mobile phones. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Daniel Rozas, Independent Consultant

The Investing in Inclusive Finance program at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion explores the practices of investors in inclusive finance. Across areas including risk, governance, stakeholder alignment, and fund management, this blog series highlights what’s being done to help the industry better utilize private capital to develop financial institutions that incorporate social aims.

When you think about responsible investing, what comes to mind? Finding investment prospects that can deliver social returns? Perhaps diligent monitoring, with an eye to effective governance? How about when you sell an investment? How can investors remain committed to balanced social and financial goals when passing the baton to someone else?

This last question is the focus of a joint project by the Center for Financial Inclusion and CGAP. With several microfinance equity funds approaching maturity, the issue of equity sales is becoming more relevant, and as part of the project, the team has been interviewing many equity investors to understand how they perceive the question of what, exactly, is a responsible exit? A paper detailing the findings of these interviews, The Art of the Responsible Exit in Microfinance Equity Sales, will be released in the coming weeks.

In the course of these interviews, many respondents used the analogy of children growing up. As early-stage or founding investors, they reach a certain point where they have fulfilled their “parental” mission and are no longer best-positioned to provide the MFI what it needs, be it capital, expertise, or market access. From the investor’s perspective, the analogy works. But selling an MFI is less an act of entrusting your child’s future to his or her own good sense, along with whatever wisdom you’ve been able to impart – you are handing the MFI over to somebody else.

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> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Senior Program Specialist, CFI

The Investing in Inclusive Finance program at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion explores the practices of investors in inclusive finance. Across areas including risk, governance, stakeholder alignment, and fund management, this blog series highlights what’s being done to help the industry better utilize private capital to develop financial institutions that incorporate social aims.

In 2003, the Council of Microfinance Equity Funds (CMEF) was formed by a handful of equity investors in microfinance with the goal of sharing, developing, and disseminating industry best practices in equity investing.

I recently had the pleasure of catching up with Jim Kaddaras, who was Vice President of Special Projects at Accion from 2001-2003. He was instrumental in launching the CMEF in 2003, and also led the charge on the creation of Accion Investments. Jim is now a Partner at Developing World Markets, and is still a Council member.

Q: What did the landscape of microfinance equity investing look like in 2003?  

Jim Kaddaras: It wasn’t much of a landscape – it was more of a scatter shot.

Accion owned stakes in some of their Latin American affiliates and Accion Investments was just launching in 2003. Procredit was a player (they were called IPC back then and their banks had separate names). FINCA had some equity investments and ShoreBank had a smattering of equity holdings.

ProFund had been around since 1995 as the first investment company focused on microfinance equity but it was winding up when the Council started. Africap was just starting, based on the ProFund model. Various other Council members, plus the development finance institutions (DFIs) and several non-profit networks, held a handful of equity investments.

Q: What was the goal of the Council when it was formed?

JK: We felt that by gathering people who had been making equity investments in a one-off way, we could help to develop and disseminate best practices in the field.

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> Posted by Amanda Yap, Research and Communications, PlaNet Finance

The Investing in Inclusive Finance program at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion explores the practices of investors in inclusive finance. Across areas including risk, governance, stakeholder alignment, and fund management, this blog series highlights what’s being done to help the industry better utilize private capital to develop financial institutions that incorporate social aims.

Before the advent of the People’s Bank of China’s county-level pilot program to create microcredit companies (MCCs) and village and township banks (VTBs), there was a large number of unbanked individuals and micro-entrepreneurs whom commercial banks were unwilling to serve. Hence when the pilot program to create MCCs, the product of a financial inclusion plan by the Chinese government, went into action in 2005 the number of MCCs boomed, and in the past few years they have mushroomed to an astounding number of 9,000 as of 2013. The Chinese financial sector has been plagued with corruption in the past few years – for example, the Wu Ying private lending network scandal and the Qilu commercial bank forgery in Shandong. To circumvent corruption and maintain control of the increasingly overpopulated sector, regulators enforce strict capital requirements and caps on interest rates. However, these requirements are stifling the operational sustainability of these MCCs. Joe Zhang, author of the book Inside China’s Shadow Banking: the New Sub-prime Crisis? writes, “The regulation is killing the dynamism of the sector. Everyone in the sector is working extra hard to make a modest return (after huge expenses and bad debts).”

Should 9,000 MCCs all be painted with the same regulatory brush?

Some industry leaders believe a rating system for microcredit companies is the answer. Liu Ping, Director General of the Senior Advisors of the People’s Bank of China, believes ratings can be a yardstick to measure the sustainability of microcredit companies and differentiate the good apples from the bad. MCC investors hope that high grades based on credible ratings could move the authorities to loosen restrictions on outlets, so that business costs could be better covered, individual company branches could grow, and the sector could eventually be made more sustainable. Conversely, low rating grades would expose institutions with questionable practices that require operational changes. In addition, a ratings system may change the popular perception that these institutions are “loan sharks”, leading to increased investment, institutional growth, and client outreach.

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> Posted by Madeleine Dy, Program Specialist, CFI

The Investing in Inclusive Finance program at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion explores the practices of investors in inclusive finance. Across areas including risk, governance, stakeholder alignment, and fund management, this blog series highlights what’s being done to help the industry better utilize private capital to develop financial institutions that incorporate social aims.

Making the case for more attention to risk management and governance in both the financial inclusion sector and corporate world can be an uphill battle, but McKinsey’s Global Survey findings provide some strong reinforcement. If we let the numbers speak for themselves, they tell an interesting story. Their survey of 772 corporate directors showed that although over 90 percent of respondents reported that their boards have become more effective over the past five years, risk management still surfaces as the biggest difficulty faced by boards.

The survey shows that board directors have improved their knowledge on various company issues since the last survey conducted in 2011. More specifically, about one-third say they have a complete understanding of their organization’s current strategy, as compared to about 20 percent in 2011. However, only 15 percent can say the same for the risks their company faces. In fact, the reality is that 30 percent of directors reported they have limited to no understanding of the risks facing their company.

You might ask why there is such a difference. The answer lies in the time directors spend on the two topics. Directors responded that they spend more time on strategy than any other area, 28 percent compared to only 12 percent for risk management. This clearly shows where their priorities and attention are focused. McKinsey mentions that companies and boards are becoming more complacent about risks as the 2008 financial crisis becomes a more distant memory — unfortunately fading memories do not translate to fading risks. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Senior Program Specialist, CFI

The Investing in Inclusive Finance program at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion explores the practices of investors in inclusive finance. Across areas including risk, governance, stakeholder alignment, and fund management, this blog series highlights what’s being done to help the industry better utilize private capital to develop financial institutions that incorporate social aims.

What good are industry best practices for risk management if many MFIs don’t have the tools and resources to follow them? Sure, you can state that it is an industry best practice to have a risk committee on your board. And it undoubtedly is important to identify that there is value in applying such a practice. But what use is that really if you don’t examine the underlying reasons why 40 percent of MFIs that responded to a MIX survey said they don’t. Or why 32 percent reported not having a risk manager, and 23 percent said they don’t have an internal auditor – and if they did have either, respondents indicated, “both functions tend to report to the CEO contrary to accepted best practice.”

To address this disconnect between where we are as an industry and where we want to be in terms of risk management best practices is why the Risk management Initiative in Microfinance (RIM) was recently launched. RIM is a collaborative effort of Appui au Développement Autonome (ADA), Calmeadow, the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion (CFI), Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA), MFX Solutions, Microfinanza, Oikocredit, and Triple Jump to raise awareness about the importance of risk management, and build MFIs’ capacity to more effectively understand and manage risk.

It has been shown time and again that there is no one-size-fits-all solution in the microfinance industry. What works in one region for one MFI could be a disaster in a different region or for another MFI. And risk management is no different. Putting out one set of risk standards would create a divide between those that meet them and those that don’t, and those that are a good fit for them and those that aren’t. Instead RIM is in the process of developing a “risk roadmap” to help MFIs assess where their risk management capabilities currently stand, and to then help them navigate to where they want to be in terms of risk management. This risk model will help MFIs continue to “graduate” to higher levels of risk management capabilities as they grow and mature as institutions. This roadmap will provide the microfinance industry with a flexible resource, appropriate to address the wide variety of risk management challenges MFIs face.

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> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Senior Program Specialist, CFI

The Investing in Inclusive Finance program at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion explores the practices of investors in inclusive finance. Across areas including risk, governance, stakeholder alignment, and fund management, this blog series highlights what’s being done to help the industry better utilize private capital to develop financial institutions that incorporate social aims.



Governance challenges vary greatly between institutions and regions, and that is why there is such a great opportunity for boards and MFIs to learn from each other by sharing their personal experiences.

Earlier this month the CFI’s Investing in Inclusive Finance program, along with Calmeadow and Boulder Institute of Microfinance, hosted a governance seminar in Mexico called Governance Leadership in a Competitive World. The seminar was structured as a peer-to-peer learning opportunity to engage board members and CEOs in an active dialogue. Participants discussed the challenges they face in governance and risk, and their roles and responsibilities in setting and monitoring the MFI’s mission and strategy. The cases, tools, and materials presented at this seminar created an opportunity for board members to share their experiences and to learn governance best practices from each other. While there are many complexities and nuances to governance, below are 12 practices we hope will be implemented from our governance seminar.

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Credit Suisse is a founding sponsor of the Center for Financial Inclusion. The Credit Suisse Group Foundation looks to its philanthropic partners to foster research, innovation and constructive dialogue in order to spread best practices and develop new solutions for financial inclusion.

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