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> Posted by Rishabh Khosla and Vikas Raj, Senior Investment Analyst and Senior Investment Officer, Accion Venture Lab

In May, India’s new government, led by Narendra Modi, was elected in a landslide. Popular frustration with the Congress Party’s increasingly ineffectual 10-year reign, made most visible by persistently low GDP growth, allowed for one of the most lopsided victories in Indian history, and the first time a non-Congress candidate had an outright majority in parliament. Wisely, Modi focused his election campaign rhetoric on economic issues and more efficient governance to revive GDP growth. The markets have reacted positively: the bell-weather BSE stock-index is up 20 percent since the start of the year. Two weeks ago, the government finally proposed a budget for the next year – the first real concrete recommendations for the economy since coming to power two months ago.

India is a key market for financial inclusion investors like Accion Venture Lab because of the size, depth, and strength of its entrepreneurial pool, as well as the persistent lack of financial services for the poor. Despite the huge success of microfinance in India, two-thirds of the working-age population lacks a bank account, mobile payments have yet to take off, and access to credit for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) remains abysmal.

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> Posted by Emily Kunz, Financial Inclusion Analyst, 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.

Impact investing is becoming increasingly alluring. However, anyone who has tried to put their finger on the pulse of this trendy subject has likely been inundated with dense reports focusing on industry minutiae that would take weeks to read. Who has time for this? Not too many it would seem considering that the World Bank recently revealed that a third of the reports it produces have never been downloaded – not even once!

Accordingly, we challenged a team of Credit Suisse Virtual Volunteers (Credit Suisse staff members David Samach, Anne Levonen, and Surender Gounder) to research the world of impact investing – reading industry reports, talking with many of the relevant players, running the numbers – and synthesize this information into a brief and user-friendly overview of the current impact investing landscape.

The team’s findings were presented last month to the Financial Inclusion Equity Council in New York. The Prezi presentation the team gave is featured above, available by clicking the image or here.

Too many definitions fuel industry confusion. If you have trouble comfortably committing to one definition for impact investing, you’re not alone. While researching, the Virtual Volunteers identified a fundamental industry issue: there is no universally agreed-upon definition for impact investing. Competing definitions, as well as models and reports that aren’t aligned, continue to fuel misunderstandings about and within the sector. Ultimately though, the Virtual Volunteers proposed defining impact investing as “an investment approach that intentionally seeks to create both financial return and a positive social or environmental impact that is actively measured.”

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> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Manager, Investing in Inclusive Finance, 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.

I was recently invited to join the board of my son’s school. The gist of this invitation email was that there would be a fairly significant time commitment in the form of regular board meetings and committee work, and that in addition to this time investment, “As with all non-profit boards, it is expected that every member of the board will support fundraising, and give a donation themselves.”

I spend much of my time at work on governance topics and am therefore fairly well-versed in the trials and tribulations faced by boards. However, when I personally received an invitation, I felt, in my humble opinion, that this is an absurd request.

What kind of proposition is it to be asked to sacrifice your highly coveted personal time and in return to also be expected to commit your hard-earned money. Could you ever imagine a job where you were asked to pay your employer for the privilege of committing your time and energy to working with them?

That said, there are millions of non-profits in the world and most of them have some sort of governance structure so obviously people do commit their time, energy, and money to non-profit board service. This disconnect got me thinking about why anyone would ever join a non-profit board. What are the incentives? Here are some of the reasons I came up with for why I would consider accepting an invitation to be a board member at a non-profit:

  1. I felt very passionately about the cause.
  2. A close friend or relative asked me.
  3. I had a vested interest in the work of the organization.
  4. I was flattered to be asked to provide my wisdom/guidance.
  5. There was some prestige, resume building, or additional perks.
  6. It would be a good opportunity for networking or may lead to a future job.
  7. To meet some like-minded people.

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> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Manager, Investing in Inclusive Finance, 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.

You may have noticed an uptick in headlines over the past few months announcing the selling of microfinance equity shares. Here are a few examples:  Accion sells 15 percent stake in Paraguay’s El Comercio to Incofin’s Rural Impulse Fund; Grupo ACP sells its 60.68 percent stake in Peru’s MiBanco to Edyficar; Triodos sells stake in Cambodia’s ACLEDA Bank to ORIX Corporation.

Expect to see more such headlines, as the number of exits from microfinance equity investments is anticipated to accelerate in the next couple of years as a result of a combination of different factors:

  1. Equity funds are maturing. Many funds were created around the same time and while some have no official time horizon, even patient capital reaches a point when it is time to consider moving on.
  2. Microfinance institutions (MFIs) are also maturing. Thanks to the patient capital and expertise of many initial microfinance investors, some MFIs are now so large and sophisticated that they need new investors with deeper pockets and different expertise to further their growth and development.
  3. Social investors are moving into new frontiers. Some social investors are reevaluating where their equity funding and participation can have the biggest impact, for example by moving into more rural or poorer countries. In a number of countries, regulatory environments are becoming friendlier to foreign microfinance investors now that they have a more proven track record.

Given that many social investors are seeking to pass the baton, what does it mean to exit an investment responsibly?

The freshly released paper, The Art of the Responsible Exit in Microfinance Equity Sales, dissects exactly this question. The paper, a joint effort of the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion (CFI) and the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), shares the thoughts and experiences of 50 investors and industry stakeholders on the topic of exiting an investment in a “responsible” manner.

What did we uncover?

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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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