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> Posted by the Smart Campaign
It’s been an exciting few months for client protection in the microfinance industry. FINCA Kyrgyzstan, MBK Ventura in Indonesia, SKS Microfinance in India, and a number of other MFIs around the world demonstrated that they successfully integrate the client protection principles into their practices and joined the rapidly growing list of institutions that are Smart Certified. Today, we’re pleased to share that the number of clients across all the Smart Certified institutions surpassed the 15-million-client benchmark.
To date, 28 microfinance institutions, from Latin America to Eastern Europe and South Asia, have achieved Smart Certification, including some of the world’s largest and best-known MFIs. These institutions are not only ensuring that their clients are equipped and best positioned to effectively use financial services, they’re also demonstrating to their respective markets and the global industry the good business that is responsible microfinance.
“Momentum to improve client protection is accelerating, with scores of MFIs across the globe improving their client protection practices, and being recognized for it through certification,” stated Isabelle Barrès, director of the Smart Campaign, in a press release. In Eastern Europe, there are certified institutions in Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Bosnia, Serbia, and Kyrgyzstan. In Kyrgyzstan, with the certification of the nation’s network of FINCA MFIs, the country’s market crossed an important threshold. “As measured by MixMarket data, more than 50 percent of all microfinance clients in Kyrgyzstan do business with certified MFIs,” noted Barrès. The certified MFIs in Kyrgyzstan include the first formal financial institution serving low-income entrepreneurs in the region, as well as a relatively young institution, and encompass a range of service offerings like individual, group, and agricultural loans. Elsewhere in the region, the proportion of clients in certified institutions by country market is about 45 percent in Bosnia, and 40 percent in Tajikistan.
> Posted by Tyler Owens, CFI Staff
The current era of financial services for the poor is marked by the growth of high-tech delivery mechanisms, innovative start-ups, new socially responsible investing models, and more traditional banks growing their portfolios of base-of-the-pyramid clients. Different players in increasingly crowded markets often collide in trying to win over more clients. Just one recent example is the newly public Alibaba, which has issued more than $16 billion in small loans over the last three years through its SME loan company AliFinance. The result of all this can lead one to question the role that traditional MFIs will play in the years and decades ahead. What will be their unique value proposition and how will they earn and maintain market share and the loyalty of their clients?
There is evidence that microfinance industry practitioners and stakeholders are not prioritizing questions of relevance and long-term customer retention. All too often, thinking strategically about the place of an MFI in a rapidly changing financial services landscape takes a back seat to the daily crush of competition and loan book performance. The 2014 Microfinance Banana Skins report—which is built on surveys of industry practitioners and insiders—concluded that the most urgent risks the industry faces are those of day-to-day business operations, such as credit control, competition, and management quality. The report went on to say that “longer term risks associated with the survival and evolution of the industry such as technological change, product development and funding are considered to be less urgent – and are less well defined.” It concluded that paying scant attention to long-term risks in the industry—at a crucial point in its development—may be a serious risk in itself.
> Posted by Maura Hart, Communications Manager, Microfinance CEO Working Group
In conjunction with the release of two new publications on over-indebtedness, the MCWG has launched the Over-Indebtedness Transparency Discussion Forum as a platform for discussion and encourage readers to join in. We invite you to share your thoughts and questions with other microfinance practitioners.
Understanding the causes and potential remedies for over-indebtedness is critical to socially responsible lending. The fallout from over-indebtedness can be extensive, not only to the clients whose inability to repay loans can lead to social, economic, and personal problems with long-lasting repercussions, but if over-indebtedness is widespread, it can create adverse economic impact on the community and ultimately cause a significant economic crisis in that region. We have seen tragic examples of this in Bolivia and India just in the last 15 years.
Recognizing the ongoing urgency of this issue, the Microfinance CEO Working Group – a collaborative effort by the leaders of eight pioneering microfinance organizations – Accion, FINCA International, Freedom from Hunger, Grameen Foundation, Opportunity International, Pro Mujer, VisionFund International, and Women’s World Banking – commissioned two new studies:
The Working Group and our colleagues in the socially responsible lending community are anxious to avoid a debt crisis in Mexico, similar to those that have caused major upheavals in other countries. The Working Group commissioned Over-Indebtedness in Mexico: Its Effect on Borrowers to learn of the causes of over-indebtedness in Mexico directly from borrowers and those who are on the frontlines of the loan application and approval process.
Over-Indebtedness: A Risk Management Approach is designed to help other microfinance institutions (MFIs) identify the leading indicators of the trend toward over-indebtedness and mitigate the risks—and ultimately reduce the likelihood that over-indebtedness will happen. The study examines the leading indicators of over-indebtedness and suggests steps MFIs can take to avoid over-indebting their clients. It also identifies the risk mitigants and controls that will reduce the likelihood of MFIs being affected should over-indebtedness hit the wider market.
We hope these two papers will be the catalyst for an open dialogue among practitioners and thought leaders in the microfinance sector so that we might collaborate to develop preventive solutions. As these initiatives become established, the Working Group will share these resources with other MFIs and the microfinance sector. We also plan to provide additional platforms to continue the fruitful discussion of over-indebtedness remedies.
> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI
I was recently asked to give a talk at the University of Pennsylvania’s 8th (!) annual Microfinance Conference. This year’s theme, “Microfinance Beyond Its Roots” set me in search of ways in which the microfinance industry is moving into areas beyond its original microcredit core. Of course, this process has been going on for a long time, and so there are many topics to choose from.
I decided to look at health care, partly because, as every staff member of a microfinance institution knows, health setbacks are one of the most frequent sources of repayment problems among low income clients. As they learned about the health vulnerabilities of their clients, microfinance organizations began to invest in experiments, bringing their businesslike approach to bear on a challenge that is often dealt with in heavily subsidized, non-market ways. Today, many of these programs have matured and grown, even as new ideas are being tested.
I looked among the organizations belonging to the Microfinance CEO Working Group, and I found that nearly all have something exciting going on in health care. Approaches include some combination of direct health care service provision, health insurance coverage, and education. Many are using technology as a means of reaching people at scale and low cost.
The meetings associated with group lending provide a convenient and cost-effective platform for health services, and adding a health component to group microcredit is probably the earliest and most widespread model. Health education was perhaps the starting point, as pioneered by Freedom from Hunger and also implemented by Opportunity International. Today the services often reach farther (while health education continues to be important). ProMujer, for example, directly employs nurses and other health practitioners to staff fixed and mobile clinics available to ProMujer members. They focus on maternal and reproductive health, as well as screening for the chronic diseases that are increasingly major health issues in Latin America. Hundreds of thousands of women get access to health care through ProMujer’s efforts.