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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 Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

Rwanda has a lot to celebrate in terms of financial inclusion these days. Last week in Kigali the National Bank of Rwanda (NBR) hosted a conference in partnership with the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) commemorating their 50-year anniversary. At the event, titled Financial Inclusion for Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Development, NBR Governor John Rwangombwa highlighted the country’s recent rise in access levels, from 48 to 72 percent between 2008 and 2012 across formal and informal providers. Rwanda now has the laudable goal of increasing this figure to 90 percent by 2020. To help it get there, on Friday the World Bank launched a $2.25 million program supporting key financial inclusion areas for the country.

Along with overall exclusion rates dropping from 52 to 28 percent over 2008 to 2012, formal services access increased from 21 to 42 percent during the same period, according to the 2012 FinScope Rwanda Survey. The new government goal of 90 percent access by 2020 is an extension of the country’s Maya Declaration Commitment of 80 percent access by 2017. Rwanda’s growth in formal access can be attributed to products offered by both banks and non-bank providers, like the country’s community savings and credit cooperatives known as Umurenge SACCOs. Over the past three years, Umurenge SACCOs have attracted over 1.6 million customers. Ninety percent of Rwandans live within a 5 km radius of one of the cooperatives. Countrywide, the number of MFIs, including Umurenge SACCOs, increased from 125 to 491 between 2008 and December 2013. Elsewhere in the sector, over the last three years, the number of banks increased from 10 to 14, the number of insurance companies increased from 9 to 13, and the number of pension providers increased from 41 to 56.

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> Posted by Center Staff

This edition of top picks features posts on how to effectively deploy new technologies to the base of the pyramid, the increasing prominence of mobile savings and credit services, and the growing potential for impact investing in microinsurance.

How can innovative technologies be distributed and adopted at scale in the last mile? Tomohiro Hamakawa of Kopernik addresses this question in a new post on Next Billion. Drawing from a recent Kopernik report, Hamakawa expounds on five key factors to serve as guiding principles in the roll-out of empowering technologies to the BoP: activating a local network of trust; lowering financial barriers; riding the technology adoption wave; focusing on tangible benefits; and staying engaged, showing commitment.

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> Posted by Juan Blanco, Associate, Financial Inclusion 2020, CFI

In Latin America and the Caribbean, approximately 40 percent of families live in houses to which they have no title or that lack sewage systems, water, electricity, or proper building materials, according to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). However, current annual investments in living solutions by the base of the pyramid in LAC total $56.7 billion, confirming the increasing buying power of this segment and the growing opportunity in developing housing finance business models.

A few weeks ago I attended an event hosted by the IDB to launch the report Many Paths to a Home: Emerging Business Models for Latin America and the Caribbean’s Base of the Pyramid. The report was written by Christy Stickney for the Opportunities for the Majority Initiative (OMJ), a part of the Private Sector Group of the Inter-American Development Bank. OMJ provides finance to small, medium-sized, and large companies, as well as financial institutions and funds to support the development and expansion of business models that serve BoP markets.

The report analyses cases within OMJ’s housing portfolio in countries such as Colombia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, and Peru. Stickney found  two main housing solutions for the BoP, a “complete” housing solution and an “incremental” housing solution.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Today, the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation (CSFI), Citi Foundation, and CFI released the latest Microfinance Banana Skins Report, Facing Reality. The first Microfinance Banana Skins was published in 2008, launching a regular series on risks facing the microfinance industry. This fifth iteration in the series reflects the growing complexity of microfinance as newer players such as technology companies, payment platforms, commercial banks, and others begin to serve those at the base of the pyramid. The new report outlines the risks and opportunities facing microfinance in a fast-changing environment.

Despite these challenges, the number one concern is still an old favorite: overindebtedness, which was also the number one concern in the previous report in 2012.

The report presents the risk perceptions of more than 300 practitioners and close industry observers from 70 countries, gathered through a survey. The report provides a commentary on each of the 19 risks that are identified in the survey and breaks down responses by type and region. It also includes a detailed analysis of the condition and prospects for microfinance by industry experts Sam Mendelson and Daniel Rozas.

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> Posted by Eric Zuehlke, Web and Communications Director, CFI

Since launching microfinance activities in 1974, BRAC has grown to become one of the world’s largest financial services providers to the poor. BRAC’s microfinance operations, which include loans and savings, serve more than 5 million clients in eight countries. In 2012, BRAC started a financial education and client protection project that aims to help clients adopt financial behaviors that facilitate their well-being. Shameran Abed, Director of the BRAC Microfinance program, recently spoke with me to discuss BRAC’s work. Prior to joining BRAC, Abed served as an editorial writer at one of Bangladesh’s main English-language daily newspapers where he wrote primarily on politics. He also serves on the Board of Directors of bKash, a mobile financial services platform in Bangladesh.   

Eric: Can you talk about BRAC’s client protection work and what you learned from your project pilots in 2012 and 2013?

Shameran: We wanted to make sure that any clients coming into the BRAC microfinance program could be very well catered to. They should understand what our products are, what our terms are, what our rates are, and they should make an educated decision on whether they want to take our products. And if they do become our members then they should be treated well, treated with respect, and have access to information. I’m not saying that BRAC didn’t have all these things before two or three years ago, but we really wanted to double-down our efforts on these fronts. So that’s why we decided to do more work around client protection, client customer service, and financial education.

Eric: What do you think are the biggest risks facing microfinance clients?

Shameran: From a financial point of view, there are two or three risks that we’re particularly concerned about. One, of course, is something that’s been talked about a lot, the risk of overindebtedness. Bangladesh, although quite a mature microfinance market, is, in terms of overindebtedness, thankfully still quite low. But still I think overindebtedness is something that you always guard against because there is a lot of demand for credit and if microfinance institutions are not careful they can always have issues around overindebtedness of borrowers.

There are a lot of financial institutions nowadays that are kind of fly-by-night institutions that set up shop… Institutions that are typically unregulated. They come in, they offer products, they lure in clients, and then they disappear. I think around these issues the clients need more awareness, and these are some of the things our financial education components try to address.

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> Posted by Verónica Trujillo Tejada, Consultant, MIF/ Inter-American Development Bank

Building up a regulatory framework for the development of a microfinance market is a complex task. It requires taking into account a broad variety of topics as well as country specific needs and features. There are some internationally-applicable recommendations for the design of microfinance regulatory frameworks (CGAP 2012, ASBA 2010, and Basel 2010) but little is known about how different countries have implemented their guidelines or what the effects are of these rules in each market.

In the recently released paper “Microfinance Regulation and Market Development in Latin America,” published by the B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, we analyze the relationship between microfinance regulatory frameworks in 17 Latin American countries and the corresponding markets’ levels of development.

One way to characterize microfinance regulations is as either general or specific rules. The general rules are devoted to regulating typical financial system issues, while the specific rules target microfinance products or institutions. Two other regulation classifications are protection rules and promotion rules. Protection rules have the goal of preserving financial system stability or protecting the financial consumer, and promotion rules aim to favor the development of microfinance services or institutions by softening the restrictiveness of the overall regulatory framework.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

A proactive step for client protection was recently taken in Laos when the country’s Microfinance Association (MFA) established an industry code of conduct focused on client protection. Laos’ code centers on the client protection principles and the accompanying Smart Certification standards, which designate how institutions can instill fair client treatment in their practices. The code was developed by the MFA following a Smart assessor training in late 2013, and was reviewed by the Campaign to ensure accurate reflection of the client protection principles and standards. In April, the code was presented at an MFA member meeting, where all members present committed to embedding it throughout their institutions. This new code fills an important gap, given that client protection regulation for financial services is not well developed in the country.

Established in 2007, the Microfinance Association and its members represent a growing share of the country’s industry. Members include MFIs, as well as donors, training institutes, and individual experts and advocates. The 32 MFIs that are members make up roughly 50 percent of Laos’ formal microfinance industry by number of clients.

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> Posted by Tanaya Kilara, Financial Sector Analyst, CGAP

Customer-centricity is about providing solutions based on a deep understanding of customer needs, preferences, and behaviors. This is a concept that is easy to agree with but difficult to implement. Financial service providers serving base of the pyramid (BOP) customers struggle with generating customer insights, but more importantly, with translating those insights into better products and services for BOP customers. In a recently released CGAP Brief, Beth Rhyne and I explore the relevance of customer-centricity for financial inclusion.

Our starting point is that BOP customers differ significantly from their wealthier counterparts. They have informal, irregular incomes, different spending and consumption patterns, different relationships with financial institutions, and need different consumer protection measures. Developing this understanding of customers and their differentiated needs is the first step in serving the BOP market with relevant financial services. Many financial service providers presume that this market can be served by the same products as those of higher income customers, or at best, that they can treat this entire market as a single segment. Providers need to recognize different needs and segments and therefore provide different financial solutions that cater to this market.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

On a trip to the antipodes you expect to find things a bit upside down. You look out on the underneath side of the universe and see mammals that lay eggs. On my recent trip there, I discovered that the microfinance world is a little upside down, too.

The biggest microfinance program in Australia, Good Shepherd Microfinance’s No Interest Loan Scheme (NILS) is mind-bendingly different from most microfinance operations. In the first place, it charges no interest or fees – technically it’s a repayable grant. Secondly, it is explicitly designed to assist people to obtain consumer goods, such as a refrigerator, washing machine, or laptop, not to operate a business. And thirdly, far from addressing the informal sector, most of the borrowers are recipients of some form of public welfare support.

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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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The views and opinions expressed on this blog, except where otherwise noted, are those of the authors and guest bloggers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Financial Inclusion or its affiliates.
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