You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Microfinance’ tag.

> Posted by Alex Counts, Founder, Grameen Foundation

On Sunday, August 23, as I was enjoying some of the final days of summer visiting friends in New Hampshire, I noticed that I had been tagged in a tweet by Dean Karlan, the founder and president of Innovations for Poverty Action.  He provided a link to an article about FINCA that included extensive quotes from its CEO, Rupert Scofield.  He asked Rupert if he really believed microfinance could reduce terrorism, and asked me what I thought (“whatcha think?” was the precise formulation of his question).  He tweeted again on Monday, asking whether I was “still going to stand by [my] claim that no microcredit leaders make grandiose and overselling impact claims?”

First of all, I have never said that no microcredit leaders have ever exaggerated impact claims.  I believe that those exaggerated claims have been rare and atypical, especially in recent years.  In other words, the tendency for practitioners and advocates to make exaggerated claims not backed up by data has itself been quite exaggerated.

But I don’t think Twitter is the best medium for exploring such topics.  So I was grateful when the Center for Financial Inclusion agreed to publish this response to Dean’s public queries of me, in which I could address some related issues about microfinance advocacy and research.  (This post builds upon some of the observations I made in reviewing Dean Karlan and Jacob Appel’s impressive but flawed book, More Than Good Intentions.)

Regarding the article Dean tweeted about, I am supportive of Rupert’s statements and encourage others to read it and come to their own conclusions.  (Having been the public face of an international humanitarian organization for 18 years, I also realize that journalists sometimes focus on a very small part of what someone says in an interview, often on those things that are potentially the most controversial.)  For the most part, Rupert comments on specific microfinance clients he and the journalist met and on his past experiences and how they shaped his view of microfinance.  It’s impossible to challenge any of those observations and recollections.  They are statements of personal experience and opinion.

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> Posted by Rafael Chapman, Analyst, UpSpring

Based on the latest report from the Giving USA Foundation, philanthropy efforts in the United States hit a record high in 2014 with total contributions reaching about $360 billion. Charitable giving is on the rise in the United States, as this figure represents a 7 percent increase over 2013. However, contributions to nonprofits serving Native American communities remain persistently low, representing well under 1 percent of philanthropy in the country.

The need is growing, however. The Native American population grew 27 percent from 2000 to 2010, almost three times the national average. Based on 2012 data, there are over 5 million people in the U.S. who identify themselves as American Indian or Alaskan Natives, and this number is expected to exceed 6.5 million by 2020.

More than 20 percent of Native Americans live on reservations where living conditions are far from tolerable. In these lands that have been inhabited for centuries, the average unemployment rate is well over 10 percent and nearly a third of reservations consider themselves considerably overcrowded. Moreover, due to lack of formal financial history records and conventional employment information, most residents in these reservations lack access to the traditional banking system, which has contributed to a severe unmet need for accessible capital among Native American communities.

All of this leads to the question: If living conditions are so deplorable in this growing community, why haven’t we increased our charitable contributions and attentions towards Indian country?

Myth #1: Indian gaming brings a lot of money to Native American communities

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Why Being Customer-Centric Is a Supply Side Strategy…

> Posted by Evelyn Stark, Assistant Vice President, Financial Inclusion Lead, MetLife Foundation, and Graham A. N. Wright, Group Managing Director, MicroSave

Financial Inclusion 2020 Blog Series banner imageFinancial Inclusion 2020 (FI2020) is a global multi-stakeholder movement to achieve full financial inclusion, using the year 2020 as a focal point for action. This blog series will spotlight financial inclusion efforts around the globe and share insights from key thought leaders in financial inclusion, with a specific focus on quality beyond access.

In recent years Human Centered Design (HCD) became a buzzword in the financial inclusion world. It focused financial service providers on the design of products and services based on customer insights. Design firms became part of the technical provider fraternity, servicing financial service providers in the quest to improve inclusion. At the same time, the network of financial service providers broadened to include mobile network operators and retail chains, in addition to microfinance institutions (MFIs), banks, cooperatives, and a myriad of microfinance suppliers. With new entrants come new ideas – and repetition of old ones. One consistent, but underrated idea, is to focus on the customer.

Customer-centricity is not a new concept in the microfinance and financial inclusion world. In 1998, MicroSave was set up (by UNCDF/DFID who were then joined by CGAP, the Ford Foundation, and the Austrian and Norwegian governments) to promote savings in the microcredit landscape of East and Southern Africa. Initial research in Uganda revealed that although microfinance institutions (MFIs) did not have a legal mandate to collect savings, they did have another problem: drop-outs as high as 60 percent per annum. Further investigation revealed that much of the problem lay in poorly designed credit products. Much of 1999 and 2000 was spent understanding the problem, re-designing products, and developing the “market research for microfinance” tools and training.

This past experience resonates with the current realization among proponents of financial inclusion that customers are not using products. This is evident in the GSMA research that found that 68 percent of registered mobile money customers do less than one transaction in 90 days. No frills accounts in India, and transactional accounts in many other settings, are mostly dormant (GAFIS, 2011, DNA, 2015). The market-led research approaches aimed at microfinance, and the human centered design approaches of the recent years, did not fully succeed in focusing provider efforts on the customer, nor did they help to increase the use of financial products and services. In the quest to understand this, we return to the unfolding story of the early years of market-led approaches, based on the MicroSave experience.

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> Posted by the Smart Campaign

Momentum for Smart Campaign Certification is accelerating. Today, we’re thrilled to announce that there are now more than 20 million lower-income clients whose financial service provider has been certified as meeting the Campaign’s standards for consumer protection.

Since February 2015, the number of clients served by Smart-Certified financial institutions (FIs) has grown by 6 million, to a total of 21 million, with the certification of an additional 11 institutions. To date, 39 FIs, from 19 countries across Latin America to Africa and Asia, have achieved Smart Certification, including some of the world’s best-known institutions dedicated to serving the poor.

As you might be familiar, the Smart Campaign’s Client Protection Certification Program contains a core set of standards against which institutions are evaluated by independent, third-party evaluators. Smart Certification publicly recognizes those institutions providing financial services to microentrepreneurs with a standard of care that upholds the microfinance industry’s seven Client Protection Principles. Customers of Smart-Certified organizations can be confident that their financial service provider has policies and processes in place to ensure that they are treated responsibly.

“Twenty million clients is an exciting milestone – recognition of the fact that there’s growing momentum in the industry for client protection,” said Isabelle Barrès, Smart Campaign director. “These organizations are not just paying lip service to the concept of fair treatment, but actually working hard to improve practices,” she added.

In April 2015, having listened carefully to evaluation results and industry feedback, we launched certification program revisions to streamline the process while maintaining high standards. These revisions included an appeals and complaints system and a process for renewing certification validity. At the end of 2015, the Campaign will introduce an accreditation system to license existing and new certifiers, and a version 2.0 of the certification standards. Certification 2.0 standards remove duplication and ambiguity, and deepen standards for savings, insurance, and digital financial services.

Even as the coverage of the certification program approaches critical mass, the broader Smart Campaign continues to advance. For the Campaign’s next phase we are excited about working on the following:
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> Posted by Kevin Fryatt, Director, Risk management Initiative in Microfinance (RIM)

“We do not engage in risk management because our CEO tells us that every department should be a profit center.” “Risk management seems useful, but how can we afford to pay for it?” Such industry sentiments have been the norm, I’ve found, in my work at the Risk management Initiative in Microfinance (RIM). These statements and many others like them reflect the reality that the value of risk management and its role within microfinance institutions (MFIs) have not yet fully been realized. As the microfinance industry matures and reaching scale through growth continues to drive the strategies of inclusive financial service providers, ways to create sustained value for their clients and shareholders will be increasingly sought after and explored. Finding ways to create sustained value, however, can often be challenging.

Risk management, if carried out effectively, is one important aspect in creating sustained value. Well-executed risk management derives organizational value by ensuring decision-making is carried out within an agreed-upon acceptable level of risk, ultimately providing greater certainty about returns against double-bottom line objectives through reducing volatility of net income and strengthening its ability to meet necessary social returns. For example, decisions on the acceptable amount of credit risk to accept may impact the amount of future financial losses an institution may suffer (financial return) while potentially impacting the type of clients it is able to serve (social return). If risk management has such a high potential to create sustained value, what then has been standing in the way of MFIs effectively implementing it to date?

Many factors explain the challenges in realizing the full value risk management can provide, and much of which point back to the lack of an appropriate risk management framework. Consider the following key framework characteristics:
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> Posted by James Militzer, Editor, NextBillion Financial Innovation

The following post was originally published on NextBillion, in two parts, here and here

The Smart Campaign was born in the midst of extraordinary upheaval in the microfinance sector. Its launch in 2009 was sandwiched between the 2008 global financial crisis, repayment crises in several microfinance markets, and the 2010 debtor suicides in Andhra Pradesh. Yet the turmoil served to amplify the campaign’s main point: that microfinance needs to focus on customer protection. In the succeeding years, it has labored to unite microfinance leaders and practitioners around this goal – most notably through its efforts to convince microfinance institutions (MFIs) to undergo the process of Smart Certification, in which independent evaluators verify that they are “doing everything [they] can to treat [their] clients well and protect them from harm.”

Over time, these efforts have started to gain traction. The campaign – which is steered by a group of prominent leaders in the industry and housed at Accion’s Center for Financial Inclusion – has certified 39 microfinance institutions. (Note: Accion is a NextBillion Content Partner.) Certified institutions include a number of leading MFIs in markets around the world, from Equitas in India to Kompanion in Kyrgyzstan. And the campaign calculates that certified MFIs now serve slightly more than 20 million clients. In a recent interview with NextBillion, its director, Isabelle Barrès, called the 20 million client mark “an exciting milestone, recognition of the fact that there is momentum growing in the industry for client protection –  not just paying lip service to it, but actually working hard to improve practices.”

But achieving this momentum hasn’t been an easy task for the campaign – or for the industry whose practices it’s trying to improve. Barrès discusses the challenges it has faced – and the controversy it has sparked – in this two-part Q&A.

James Militzer: Do you have any data on which markets have the highest percentage of Smart Campaign-certified MFIs?

Isabelle Barrès: I think Kyrgyzstan probably is the one where we currently have the most right now – 60 percent of microfinance clients are served by organizations that have been certified. This shows that when there are some substantial efforts that are put towards improving client protection – whether it’s at the market level or at the regulatory level, or through market infrastructure, such as supporting a good credit bureau – it can make a difference for the entire industry.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Will microfinance continue to be relevant in 2020 and beyond? Should regulators or the industry lead on client protection? Will data analytics replace traditional credit reporting systems?

A new Financial Inclusion 2020 e-magazine explores these three essential questions debate-style, tapping industry leaders from around the world to weigh in with their perspectives.

Microfinance as a development strategy has in the past few years been eclipsed by the excitement around financial inclusion. This transition reflects the recognition that people need a full range of financial services. What does the future hold for microfinance institutions and other players like traditional banks and new fintech companies? Bindu Ananth, Chair of IFMR Trust and IFMR Holdings, Dean Karlan, President of Innovations for Poverty Action, and Liza Guzman, Vice President of Accion share their views.

The ideal balance in client protection is often conceived as a three-legged stool in which regulators, providers, and consumers work at equal levels of responsibility. Globally, regulators have often taken the lead, but initiatives such as the Smart Campaign prove that there is room for providers to move beyond compliance. Is a balanced three-legged stool realistic? Among the debaters are Alok Prasad, Principal Advisor of RBL Bank, Sanjay Sinha, Managing Director of M-CRIL, and Isabelle Barres, Director of the Smart Campaign.

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> Posted by Anne H. Hastings, Manager, Microfinance CEO Working Group

As a member of the Smart Campaign Steering Committee, I had the pleasure last week of attending the first ever Certification Summit held in Turin, Italy. The CEOs of 24 client protection certified microfinance institutions (MFIs) came together to discuss with one another their experiences with certification, their practices for preventing over-indebtedness, collections and grievance redressal, and their thoughts on how the certification process could be made more valuable.

I tried my best to talk with each and every participant there in order to get their honest thoughts about certification. I was surprised but pleased to discover that, without exception, every one of them said how happy they were that they had gone through the process and achieved the recognition. Some examples of the types of comments I heard are:

  1. Client protection has always been part of our DNA. It’s who we are. The certification process helped us align our practices with our values – and come closer to what we aspire to be.
  2. It has allowed us to improve our relations with the regulators in our country more than we imagined. They now turn to us for advice!
  3. It was great for our employees. It was a truly motivating exercise for them . . . and the recognition that comes with certification made them feel very special. Our employees are proud to be associated with a responsible institution.
  4. There was a cost to it, no question – but the process convinced us that it was well worth the investment.
  5. We wanted third-party validation of our practices, and this gave us that validation.
  6. The process was excellent. I have tremendous respect for the rating agency that conducted our mission. It was far more rigorous than I anticipated, and it did result in our making some very significant changes, especially to our disclosure practices.
  7. Our customers have told us that they appreciate the changes we made that were clearly visible to them. They especially like the improvements we’ve made to our grievance redressal mechanism.
  8. Certification must be seen as a risk management tool because that’s what it is. We need more MFIs to go through the certification process in order to control risk in our market. We need to engage more closely with investors and regulators about what it means and how it acts to mitigate risks.
  9. The process helped us to get back to our fundamentals, for the reason we were formed. This was something we had needed to do, without really realizing it, for a long time.
  10. There’s no question that it contributed to our ability to get new capital from our local bank.

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> Posted by Alvina Zafar, Deputy Manager, Financial Education and Client Protection, BRAC Microfinance

Financial Inclusion 2020 Blog Series banner imageFinancial Inclusion 2020 (FI2020) is a global multi-stakeholder movement to achieve full financial inclusion, using the year 2020 as a focal point for action. This blog series will spotlight financial inclusion efforts around the globe and share insights from key thought leaders in financial inclusion, with a specific focus on quality beyond access.

“I am not sure if I can repay more loans, and I don’t want to be overburdened by debt.” That was how Noyon, a small grocery shop owner with a physical disability, replied when BRAC asked whether he would like to take a loan to expand his business. This is a common response we hear from clients with disabilities when they’re offered credit products. Many prefer to avoid taking loans unless absolutely necessary. They guard their reputations closely against a society that sees persons with disabilities as less capable, and defaulting on a loan is not a risk they are willing to take. This insight raises an important question with regard to the financial inclusion of persons with disabilities: Is access the biggest barrier?

In 2015, BRAC scaled up its Engaging People with Disabilities project with ADD International, an organization that focuses on campaigning for equal rights and ensuring social justice for people with disabilities. The objective of this partnership is to leverage the access and coverage that ADD International has with people with disabilities in Bangladesh and provide financial services (e.g. savings, loans, insurance, etc.) to interested beneficiaries. As of May of this year, the project has a client base of over 7,000 people with disabilities, with an average loan size of US$ 282 and a repayment rate of 100 percent. Clients are saving on a regular basis, with an average saving account balance of US$ 50. The majority of the clients are entrepreneurs—they own and operate grocery shops, tea stalls, small vending businesses, and the like. One objective of BRAC’s is to empower all clients by building their financial capabilities. A by-product we see in many of our clients from this pursuit is, on top of enhancing their knowledge about financial management, it raises their confidence and self-respect. Since the early days of BRAC’s disability inclusion work, we’ve been grateful to receive technical, advocacy, and other support from CFI. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Tyler Aveni, Positive Planet China

In an industry that is constantly evolving due to new technology and abundant knowledge-sharing opportunities, practitioners of socially-driven microfinance and inclusive financial services are also helping to drive new innovation. Accompanying research critically assists this process, especially in evaluating the impact of these new methods and initiatives. This presents a problem for countries like China where a dearth of credible (or existing) data resources makes a critical review of practices far harder to manage. As such, researchers interested in the world’s second-largest economy often must settle with statistics that may suffice but rarely meet higher standards found elsewhere.

The work of Li Gan, a Texas A&M professor who also heads the Survey and Research Center for Household Finance at Southwestern University of Finance & Economics (SWUFE) in Chengdu, China, is helping to address the problem. Professor Li has spent much of the last four years spearheading an effort to gather more data on the financial condition of Chinese households and businesses. Through generous funding by SWUFE and support from the PBOC, China’s central bank, Professor Li has set into motion two key multi-year surveys: The China Household Finance Survey (CHFS) and the “ChinaPnR-SWUFE SME Index” which looks at small enterprises.

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