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> Posted by James Militzer, Editor, NextBillion Financial Innovation

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The following post, which was originally published on NextBillion, shares a conversation between Anna Kanze, COO of Grassroots Capital Management, and Daniel Rozas, Independent Consultant, on initial public offerings (IPOs) in microfinance. Both Anna and Daniel have contributed to a number of Financial Inclusion Equity Council (FIEC) publications.  Anna was the principal author of the recent FIEC report, “How to IPO Successfully and Responsibly: Lessons From Indian Financial Inclusion Institutions”. The podcast draws from the report’s findings and focuses on the effects of IPOs on Equitas Holdings, Ujjivan Financial Services, SKS Microfinance, and Compartamos.

Initial public offerings have long been a controversial topic in microfinance, and rightly so. The IPOs of Compartamos in Mexico and SKS Microfinance in India, in 2007 and 2010 respectively, made a lot of money for investors and turbocharged the sector’s growth. But they also sparked hyper commercialization and debt crises that rocked the industry, gravely harming its clients and tarnishing its public image.

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> Posted by Anna Kanze, Chief Operating Officer, Grassroots Capital Management, and Danielle Piskadlo, Manager, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

2016 has been dubbed “the year of IPOs” in India: as of September, there had been 21 initial public offerings (IPOs) worth nearly $3 billion, according to Indian news source Livemint. Among these are two high-profile IPOs for microfinance institutions (MFIs): Equitas Financial Holdings and Ujjivan Financial Services. IPOs are seen as the hallmark of commercial success, but in those industries like financial inclusion that are driven by social missions, inevitable questions arise over whether organizations can preserve their double bottom line priorities when they go public. The cases of these two Indian MFIs offer some answers to this increasingly pertinent question.

But before we get to that, let’s look at why these institutions went public in the first place.

Never waste a good crisis, right? In 2010, when the Andhra Pradesh crisis froze microlending in India, regulators and MFIs rose to the occasion and implemented measures that restored confidence in the microfinance industry and helped cement the social mission of microfinance in India. Most notably:

  • Social Standards – In an effort to promote responsible lending, a group of the largest for-profit MFIs in the Indian microfinance sector formed the Microfinance Institutions Network (MFIN). MFIN developed a Code of Conduct by which members commit to client protection, ethics, and transparency, and the group began to “self-police” adherence to responsible lending principles.
  • Credit Bureaus – The members of MFIN also collaborated with High Mark Credit Information Services to form the first credit bureau to track microfinance borrowing in India. All MFIN members contribute data to the microfinance credit bureau.

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> Posted by Anna Kanze, Chief Operating Officer, Grassroots Capital Management

The initial public offering (IPO) of Chennai-based Equitas Holdings Ltd., the holding firm for the fifth-largest microlender in India, was very successful, raising nearly US$235 million (Rs 1,525 crore) and demonstrating the maturation of the microfinance and financial inclusion sectors in India.

When the stock opened on April 7 to the domestic market, the demand greatly exceeded the number of available shares (16x oversubscribed) and provided a strong exit (an average multiple of 3.6x) for Equitas’ shareholders, which included a mix of social and responsible investment funds and traditional private equity investors. The stock opened to international buyers on April 21 and closed with a price on the first day of trading 23 percent above the issue price.

Funds managed by Caspian Impact Investment Adviser (Caspian), an Indian investment management and advisory services company that invests capital in businesses delivering both financial and social value, were early investors in Equitas and active in its governance. (Another Caspian-­backed microfinance firm, Bengaluru-­based Ujjivan Financial Services Ltd., the fourth-largest microfinance lender in India by assets under management, raised approximately Rs 900 crore in an initial public offering that opened on April 28 and was nearly 41 times oversubscribed as of closing on May 2, 2016.) Given this market activity, we at Caspian and Grassroots Capital Management PBC, who work together closely on this and other investments, are prompted to take a closer look at what this IPO means for the company, its clients, and the industry.

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> Posted by Larry Reed, Director, the Microcredit Summit Campaign, and Jesse Marsden, Research and Operations Manager, the Microcredit Summit Campaign

In collaboration with the CFI’s process to develop the Financial Inclusion 2020 Progress Report, the Microcredit Summit Campaign recently conducted interviews with microfinance leaders* around the world committed to reaching the most excluded. In this post, we share some of the insights from these conversations about how to ensure that the most invisible clients are financially included, directly drawn from the experiences of those who are doing it.

To set the stage, Luis Fernando Sanabria, General Manager of Fundación Paraguaya, made this central point: “Our clients need to be the protagonists of their own development stories. Our products should be the tools they use to meet their needs and empower their aspirations.” With that reminder of the purpose of financial inclusion, we begin the discussion by asking who are the most excluded.

In each country, people living in extreme poverty (below US$1.25 a day) make up the largest segment of those excluded from the financial system. We spoke with leaders from organizations that make intentional efforts to reach this large excluded market: Fundación Paraguaya; Pro Mujer; Fonkoze; Plan Paraguay; Equitas; Grama Vidiyal; and TMSS. These organizations not only address poverty, but also a host of other dimensions that lead to exclusion, including literacy, race, gender, physical disabilities, and age. Less frequently-discussed reasons for exclusion include sexual orientation, language barriers (especially among indigenous populations), and mental or emotional health issues. In India and Bangladesh, for example, those interviewed noted that the lack of personal identification often drove exclusion, especially among women, persons with disabilities, and the socially excluded, such as transgender individuals.

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> Posted by Sonja E. Kelly and Misha Dave, CFI

Dhanalakshmi (far right), client at Equitas

If there is one thing we have learned from working on disability and age inclusion in financial services, it is that including these populations in financial services is in some ways easier than practitioners expect it to be but, in other ways, harder than it looks.

In our research on aging and financial inclusion, one of the key insights was that financial service providers of all sizes often apply age caps on credit products. However, many institutions we talked with did not know exactly where these standards came from. Some attributed them to concerns about life expectancy of older clients, some to institutional history (“that’s just the way we do it”), some to the increase of credit portfolio insurance it would incur, and some to a perception of older people as economically dormant.

Many of these concerns can be mitigated by better research and dispelling myths about the creditworthiness of older people. Easy, right? In fact, there are some institutions that apply creative ideas to providing credit to older people. Group guarantees and automatic withdrawal payments on loans from publicly administered pensions through government partnerships are both examples of this.

However, such institutions providing credit to older people seem to be the exception rather than the rule. Worse, convincing institutions to care about this population is not easy. One institution we spoke with in India was baffled by the idea of providing credit to people over the age of 55. “But [the older people] could die and wouldn’t pay the loan,” the product developers insisted. Doing the research and articulating the issue was the easy part — now the hard work begins of advocating on behalf of older people.

Similar attitudinal barriers exist in financial institutions for serving persons with disabilities. Let’s take stock: over one billion people around the world — 1 in 7 of us — have a disability and four-fifths live in developing countries like India. Despite this and the fact that many microfinance institutions (MFIs) claim to be dedicated to “serving the world’s financially excluded people,” less than 1 percent of their clients are persons with disabilities.

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> Posted by Abhishek Agrawal, India Country Director, Accion

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Over the past two years, CFI’s three MFI partners in India have included over 13,000 persons with disabilities (PWD) as clients in mainstream financial services, helping them become economically active. Almost all of these clients were first-time borrowers.

CFI and Accion, with our knowledge partner v-shesh and MFI implementation partners – Annapurna based in Odisha, Equitas based in Tamil Nadu, and ESAF from Kerala – have been working on the financial inclusion of persons with disabilities over the past two years. This working group created tools and an operating model for MFIs to incorporate PWD as staff and clients. The recommendations, which include policy changes in non-discrimination and other areas, are being piloted at the MFIs. Disability awareness trainings have been conducted for over 100 MFI staff across the country. Over the next several months these staff will train another 6,000 frontline MFI staff.

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> Posted by the Smart Campaign

The Smart Campaign is pleased to announce the release of a new tool to be used during the “Compulsory Group Training” portion of many group lending methodologies.

The tool – available for download on the Smart Campaign website – is designed to help microfinance institutions incorporate the Client Protection Principles into their compulsory group trainings (CGT). These trainings are group-level customer education programs MFIs use to interact with and screen prospective clients. CGTs are conducted by institutions practicing village banking methodology, and Grameen-style Joint Liability Group methodology, prior to the client group’s obtaining credit. The trainings are often the first formal interaction between the prospective clients and the MFI.

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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.