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> Posted by Todd A. Watkins, Paul DiLeo, Anna Kanze, and Ira Lieberman

Fintech is a shiny attractor for impact investors. Emerging financial technologies shimmer with disruptive potential for the delivery of a wide array of financial, educational, health, and social services for the poor. While microfinance still makes up a major share of impact investing portfolios, many investors appear to have moved on to fintech, the next wave of creative destruction. Rather than be toppled by it, microfinance institutions (MFIs) look to ride that wave too, to extend reach, reduce costs and prices, improve and deepen client services, and improve risk management.

Fintech, whether new digital services or proprietary software used to evaluate and underwrite credit, brings glittery potential for MFIs, no question. But in fairy tales unicorns glitter too. Are MFIs chasing something equally illusory? Microfinance has decades of success growing and strengthening a high-touch business model. As growth slows, should MFIs now abandon that approach and use high-tech to go low-touch for cost efficiency? If MFIs stay their course, will they be overtaken by new entrants with new models, like Chinese online peer-to-peer lender Yirendai, which went IPO on the New York Stock Exchange last year? Or instead, will MFIs find innovative high-tech ways to further leverage their deep relationships with clients and understanding of client needs?

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> 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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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.