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> Posted by Lizzy Bolze, Analyst, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

How does a microfinance institution know what transformation will be like from an NGO to a formal financial institution? In an increasingly complex industry with competition from commercial banks and the entrance of fintechs, many microfinance NGOs are considering transformation to realize their growth potential and help attract investment. However, the road to transformation can often be bumpy, as noted in the Center for Financial Inclusion’s publication Aligning Interests: Addressing Management and Stakeholder Incentives During Microfinance Institution Transformations.  Regulatory compliance issues, information technology hurdles, and aligning with the needs of the NGO and investors can often complicate the process. For Enda Tamweel, the largest and oldest microfinance organization in Tunisia, the decision to transform has come with external pressures, operational challenges, and a focus on maintaining their mission. Read the rest of this entry »

> 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 Andrew Fixler, Associate, CFI

“Cautious optimism” was the overriding sentiment towards the Indian financial inclusion investment space at the fall 2014 Financial Inclusion Equity Council (FIEC) meeting in Zurich. Four years after the Andhra Pradesh crisis, in financial year 2014 the regulated microfinance market in India saw its loan portfolio grow by 35 percent and client outreach increase by 4.7 million individuals, achieving a record 28 million clients. Although, as FIEC member Christian Etzensperger of responsAbility Investments AG noted, this is “catch-up growth” for India, where only 35 percent of the adult population has a bank account. On an institutional level, the remarkable growth of Bandhan Bank, India’s largest microfinance institution, illustrates the successful scaling up of MFIs. While Etzensperger noted the “dynamic revival of the microfinance sector…partly due to the inertia of the Indian banks”, he also alluded to the significant role played by the policies of the newly elected Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, as well as those of the recently appointed Raghuram Rajan, Governor of the Reserve Bank of India. Indian investor sentiment in general soared on the news of these leaders taking the helm, a trend that clearly resonates in the Indian financial inclusion equity community.

What have these leaders done to inspire confidence in the trajectory of microfinance?

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> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Manager, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI


Last year, before I was a parent, my colleague Deborah Drake wrote a blog post asking “What do Governance and Parenting Have in Common?” Now that I am a parent, I would like to draw another commonality between governance and parenting: both are easier said than done!

There is plenty of literature out there on the best practices of parenting but in reality, it is really hard work, full of uncertain information and mixed advice. You may know the importance of letting them cry it out, feeding veggies, limiting screen time, or talking to your kids about risky behavior. However, we also know how hard these things can be to do in practice, and how often they get avoided, explained away, or ignored. It is often hard as a parent to take a long-term view or to experience the short-term pain needed for long-term gain. You just have to pick your battles, hope for the best outcome, and know there will be unforeseen challenges and crises along the way.

Same goes for governance. It is tricky to bring up the difficult conversations at board meetings, hard to think strategically about the long-term when you are busy putting out today’s fires. It is challenging to adhere to all the recognized best practices, and often difficult even to decipher which practices are important to adhere to.

In both parenting and governing, it is helpful to have advice and benchmarks to sort through all the noise. Googling teething or breastfeeding may provide some help, as will reading up on risk management or strategic alignment. But too often, these searches will leave you wondering where you actually stand between “nothing to worry about” and “oh boy, do we have a problem.” This is because these topics are harder to learn from literature and easier to learn from people who have been there.

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> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Manager, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

Shakespeare asked, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Having recently married and changed my last name, I can attest that there is a refreshing feeling that comes with a new name and clean slate. It is an opportunity to leave the past in the past and start anew.

Starting fresh with a new name must be especially freeing if the past was not a sweet smelling rose. According to a recent report, the Bank of Ghana (BoG) is cracking down on MFIs that repeatedly change their names to cover their tracks after they have duped members of the public. Raymond Amanfu, the Head of Other Financial Institutions Department of the Bank of Ghana reports, “Every day, I get at least five applications from companies wanting to change their names….Quite a number of them are actually messed up and want to clean up by changing their name.”

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> Posted by Joseph Smolen, Summer Associate, CFI

At this week’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit it was noted that even as sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) enjoys a period of unprecedented economic growth (GDP in developing SSA has increased from $43 trillion to $75 trillion since 2004), lack of financial inclusion remains an issue of paramount concern. In some ways this has been driven by a lack of foreign direct investment (FDI) in financial inclusion vehicles in SSA (primarily MFIs) – less than 10 percent of FDI in MFIs worldwide is earmarked for Africa-focused institutions. Historically, the disproportionately low amount of FDI in sub-Saharan African MFIs has been driven by a combination of the following factors:

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> Posted by Joseph Smolen, Summer Associate, CFI

Are MFIs evolving enough to maintain relevance as a driving force in the sub-Saharan African (SSA) economy?

A recent survey of board members of microfinance institutions (MFIs) in SSA revealed two shortcomings at the governance level: 1) MFIs boards and leadership are not effectively incorporating new technologies and 2) there is a systemic lack of awareness related to market forces and competition. Taken together, these two areas of deficient governance suggest MFIs are not evolving quickly enough, and definitely not at the rapid pace of economic growth in SSA.

Which leads us to ask: are MFIs at risk due to their slowly evolving, and sometimes insular, business practices? The answer to this question is an emphatic no….for now. MFIs have been and will continue to be a key driver of economic growth, poverty alleviation, and financial inclusion in the region. However, sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing unprecedented growth, catalyzed by a variety of macro-level influences. This new dynamism in SSA (the second fastest region-wide growth, behind only developing Asia) brings with it faster change than previously seen in the SSA economy. What does this mean for microfinance? Simply that evolution has now become more critical than ever.

The economic changes in SSA bring with it myriad opportunities – both for domestic residents and foreign investors. Most striking is the increasing eagerness for foreign direct investments (FDI) in SSA. Currently, FDI has taken the form of large-scale investment in established institutional players with little effect on the lower income customer base of MFIs. As capital flows continue to seek opportunities, this could easily change, and other players could contest the space MFIs have historically occupied in the marketplace. While financial services to previously excluded individuals does not necessarily have to be provided by MFIs, there are significant risks that the microfinance space will be impinged upon by mainstream market players such as commercial or mobile banks as well as non-mission driven debt funds. The consequences of such changes include:

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> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Manager, Investing in Inclusive Finance, 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.

I was recently invited to join the board of my son’s school. The gist of this invitation email was that there would be a fairly significant time commitment in the form of regular board meetings and committee work, and that in addition to this time investment, “As with all non-profit boards, it is expected that every member of the board will support fundraising, and give a donation themselves.”

I spend much of my time at work on governance topics and am therefore fairly well-versed in the trials and tribulations faced by boards. However, when I personally received an invitation, I felt, in my humble opinion, that this is an absurd request.

What kind of proposition is it to be asked to sacrifice your highly coveted personal time and in return to also be expected to commit your hard-earned money. Could you ever imagine a job where you were asked to pay your employer for the privilege of committing your time and energy to working with them?

That said, there are millions of non-profits in the world and most of them have some sort of governance structure so obviously people do commit their time, energy, and money to non-profit board service. This disconnect got me thinking about why anyone would ever join a non-profit board. What are the incentives? Here are some of the reasons I came up with for why I would consider accepting an invitation to be a board member at a non-profit:

  1. I felt very passionately about the cause.
  2. A close friend or relative asked me.
  3. I had a vested interest in the work of the organization.
  4. I was flattered to be asked to provide my wisdom/guidance.
  5. There was some prestige, resume building, or additional perks.
  6. It would be a good opportunity for networking or may lead to a future job.
  7. To meet some like-minded people.

Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Danielle Piskadlo, Manager, Investing in Inclusive Finance, 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.

You may have noticed an uptick in headlines over the past few months announcing the selling of microfinance equity shares. Here are a few examples:  Accion sells 15 percent stake in Paraguay’s El Comercio to Incofin’s Rural Impulse Fund; Grupo ACP sells its 60.68 percent stake in Peru’s MiBanco to Edyficar; Triodos sells stake in Cambodia’s ACLEDA Bank to ORIX Corporation.

Expect to see more such headlines, as the number of exits from microfinance equity investments is anticipated to accelerate in the next couple of years as a result of a combination of different factors:

  1. Equity funds are maturing. Many funds were created around the same time and while some have no official time horizon, even patient capital reaches a point when it is time to consider moving on.
  2. Microfinance institutions (MFIs) are also maturing. Thanks to the patient capital and expertise of many initial microfinance investors, some MFIs are now so large and sophisticated that they need new investors with deeper pockets and different expertise to further their growth and development.
  3. Social investors are moving into new frontiers. Some social investors are reevaluating where their equity funding and participation can have the biggest impact, for example by moving into more rural or poorer countries. In a number of countries, regulatory environments are becoming friendlier to foreign microfinance investors now that they have a more proven track record.

Given that many social investors are seeking to pass the baton, what does it mean to exit an investment responsibly?

The freshly released paper, The Art of the Responsible Exit in Microfinance Equity Sales, dissects exactly this question. The paper, a joint effort of the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion (CFI) and the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), shares the thoughts and experiences of 50 investors and industry stakeholders on the topic of exiting an investment in a “responsible” manner.

What did we uncover?

Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Bob Bragar, Principal, Strategies for Impact Investors

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.

The following is the second of two posts in which Bob Bragar discusses some of the unique governance challenges faced by microfinance institutions, as explored through a governance workshop that Bob chaired at European Microfinance Week in November 2013. In this post, workshop panelists Matthias Adler, Principal Economist, KfW and N. Srinivasan, an independent director at Equitas Bank in India, discuss the importance of their positions for effective microfinance governance. To access the first post, click here.

Institutional microfinance investors have a special role to play in maintaining good governance in an MFI, and this can take unexpected turns.

Matthias Adler from KfW spoke about the special concerns that his institution has. KfW is a major German public sector investor that is required by law to have board representation in the institutions in which it invests. As a result, KfW has developed special practices to strengthen the quality of their widespread board participation.

In particular, KfW has developed rules to create strict “Chinese walls” (information barriers) between their board members and the investment staff at KfW. Why? Because they are very aware of the potential for conflicts of interests between a board member’s duty to look (only and foremost) after the interests of the MFI, and the interests of individual investors. They make sure that a KfW board member will not return to headquarters and report on an MFI board meeting to his colleagues. In KfW’s view, this practice increases transparency and reduces the potential for distrust on the part of the MFI’s management. Management may need to obtain guidance from its board without always speaking directly to the investors. And if management is less forthcoming, the board cannot do its job.

Numbers And Finance

While this concern is not exclusive to MFI investors, in the small world of microfinance, with its limited number of players, the concerns are all the greater.

KfW, as a leading microfinance investor, also wants to ensure that boards of directors have all of the skills they need. So KfW helps boards with needed training.

In the final presentation, N. Srinivasan, an independent board member of Equitas Bank in India, spoke persuasively about the value of truly independent directors who balance the needs of all MFI stakeholders.

Read the rest of this entry »

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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.