Home Sweet Home: Mobilizing Microfinance for Housing

Next Billion, 11 April 2017 (with Sam Mendelson)

A thought experiment. What if we designed financial services based on the hierarchy of human needs? We would prioritize food, shelter … hmm. Shelter. That’s pretty high on the list.

Consider the financial portfolio of a typical reader of this site. What’s the single largest financial product this person has ever relied on? Most likely the answer will be a home mortgage. In fact, home mortgages comprise the bulk of retail credit in wealthy economies, nearly 90 percent in the U.S. and UK. And yet, housing finance plays but a bit part in the financial inclusion story. Habitat for Humanity, the world’s leading NGO dedicated to housing, estimates that while 1.2 billion people need improved shelter, only 2 percent of microfinance portfolios consist of housing loans. Why?

As a fundamental human need, housing has tremendous social returns. Substandard housing greatly deepens the effects of poverty. Exposure to the elements, poor ventilation and insufficient hygiene and sanitation facilities all contribute to poor health, including major killers such as childhood diarrhea. Poor building structures and risky locations undermine physical safety, vastly increase vulnerability, and are the leading cause of death following natural disasters. Lack of lighting and sufficient space limit children’s ability to study, affecting educational opportunities. Insufficient privacy and lack of toilet facilities can contribute to sexual assault and constrain opportunities for women and girls. And lack of clear property rights are major contributors to crime and social injustice, while creating a negative feedback loop by limiting families’ ability to invest in better housing. more →

A Tale of Four IPOs: Is Public Investment in Microfinance Becoming OK Again?

Next Billion, 25 January 2016

Podcast with Anna Kanze, Grassroots Capital Management. more →

Opportunity International and MyBucks: The Future of Digital Microfinance?

nextBillion, 21 June 2016

Co-authored with Gabriela Erice Garcia, e-MFP

Back in November 2015, a press release briefly made the rounds, announcing that “Opportunity, Inc. . . . has entered into a share purchase agreement to sell six banks serving sub-Saharan Africa to the MyBucks Group, a Luxembourg-based financial technology (fintech) company.” This generated some comments on LinkedIn and a blog by consultant Hannah Siedek, who recognized how unusual a deal this was and wondered if she should consider it “a good (or not so good) operation.” But aside from this, reaction has been surprisingly muted.

By all accounts, this should have been bigger news for the microfinance sector. One of the major microfinance networks selling six subsidiaries to a fintech startup, and doing so in sub-Saharan Africa – the global hub of innovation in mobile banking. At a time when technology and mobile money are the talk of the sector, how does a story like this pass under the radar? more →

Is the Global Findex survey overstating growth in financial inclusion?

NextBillion, 11 May 2015

Since it was published a few weeks ago, the 2014 Global Findex financial inclusion report has made a splash in media around the world. The headlines may have differed, but the articles all mention the key finding from the press release published by the World Bank: Massive Drop in Number of Unbanked. According to the Findex survey, which covered more than 150,000 people in 143 economies, the number of people with financial access grew from 51 percent to 62 percent between 2011 and 2014, a shift that reportedly represents a total of 700 million people worldwide.

While we highly appreciate the survey and the light it shines on the state of financial inclusion across the world, we are concerned about the accuracy of this headline finding. The growth it suggests is almost certainly overstated. To illustrate this concern, we suggest an alternative news headline, also based on the survey findings:

Number of Unbanked in U.S. and Eurozone Cut in Half

U.S. unbanked population drops from 12% to 6% in 2011-14; Eurozone cuts number of unbanked from 9 percent to 5 percent, according to report.

If this headline seems removed from reality, that’s because it is. more →