Saving Chiapas, Saving Ourselves: How to avoid a repayment crisis in Mexico

Financial Access Initiative, 5 June 2013

My last two posts described the high risk of a repayment crisis in Chiapas, Mexico, and its potentially devastating consequences to the microfinance sector around the world.  But here is the good news: thus far there is no crisis, and one could still be avoided.

I have argued before that DFIs and other funders could leverage Smart Certification to enforce client protection practices and thus avoid the kind of overlending that’s happening in Chiapas.  However, that prescription alone would not work in Mexico, mainly because a large number of Mexican MFIs are independent of foreign funding, and there are many other lenders active in the same space, including consumer finance companies and large retailers that provide credit.

The answer to avoiding a repayment crisis in Mexico will thus require government action, most likely new legislation that would bring all lenders under a common set of regulatory standards.  Specifically, there are two key areas that must be addressed:
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Beyond the Microenterprise: the Case for Housing Loans

European Microfinance Platform, August 2012 Newsletter

Allow me an impertinent question, dear reader:  what was the largest loan you ever borrowed?  Now, let me venture a guess – was it your home mortgage?  If you answered no, then you probably fit either of three profiles:  1) you never had to buy a home, 2) you live in a country with limited financial access, or 3) you are very lucky.

Let’s set luck aside for the moment.  Why the first two assumptions?  Because in developed countries, mortgage finance takes by far the largest share of consumer credit.  In the US, mortgages on residential property account for 84% of average household debt.  In the UK, the number is 89%.  There is no question that the primary goal of retail lending in rich countries is to fund housing.  Now consider the numbers for housing loans in the microfinance sector.

They are depressingly small.  more →

What’s wrong and what’s right about consumer finance?

Financial Access Initiative, 8 May 2012

It’s the microfinance bête noire.  The great unspeakable.  The furtive shadow slinking down the narrow alleys of poverty.  Yes, the consumer loan.  Has microfinance really come to this, we ask?  Helping the poor buy a TV?  Charging 40% interest for the couch to go in front of that TV?  And what about family celebrations, festivals, dowries?  Is that really what microcredit is for?

Consumption lending has been creeping out from the shadows for some time, but mostly for “good” consumption like school fees, urgent medical care, or basic needs like food during those difficult periods when income is scarce.  Still, for many of us the TV-on-credit notion that represents what is so easy to think of as “bad” consumption remains too painful an idea to swallow.

But how to draw the line?  If not the TV, then what about a microwave?  A motorbike?  Plumbing in the home?  Is there a framework one can use to evaluate when consumer credit is acceptable and when it is not?  No less importantly, how does an institution dedicated to serving poor customers decide what type of funding mechanism – savings or credit – is more appropriate for a given purpose?  more →