My collaboration with Planet Rating has just yielded its first publication: the Microfinance Index of Market Outreach and Saturation (MIMOSA). Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:
Outreach. Competition. Access. Over-indebtedness. Hardly any discussion of microfinance goes by without hearing one or more of these words. At heart, they are different facets of the same question: what is the potential market for loans from Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) in a given country?
This is a question that has not yet been fully answered, nor is this the first attempt at answering it. Perhaps the best-done study thus far was a recent paper by a team at the University of Zurich, and there are several others that preceded it. However, none of these studies have been able to propose a methodology that would simultaneously be simple to use, show reasonably accurate results, and be easily applied to nearly all developing countries. That is the objective we have set for MIMOSA.
The release in April 2012 of the Global Findex database, created by the World Bank, provides a unique opportunity to accomplish this. The Global Findex is a dataset on the use of formal and informal financial services (bank accounts, savings, credit, payments, etc.), based on surveys of at least 1,000 individuals in each of the 148 countries covered, all conducted in 2011. Both the initial analysis by the survey authors, as well as most of the subsequent analysis of this extraordinary dataset has focused on the question of insufficient access to financial services. This paper zooms in on one component of financial access – credit – and asks the opposite question: when is there too much access?
Read the full study here.
Financial Access Initiative, 14 February 2013
It’s been over two years since the start of the great India insolvency. Four years since the Bosnia blight and No Pago Nicaragua. And nearly six years since the Morocco microfinance meltdown.
At this point, it’s reasonable to say that the first global crisis in microfinance has passed. Life is on the mend.
In a recent email, Alok Prasad, head of the Microfinance Institutions Network in India (MFIN) described its most recent quarterly report as “green shoots in evidence.” The numbers certainly bear him out. Elsewhere, investors speak of tightening their exposure to countries with overheating markets, pay attention to issues of overindebtedness, and are wary of the sort of runaway growth that was being posted by Indian MFIs back in 2008-10. more →
Financial Access Initiative, 11 January 2012; Microfinance Focus, 14 January 2012
If there’s one microfinance word that rose above all others in 2011, it’s overindebtedness. As of the time of writing, it racks up the highest count on CGAP blog’s tag cloud (not counting generic terms like “microfinance”). It seems fitting, then, to start 2012 with a blog post on this very subject.
When we talk about overindebtedness, it usually comes for the perspective of the industry’s responsibility, whether the MFI, funders, or regulators. Prevention of overindebtedness came up as the most widely evaluated client protection principle in the Smart Campaign’s survey of social rating agencies and microfinance investors.
This is, of course, all right and proper. It is the industry’s job to practice responsible lending, and avoiding overindebting clients deserves a place at the top of that agenda. But no matter the level of diligence on the part of lenders and financial education provided to clients, some borrowers will still become overindebted – be it because of bad business decisions, destabilizing macroeconomic shifts, or simply a string of bad luck. So what becomes of clients that, despite best efforts, still become overindebted? more →
Financial Access Initiative, 14 September 2011; MicrofinanceFocus, 15 September 2011
Some time ago, I had a conversation with a microfinance investor. What is the greatest challenge facing the sector? – I asked. His answer: multiple borrowing – multiple borrowing getting people into too much debt; multiple borrowing transforming micro-enterprise lending into consumer finance; multiple borrowing rewriting the traditional relationship between MFIs and their clients.
Of course, multiple borrowing is present in all of these cases. But thinking about multiple borrowing along these lines misunderstands the basic situation. Multiple borrowing isn’t a reflection of some recent or extreme developments to be ascribed to runaway growth, greed, or willing ignorance. And despite press articles to the contrary, it is neither a result of heavy market penetration, nor even saturation. No, multiple borrowing is an intrinsic part of the practice, one that has been with us for years. more →
Co-authored with Karuna Krishnaswamy; MicrofinanceFocus, 25 January 2011
Hyderabad has gone missing. And it seems nobody has noticed the absence. While academics and the press were scouring the villages of Andhra Pradesh in search of over-indebted borrowers and debt-induced suicides, and while politicians in the villages and government halls were busy protecting their beloved SHGs (and the vote banks they provide), Hyderabad up and vanished, leaving apparently no trace of its prior existence.
Naturally, we are referring not to the physical city, but to its microfinance market, as well as those of other cities in Andhra Pradesh. Make no mistake – microfinance lending in urban AP has been widespread, outpacing even that of the countryside. And yet, there seems to be little recognition of its existence and how it has been affected by the current crisis. more →
Co-authored with Sanjay Sinha; MicrofinanceFocus, 10 Jan 2010
We live in a time of object lessons. The economic crisis continues to buffet many countries, including the US, where the unemployment rate has now breached 10% for only the second time in the last 70 years, taking only 18 months to get there – the largest and steepest increase since World War II. Three years after the first rumblings in the US subprime mortgage market, many banks around the world are still ailing.
The microfinance industry has not been immune either – MFIs in countries as diverse as Nicaragua, Bosnia, and Morocco are under severe stress, while many others have seen their portfolio numbers deteriorate significantly. For the first time in its 11-year history, the industry’s flagship private investment vehicle – Blue Orchard’s Dexia Micro-Credit Fund – reported a net monthly loss.
The sector in India has thus far successfully avoided this fate. more →
MicrofinanceFocus, 17 Nov 2009
By most standards, microfinance is a young sector, and in many countries it can be said to still be in its infancy. Yet its continuing spectacular growth, especially in India, should give one pause – every time promoters celebrate another multi-million-client threshold, I wonder – how many more such thresholds are left? How do we know when we’ve arrived?
This is not a philosophical question – normally, markets send signals. New customer demand drops. Prices fall. Margins decrease. However, credit markets are funny animals – the hopeful, exuberant part of our human nature dictates that, when presented with the opportunity, we tend to overestimate our repayment capacities and borrow beyond our means. And when we can borrow from one lender to repay another, we can stretch the cycle out even further. The market signal gets delayed, while a bubble builds – when the signal does come, it is in the form of the bubble bursting. more →