To Mexico: Days 2-3 and beyond

e-MFP, 24 October 2014

This is part 3 of a 3-part installment from my brief visit to Mexico in October 2014.  Read parts one and two.

The biggest mystery about Mexico is understanding the numbers. They just don’t quite seem to add up. And that’s what was dogging me throughout the visit, including the two days spent in Mexico City talking to various actors in the sector.

I was lucky – it just so happened that ProDesarrollo was releasing its 2013-14 Sector Benchmarking, and I managed to get myself invited to the event.  A great opportunity to network with many actors in the sector at once. I also got to see the presentation of the market figures. At the outset of the trip, I laid out several hypotheses.  It seems to me that there are really only two that matter more than all the rest:  1) the number of unique clients and number of loans they hold, and 2) the profile of the MFI clients on which the market rests. more →

To Mexico, Day 1: Tapachula, Chiapas

e-MFP, 24 October 2014

This is part 2 of a 3-part installment from my brief visit to Mexico in October 2014.  See: parts one and three.

My first stop in Mexico was a place I first heard about nearly two years ago:  Chiapas.  The state is in many ways one of the centers of Mexican microfinance.  According to ProDesarrollo’s 2013-14 Benchmarking, Chiapas is tied with much larger Veracruz for the largest number of the network’s members (32).  The number of MFI branches per population is nearly double the national average.  It’s also Mexico’s least developed state.

In all, I spent about 22 hours in Chiapas.  But even that paltry amount of time can prove revealing. more →

To Mexico: Hypothesizing about Overindebtedness

e-MFP, 6 October 2014

This is part 1 of a 3-part installment from my brief visit to Mexico in October 2014.  See: parts two and three.

I’m on my way to Mexico, for what I hope to be the start of a deeper exploration of overindebtedness in the country. Data analysis an ocean away can be revealing, but there’s nothing like seeing the numbers come alive when visiting the field. First stop: Tapachula, Chiapas.

Every analyst has his or her own approach. For me, I find it best to come with a number of hypotheses and then see to what extent reality reflects those initial preconceptions. I like to keep an open mind and am always willing to change my view. Still, having a pre-existing framework in mind helps structure field observations, especially when time is short.

I’ve already shared my thoughts on multiple borrowing and overindebtedness in Mexico, but those go back a couple of months. Since then, I’ve spent a fair bit of time digging deeper into the data and comparing Mexico to what I’ve seen elsewhere (including finalizing a study of Moroccan MFIs during 2008-13, including how they dealt with substantial multiple borrowing during 2009). Based on this and earlier work, I’m putting down some of my hypotheses below. more →

Microfinance in Mexico: The role of small loans

e-MFP, 7 Jul 2014

My latest post on the credit bubble in Mexico had one especially interesting comment.  Jose Manuel asked to consider the loan sizes in the country as a factor that might explain the prevalence of multiple borrowing.

The comment is highly relevant. What Jose Manuel suggests is that loans in Mexico are unusually small. And in a way, he is right. On a per capita GNI basis, Mexico’s loans are smaller than in any other country.  By contrast, India’s loans are nearly three times larger. This has two potential implications:  first, small microfinance loans put less of a burden on Mexican borrower incomes, and second, their inadequate size encourages clients to borrow from multiple lenders in order to meet their requirements. And yet, I find that both implications are incorrect and that multiple borrowing levels in Mexico continue to point to a very large bubble.  more →

Microfinance in Mexico: beyond the brink

e-MFP, 19 Jun 2014

You know the game of musical chairs: players sit on chairs arranged in a circle. The music starts and the players start circling – dancing, running – while chairs are progressively removed.  Then the music stops and chaos erupts as the players seek to find a place to sit.

In Mexico, the number of chairs remaining is few indeed, even as the MFIs continue to dance.  The recently published study by the Microfinance CEO Working Group has shown just few chairs are left.  More →

Mexico: Deja vu all over again?

e-MFP, 30 May 2014

Or the more things change, the more they stay the same…  Sometimes it seems as though there is no shortage of proverbs when it comes to looking at the seemingly inevitable credit business cycle. In my last blog I took a look at the unprecedented stability of the US banking sector during the 50 years following the Great Depression. Recent news from Mexico – in the form of a study by the Microfinance CEO Working Group – shows just how far away we’re from that world.

There’s much to say about that study, and also the Working Group itself, which deserves credit for the willingness to publicly share the data, no matter how distressing the findings might be.  And yes, they are distressing. More →

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:
more →

MIMOSA: first complete cross-market model of credit market capacity

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.

What’s Next: Another Repayment Crisis?

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 →

Freedom to Default: dealing with overindebtedness when all else fails

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 →