Interest rate cap will hurt rural families

Phnom Penh Post, 21 March 2017

On March 13, the National Bank of Cambodia announced a major new policy. Starting April 1, all microfinance institution operating in Cambodia will be required to lend at interest rates no higher than 18 percent per year. This is a deeply misguided regulation that will undo over a decade’s worth of successful financial policies.

At the dawn of this century, Cambodia’s financial sector was largely nonexistent. There were no ATMs, few bank branches, and equally few customers. In rural areas, there were no banks at all, and moneylenders held a monopoly on lending.

How times have changed!

Today’s village household has far greater control over its finances and is deeply connected to Cambodia’s growing economy. A farmer can borrow from a microfinance lender to buy seeds and fertiliser and set aside savings to help pay for his kids’ school fees. He can finance a solar panel to charge the phone that lets the family stay in touch with older children in the city, who themselves can send money home to the parents cheaply and reliably. None of this even requires the three-hour trip to town – a loan officer from a microfinance institution visits the village each week, while the village shopkeeper doubles as a microfinance agent who can send and receive payments. This picture is repeated in house after house, village after village, from the outskirts of Phnom Penh to the remotest corners of Cambodia. Today, in rural areas alone, half a million clients hold savings at microfinance institutions, and over a million borrow from them.

The new regulation puts all that under threat. more →

Preventing client over-indebtedness in Cambodia

e-MFP, 20 October 2016

This week marks Financial Inclusion Week. In support of this effort to highlight what Financial Inclusion means for the Platform, e-MFP would like to highlight the work being done in Cambodia by its members and partners, including ADA, BIO, FMO, Incofin, and Proparco, as well as by the MIMOSA Project.

From its beginnings as a hotbed of NGO activity to one of the world’s most active microfinance markets today, Cambodia has always traced its own path in the sector. A decade ago, access to finance in Cambodia was minimal. Today, the Cambodia Microfinance Association counts 2 million loans outstanding for a population of 15 million, along with a growing number of deposit accounts, remittances, and other financial products. The Symbiotics MIV 2016 survey reports Cambodia receiving nearly 10% of microfinance investments in the world, second only to India – a country whose population is nearly 100 times larger.

What happens in Cambodia affects across the entire microfinance sector. And on that front, Cambodia is once again tracing its own path. 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 →

Mexico: leading financial inclusion, while overindebtedness crisis brews

e-MFP, 2 Jul 2012

Last week, as its football team was preparing for its match with the Netherlands, Mexico hosted the International Forum for Financial Inclusion. It was an important event, opened by the President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, and attended by such notables as Christine Lagarde. By all accounts, it was an excellent meeting where representatives of financial regulators from around the world shared their experiences and strategies to promote financial inclusion in their countries.

But one thing stood out. During his speech, Jaime González Aguade, President of the Comisión Nacional Bancaria y de Valores (agency in charge of regulating Mexico’s financial sector) stated:

I have no reason to dispute his assertion. But one has to wonder — how should this leadership be reconciled with the high rates of overindebtedness among the country’s microfinance clients? And when the bubble bursts, might it not undermine the very efforts to expand financial inclusion that Mexico is promoting?

Microfinance self-regulation in India becomes official

e-MFP, 24 Jun 2014

Last week, MFIN, received official recognition from the Reserve Bank of India as a Self-Regulatory Organization in charge of regulating the activities of its members. This is the first time a financial organization received such official recognition in the country. Indeed, I’m not aware of any other countries that have a similar arrangement, so this may well be a global milestone as well.

This is a big deal that bodes well for the future development of the Indian microfinance sector. It also reminded me of an article co-authored by M-CRIL‘s Sanjay Sinha and myself back in January 2010, nearly a year before the onslought of the Andhra Pradesh crisis.  MFIN had been formed just months before, and had developed a Code of Conduct that included many important features, including strong limits to multiple lending – a maximum of 3 concurrent loans or combined amount of 50,000 rupees (~€750 at the time). However, we felt that as a purely self-regulatory institution, MFIN lacked the teeth to effectively monitor its members, and we made the case for a system quite similar to the one that’s just been implemented in India.   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 →

Microfinance, Regulation, and MIMOSA

e-MFP, 22 May 2014

Recently, I was reading the Economist and came across Charles Keating’s obituary.  That name means little to most readers outside the US, but for me it reminded of an idea that’s been percolating in my mind for quite some time now:  while rich countries offer valuable lessons for microfinance regulation, those lessons alone won’t be enough.

You see, Charles Keating was the poster-child of the Savings & Loan Crisis during the late-1980s, which saw the collapse of many of these small banks across the US, ending an unprecedented 50-year period of stability in the US banking sector. From today’s vantage point, that period is also difficult to understand. 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 →

Can self-regulation protect microfinance clients?

CGAP, 6 February 2013

Last month the Smart Campaign launched its certification program.  For those who care about client protection, this is an important and welcome milestone in what has been an impressive journey, involving a broad spectrum of activities to promote client protection.

In the first post in this series, Philippe Serres describes one such project by the French development organization AFD and the Cambodian Microfinance Association (CMA) to support implementation of the Client Protection Principles, including support for MFIs seeking to undergo the Smart Certification process itself.  Notably, this support comes alongside client protection requirements that funders like AFD, Proparco and FMO  have been incorporating into their financing agreements with MFIs.  Thus, not only are these funders supporting MFIs in their bid to strengthen client protection, they are increasingly making their funding conditional on the implementation of client protection practices.

In many respects, this is an exercise in self-regulation.  The arrival of Smart Certification presents a unique opportunity to take these efforts to the next level and apply this self-regulation to the entire microfinance market in Cambodia and beyond.  Read full article here.

Unstable Core: is the funding of the Indian microfinance sector structurally flawed?

MicrofinanceFocus, 27 December 2011

On October 14, 2010, the Andhra Pradesh government issued an Ordinance that effectively shut down the microfinance market in the state.  That shutdown continues to this day, with collections at negligible levels.  It’s clear that the AP microfinance market is dead and will not recover for years.

Important as AP has been to India microfinance, it is not everything.  Despite the year-long crisis, repayment rates in other states remain strong.  And though AP-oriented MFIs have been seriously or even terminally wounded, others have remained unscathed.

Despite this, in the intervening period funding for MFIs – largely dependent on a handful of Indian state and commercial banks – has persisted in a state of severe liquidity deficit.  more →