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Microfinance Problems – 9 Challenges for Microfinance Providers (Part 2)

This is the continuation of an earlier post about problems faced by microfinance institutions.

Microfinance Challenge 5: Mixing Charity With Business

Since credit without strict discipline is nothing but charity (Professor Yunus), if microfinance providers fail to protect themselves against loan delinquency, they will, in effect, prioritize social objectives at the expense of financial sustainability.

Improper delinquency management is a result of inadequate implementation of corporate governance principles, and formal as well as semi-formal microfinance providers often suffer from this. As a result, looser controls over microfinance deals will lead to higher default rates. Read more about the difficulty inmixing charity with business.

Microfinance Challenge 6: Lack of Customized Solutions for the Poor

Inappropriate targeting of poor households by microfinance programs is a common problem because MFIs fail to understand the varied needs of micro entrepreneurs. MFIs must spend time in the field with their clients and his/her business, and then use this research to develop customized microfinance tools for each micro entrepreneur.

Generalized solutions may work for large companies dealing dealing with large homogeneous customer groups, but microfinance providers need to serve the varied needs of individuals in each micro market segments.

Microfinance Challenge 7: Lack of microfinance training for Human Resource in Microfinance Institutions

Working in the microfinance sector is a different ball game compared to the traditional financial sector. For instance, microfinance officers and volunteers need to talk a different language, build lasting relationships with individual micro entrepreneurs, understand the unique needs of the poor, evaluate the borrower’s sustainability, and grasp the cultural nuances of the borrower’s communities (I’m sure I’ve missed a few).

Of course, all this needs to be done by large financial firms as well, but the needs and characteristics of the two markets are very different. It’s no surprise microfinance providers need special training to ensure they avoid problems such as intimidating or under-serving clients.

Read about developing a good human resource environment in microfinance institutions.

Microfinance Challenge 8: Poor Distribution System of Microfinance Institutions and lack of information about microfinance investment opportunities

There are over 10,000 MFIs across the world, but their reach is only 4% of the potential market.World Bank, 2001

Firstly, microfinance providers may be complacent with their client base in certain cities and feel no economic need (ignoring the social need to eradicate poverty) to spread out their distribution system to cater to the poorest of households. Secondly, micro entrepreneurs are sprawled over large geographical areas, often in remote places, which often makes them inaccessible to MFIs. This is a slight problem because even though there are over 10,000 MFIs around the world, they may not know about the existence and needs of certain micro entrepreneurs.

Microfinance Challenge 9: Dual mission of Microfinance Institutions to be Financially Sustainable as well as Development Oriented

Microfinance providers tend to forget their main objective is social development and not profit creation. The principle of ‘one micro entrepreneur – one micro loan’ is overlooked by profit-hungry MFIs who end up targeting the same individual for many loans and cause multiple borrowing (also known as credit pollution). This is a major problem because at the end of the day, that individual gets burdened by mounting interest payments and is pushed deeper into the folds of poverty. Poor governance on the side of MFIs as well as the micro entrepreneur are to blame for this.

All these problems can broadly fall into either financial and operational in nature and we can therefore see that they should not be impossible to solve as the microfinance sector moves towards it optimal performance level in the next several years. In other words, despite these problems, the prospects of microfinance are quite bright. In the coming weeks, we will look at potential solutions to all these problems, which aren’t difficult to adopt (a couple have been already been mentioned above).

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Microfinance Problems – 8 Challenges for Micro Entrepreneurs (Part 2)

This is the continuation of an earlier post about challenges faced by micro-entrepreneurs. You can read about challenges faced by microfinance providers, here.

Microfinance Challenge 5: Inability to exploit growth opportunities

The last point is a contributor to this problem, because a lack of access to funds means micro entrepreneurs cannot inject money into their businesses (say, to buy more resources or hire more people) to grow them after observing a surge in demand. Moreover, the remote locations of micro businesses means they have little information pertaining to their markets, such as customer needs and competitor strengths and weaknesses and so on. As a result, many critics may find faults with the idea of microfinance, not realizing that this isn’t really a problem, but just a challenge that can be overcome as the business grows and increases its capital base.

Microfinance Challenge 6: Few organizational resources and poor governance

Micro entrepreneurs have limited skills, qualifications and exposure to handling businesses. While they need to be trained through capacity building initiatives by the MFIs, many micro entrepreneurs may not grow as planned because of these problems. For instance, they may borrow more money than needed, or mis-allocate it in their business and end up bearing the burden of large interest payments instead of enjoying the fruits of their business. Again, critics may say microfinance is an ineffective way of alleviating poverty but this isn’t true. The flip side of this problem is linked to the governance issues faced by MFIs, which is discussed in the first part of this article.

Microfinance Challenge 7: Low bargaining power

In case micro entrepreneurs operate in competitive markets, their individual bargaining power is diminished when dealing with customers because of their small size. However, at the other end of the spectrum, there still isn’t any respite because micro entrepreneurs deal with MFIs on an individual basis, which also erodes their bargaining power. This isn’t really a problem for microfinance, but rather micro entrepreneurs.

Microfinance Challenge 8: Vulnerability to economic shocks

Micro entrepreneurs are particularly susceptible to sudden changes in customer demand, or the weather (even thoughmicrofinance can help with natural disasters) because their businesses cannot sustain losses owning to their small size (low capital). This may be a problem for the social objectives of microfinance providers but MFIs ensure their economic performance is untarnished by charging high interest rates  to compensate this risk (read 4 ways to control high interest rates).

Most problems faced by micro entrepreneurs are caused by their small size, varied locations and improper skills. Naturally, once the venture secures a loan and begins to grow, these problems will eventually subside. One may think the problems at the MFIs’ end, therefore, need greater attention but that wouldn’t be correct because poverty eradication is a very socially-integrated endeavor. Despite all this, one can say with great certainty that the prospects of microfinance are still great so these issue are certainly worth solving.

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Financial literacy in Microfinance – Principles and Global Initiatives

Community-based savings bank in Cambodia

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Financial literacy, which is the ownership of “skills and knowledge that equip individuals to make prudent financial decisions”, is vital for the safe functioning of conventional finance as well as microfinance. This idea draws support from the recent sub-prime crisis, the lack of pricing transparency in microfinance and the increasingly complex nature of microfinance services (micro-insurance, microloans, mobile banking, etc.), which are just some of the reasons financial literacy is needed.

Consumers must make informed decisions after evaluating the risks, costs, pros and cons in order to derive maximum value from their financial transactions.

Global Initiatives

The OECD recommended a set of good practices for financial education and awareness for governments in 2005. A year later, Canada instituted a Credit Education Week (November 13th to 16th) and two years later, The President’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy was created in America. Similarly, financial awareness campaigns have formally begun in countries such as Nigeria, India and Russia.

Principles for  Financial Education/Literacy

Some of OECD’s recommendations for good practices for financial education and awareness (applicable to both conventional finance as well as microfinance), are as follows:

Definition: financial education can be defined as “the process by which financial consumers/investors improve their understanding of financial products, concepts and risks and, through information, instruction and/or objective advice, develop the skills and confidence to become more aware of financial risks and opportunities, to make informed choices, to know where to go for help, and to take other effective actions to improve their financial well-being”. Financial education thus goes beyond the provision of financial information and advice.

Implementation: This financial capacity building, based on proper financial information and instruction, should be promoted. Financial education should be provided in a fair and unbiased manner. Programs should be co-ordinated and developed with efficiency.

Focus of Financial Education: Financial education programs should focus on high priority issues, which, depending on national circumstances, may include important aspects of financial life planning such as basic savings, private debt management or insurance as well as pre-requisites for financial awareness such as elementary financial mathematics and economics.

Role of Regulations: Financial education should be taken into account in the regulatory and administrative framework and considered as a tool to promote economic growth, confidence and stability, together with regulation of financial institutions and consumer protection…(read about role of regulations in microfinance – not part of excerpt)

Policy Tools: Appropriate measures should be taken when financial capacity is essential but deficiencies are observed. Other policy tools to consider are consumer protection and financial institution regulation. Without limiting the freedom to contract, default mechanisms, which take into consideration inadequate financial education or passive/inert behaviour, should be considered.

Responsible Parties: The role of financial institutions in financial education should be promoted and become part of their good governance with respect to their financial clients.

Customization and Duration: Financial education programs should be designed to meet the needs and the financial literacy level of their target audience, as well as reflect how their target audience prefers to receive financial information. Financial education should be regarded as a life-time, on-going and continuous process, in particular in order to take account of the increased complexity of markets, varying needs at different life stages, and increasingly complex information.

(Excerpted from  OECD’s Recommendation on Principles and Good Practices for Financial Education and Awareness – July 2005 )

Related posts:

Strategies for Growth of Microfinance – Pakistan

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Role of Regulations in Microfinance – Part II

Mobile money and microfinance

Credit: whiteafrican (flikr)

This is the second part of a two-post series on regulations in microfinance.

The Obvious Tradeoff: Product Range Versus Cost

As evident from the above list, prudentially regulated microfinance institutions (microfinance banks) are subject to strict rules regarding risk management, which requires MFBs to inject additional capital. The benefit of incurring extra costs is that MFBs are allowed to offer a full range of financial services to the public, including micro-savings, which offer a low-cost source of funds for MFIs.

This strategic benefit is beyond the grasp of non-prudentially regulated MFIs (such as NGOs and NBFCs) because public deposits may not necessarily be safe with them. However, MFIs free from the financial and monitoring burdens of prudential regulations enjoy greater flexibility in their operations.

Scope of Regulations for Nonbank E-Money Issuers

However, regulators around the world are beginning to introduce laws for non-bank issuers of e-money (i.e. branchless banking operators) that ensure customer funds are secure with them, according to a recent report by CGAP.

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Role of Regulations in Microfinance – Part I

Court of Justice of Paris.

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This is the first part of a two-post series on regulations in microfinance. Read Part 2 (Scope of regulations for Nonbank E-Money Issuers, Emerging regulatory issues for microfinance, Advantages and Drawbacks of Regulations in Microfinance).

As microfinance institutions penetrate economies through various services and channels, regulators must quickly adapt to the ever-changing environment to propel positive ideas and prevent any undesirable consequences. This article looks at the various types of regulations in the microfinance sector, their scope (for bank-led and non-bank-led operators), advantages as well as disadvantages.

Types of Regulations in Microfinance

According to CGAP, regulatory tools can be applied in three areas:

  • Microfinance and banking regulations: microfinance banks, non-banking finance companies involved in microfinance, NGOs, cooperatives, etc.
  • Branchless banking regulations: bank-led and non-bank led mobile banking service providers
  • Consumer protection regulations: applicable to all players in the microfinance sector.

Click here to see detailed resources on regulatory approaches to microfinance in different parts of the world.

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Debate: Commercialization of Microfinance Part III – Arguments For and Against it

Wall Street Sign. Author: Ramy Majouji

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This is the third part of a three-post series on commercialization in microfinance. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Commercialization Will Help Microfinance Survive In the Capitalist Market System

Profits serve as an added incentive to for microfinance providers to operate in the sector. Professor Yunus points out in his first book, Banker to the Poor, markets cannot survive without certain capitalist tools; hence, the profit maximization principle can be replaced with two goals (the double bottom line):

  • maximized financial returns (not necessarily indicative that MFIs should go the IPO route), and
  • social returns through corporate social responsibility, subject to the condition that profit cannot be negative.

The Double Bottom and Microfinance

Following the drift of the last point, some may feel that commercialization is justified if MFIs adopt the double bottom line; logic suggests if an MFI measures both financial and social performances, it will prevent a mission drift.

But is it really a double bottom line?

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