This opinion piece was contributed by David MacDougall, a consultant based in the US city of New York.
Microfinance inspires optimism. Investors – especially private equity investors – anticipate handsome returns; aid agencies see strong social impact; and microfinance institution (MFI) managers are certain they can grow themselves out of every tight situation. While microfinance can play an important role in development, most MFIs nevertheless are relatively simple financial institutions that need to be grounded in sound market and business principles rather than pie-in-the-sky expectations. These “Business 101” principles, which may sound like common sense truisms, in my experience, have not trickled down to many MFIs. In over 10 years of examining the viability of MFI business models as an analyst and risk manager, I have seen decision makers fail again and again to do reality checks. What’s still urgently needed is sound market analysis and professional risk management.
Movistar, the Spanish mobile phone operator owned by Telefónica S.A., and MasterCard, the US-based payments and technology company, recently launched “Tu dinero móvil” (Your mobile money), which reportedly is the first electronic money service operating in Peru . The service will allow Movistar’s 16 million mobile users in Peru to perform financial transactions such as depositing and withdrawing money, refilling mobile balances and purchasing goods in the 65,000 establishments in Peru that are affiliated with MasterCard .
Développement international Desjardins (DID), a Canadian nonprofit providing technical support and investment for the community finance sector in emerging economies, has announced that it will establish four new entrepreneur financial centers (EFCs) in Africa and Latin America.
Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (BNDES), the Brazilian government’s development bank, reportedly has announced that it will loan USD 100 million to Banco do Nordeste do Brasil (BNB), a public bank operating in Brazil’s Northeastern Region.
The Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF), a member of the US-based Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), recently announced that it has partnered with Asociación Dominicana para el Desarrollo de la Mujer (ADOPEM), a microfinance institution (MFI) in the Dominican Republic, and Nestlé Dominican Republic, a unit of the Switzerland-based multinational food and beverage company, to develop a project that will give low-income women in the country an opportunity to operate micro-franchises to distribute Nestlé products in their communities .
Absolute Portfolio Management (APM), an arm of Austria-based asset management group C-Quadrat, recently informed MicroCapital that it disbursed credits totaling the approximate equivalent of USD 8.5 million from its two Vision Microfinance funds, the Dual Return Fund-Vision Microfinance and the Dual Return Fund-Vision Microfinance Local Currency, to unspecified microfinance institutions (MFIs) in Cambodia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru.
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), a US-based multilateral finance institution that operates in Latin America and the Caribbean, recently approved a loan of USD 30 million to the government of Paraguay.
Digicel, a Bermuda-based cellular network provider that operates in 30 markets in the Caribbean, Central America and the Pacific, recently invested USD 5 million in Bima, a Sweden-based mobile microinsurance provider that operates in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central America and the Pacific, to expand microinsurance product offerings in the Caribbean and the Asia-Pacific region.
The International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the US-based World Bank Group that offers financial services to businesses and governments in developing countries with the aim of increasing economic growth, recently announced that it purchased the entire stake of ordinary bonds recently issued by Bancamía S.A. (Corporation), a Colombian microfinance institution (MFI).
Développement international Desjardins (DID), a Canadian nonprofit providing technical support and investment for the community finance sector in emerging economies, and Financière agricole du Québec – Développement international (FADQDI), a Canadian nonprofit that aims to promote rural economic development, recently announced that they will launch a joint project with the aim of supporting the agricultural sector in Colombia.
According to the Global Microscope on the Microfinance Business Environment 2014, a recent report by the UK-based Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Peru is the top country in enabling microfinance for the seventh consecutive year.
Credit Suisse, a Swiss global financial services company with operations in 50 countries, has agreed to donate an undisclosed sum to Opportunity International, a US-based nonprofit providing microfinance in 22 countries, to launch a three-year program entitled “Empowering Generational Change Through Education” that focuses on lending for education initiatives.
The International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the US-based World Bank Group that offers financial services to businesses and governments in developing countries with the aim of increasing economic growth, recently announced that it will provide USD 18 million to La Positva Seguros Generales, a Peru-based insurance company, through a convertible subordinated loan to expand the availability of insurance to disadvantaged populations within Peru.
Event Name: Fifth Annual Latin American Impact Investment Forum (Foro Latinamericano de Inversion de Impacto)
Event Dates: February 24-26, 2015
Event Location: Hyatt Regency Merida, Merida, Mexico
Absolute Portfolio Management (APM), an arm of Austria-based asset management group C-Quadrat, recently informed MicroCapital that it disbursed credits totaling approximately USD 11 million from its two Vision Microfinance funds, the Dual Return Fund-Vision Microfinance and the Dual Return Fund-Vision Microfinance Local Currency, to unspecified microfinance institutions (MFIs) in Cambodia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico and India.
“Multiple borrowing was endemic,” in Bangladesh as of 2008, says Shameran Abed, the director of microfinance at Bangladesh-based Brac International, “but we didn’t know if this was bad, although we knew it was a risk.” Mr Abed was speaking this morning at the opening plenary of the last day of European Microfinance Week, which is organized by the Luxembourgish NGO European Microfinance Platform (e-MFP). In the past, he explained, the members of borrowing groups were good at letting Brac staff know who was a good credit risk. As the market was getting saturated, “Groups became less cohesive, so we couldn’t totally rely on them to tell us if individuals were becoming overindebted.”
Absolute Portfolio Management (APM), an arm of Austria-based asset management group C-Quadrat, recently informed MicroCapital that it has disbursed credits worth approximately USD 1.5 million to an unspecified microfinance institution (MFI) in Ecuador from its Vision Microfinance funds – the Dual Return Fund-Vision Microfinance and the Dual Return Fund-Vision Microfinance Local Currency .
MicroCapital: Please describe one of the key issues to be covered this year at European Microfinance Week.
Christoph Pausch: The question of over-indebtedness is still the major risk for the sector, as identified in the most recent Banana Skins survey. We had a very successful plenary last year exploring the issue from a research perspective. This year, we’re taking a very different approach by bringing CEOs of leading microfinance institutions (MFIs) from three countries – Bangladesh, Morocco, and Mexico – to discuss how they’ve been dealing with the issue. Each of these countries has had a different experience, with Bangladesh having successfully averted a potential crisis by slowing market growth (as described in an excellent paper by Stuart Rutherford and Greg Chen). Morocco was one of the original “microfinance crisis” countries during 2008 and 2009, and the MFIs there have had an interesting experience in resolving the problems from that period. Finally, Mexico is a major market with serious concerns regarding over-indebtedness, and MFIs there are working to avert a potential crisis.