It hardly needs saying that Climate Change represents the greatest issue we face today. Slowly – excruciatingly so – action is being taken at the macro level, reining in carbon emissions to attempt to keep global temperature increases within manageable levels. However, tacking Climate Change requires battles on many fronts, and not just on the mitigation side (minimising the actual Climate Change that takes place) but on the adaptation side too: how can we live in a world with a climate different to that we’ve had before? This is the challenge selected as the theme of the €100,000 European Microfinance Award 2019, which launches mid-March. Entitled “Strengthening Resilience to Climate Change”, it highlights the important role of the financial inclusion sector in increasing the resilience of low-income and financially excluded populations vulnerable to the effects of Climate Change.
The Luxembourg microfinance community has just added a new member – the Social Performance Task Force (SPTF) launched its European presence, headed by Jurgen Hammer in the House of Microfinance, Luxembourg. For us at e-MFP, this is a very welcome step! The Social Performance Task Force is a major force in the financial inclusion sector, having spent the past decade developing a range of standards and tools to measure the too-often overlooked second part of the double bottom line – standards and tools based on long-running consultations and input from practitioners, investors, and assessors.
There were two topics that dominated debate at the recent European Microfinance Week (EMW) conference: the threats and opportunities brought about by the fintech revolution in inclusive finance, and the issue of financial inclusion for refugees and internally displaced persons. The event, organized by the European Microfinance Platform (e-MFP), provided the venue for a discussion of these issues that ranged from hopeful to surprisingly cautionary. EMW 2018 focused heavily on the spectre – or, depending on your perspective, the promise – of technology. The theme was approached from many angles, as panelists explored the opportunities and risks of digital financial services, Big Data and new fintech entrants into the sector. It was even the focus of the 2018 European Microfinance Award, Financial Inclusion through Technology. The opening plenary captured both sides of the issue, with a keynote speech from Graham Wright of MicroSave – who played the Cassandra role that suits him so well to implore the inclusive finance sector to pay attention to the risks that technology can pose to clients and institutions.
e-MFP today launches the Financial Inclusion Compass 2018 – its new publication on emerging short, medium and long-term trends in the financial inclusion sector, based on a mixed-methodology survey of e-MFP members and key industry stakeholders, to see where the sector has come from, as well as where it is going. The Compass was conceived to be a way to leverage e-MFP’s multi-stakeholder membership and position in the inclusive finance community, while capturing too some of the dynamic debate from the workshops at the annual European Microfinance Week, giving a wide array of practitioners, investors, donors, academics and support service providers the opportunity to assess and describe the importance of various Trends, select and give opinions on New Areas of Focus, and provide open-comment qualitative input on the expected (and hoped-for) direction of financial inclusion progress
This is the final in a publication series of three interview pieces with the three finalists for the European Microfinance Award on "Financial Inclusion through Technology". KMF is an NBFI in Kazakhstan that operates in one of the most sparsely population regions of the world, beset by unstable telecommunications networks in the remote areas where almost half the population lives. To reach clients and improve efficiencies in this challenging context, KMF uses in-house developed tablet software – called Mobile Expert – that communicates remotely with its core banking system to ensure that loan officers, management, loan recovery and internal control teams can schedule loan officers’ work, capture loan applications, make loan approval decisions, monitor and recover late loans, and conduct internal control visits in the field. Crucially in this context, this software can be used both on- and offline, allowing management to monitor field activities in close to real time even over long distances. KMF was noted for its development of its software in-house, and its response to the exceptional challenges of serving remote clients over such distances.
This is the second in a publication series of three interview pieces with the three finalists for the European Microfinance Award on "Financial Inclusion through Technology". ESAF Small Finance Bank (ESAF SFB) is an Indian MFI that is leveraging the rapid expansion of mobile phone and smartphone penetration in India to digitise a wide range of its lending processes, in particular customer onboarding, electronic applications, customer financial training, credit appraisal, in-field verification, mandatory customer identity and address verification using eKYC, as well as opening of accounts, cashless disbursement and paperless collections of loan repayments. ESAF’s field officers use Internet-connected tablets with biometric identity verification and its clients have QR-enabled Aadhaar Cards – with Government-issued 12-digit unique identify numbers based on biometric and demographic data. Their details are automatically transmitted for credit bureau verification, and clients are given ATM cards to withdraw money in convenient tranches from any ATM.
This is the first in a publication series of three interview pieces with the three finalists for the European Microfinance Award on "Financial Inclusion through Technology". Advans Côte d'Ivoire (Advans CI) is a NBFI in the Ivory Coast which offers payment, saving and credit services enabled by an Advans account linked to a MTN mobile money account. Advans CI has responded to traceability and safety issues faced by cooperatives paying cocoa farmers, as well as low school enrolment due to lack of regular cashflow among farmers, by offering its digital savings and payment solution, with wallet-to-bank and bank-to-wallet transfer services, enabling producers’ cooperatives to make digital payments to farmers for their crop revenue. Since 2017, Advans CI has been also providing small digital school loans, based on an algorithm reflecting farmers’ cashflows. Advans CI also successfully negotiated free MTN transfers between mobile wallets and Advans accounts for their farmer clients.
MicroCapital: How long have you been concerned about possible overheating in the Cambodian microfinance market? Kea Borann: Concerns of the market overheating started at least as early as 2015. Since then, the total outstanding portfolio of the industry has been growing at an average of 25 percent per year, even as the number of loans has remained unchanged at 2.3 million. This seems to mean that the same clients are taking on more debt when their loans are renewed. The average loan size grew from USD 1,691 to USD 3,003. Dina Pons: This phenomenon is coupled with another: While most loans had a tenor of 12 to 24 months in the past, we now see loan maturity as high as four or even five years.
Since the dawn of the commercialization of microfinance nearly two decades ago, investment in microfinance has been made on a widely-accepted premise: investors will receive a ‘market rate’ financial return, while pursuing a socially-motivated strategy. This premise is so widespread that it has taken on the allure of all groupthink – becoming an accepted truism, without necessarily being true. The double-bottom line – the equal focus on financial and social return – can be deceptive. The dilemma is that while financial return has a clear target, social return is more nebulous. What social return is really being promised? Is serving a certain segment of clients enough? Do additional products need to be offered? What about financial education?
The central contribution of the microfinance revolution has been the creation of long-term client relationships. More so than tangible collateral, these relationships are the foundation of the incentives structures that govern the interactions between microfinance institutions (MFIs) and their clients – and that contribute to the fulfillment of contract obligations. From this perspective, genuine microfinance has been a kind of ‘relational banking’ for the poor. This interpretation is consistent with the growing emphasis on ‘client centricity’ in financial inclusion and it focuses on the value of the relationship, as measured by its cost and quality. The quality of inclusion, on the one hand, brings together what is valued in the transaction, such as proximity, timeliness, transparency, adequacy with respect to actual client requirements, variety, sufficient amount, reliability, sustainability, respect and dignified treatment - and others. Cost, on the other hand, refers not only to financial charges (interest and fees), but also to all the opportunity costs incurred by the clients.