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.
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.
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. I look forward to seeing it thrive and set an example for others.
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 shows just how few chairs are left.
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.
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.
A recent article by the Economist hails a study in Bangladesh by Shahidur Khandker as "the biggest study so far [which] finds that microcredit helps the poor after all." Within the sector, the article has been widely circulated as proof that, indeed, microfinance does work.
As the microfinance industry has grown, there has been an increasing focus on the non-financial impacts that microfinance institutions (MFIs) can have. While the industry developed to tackle socio-economic issues through providing access to finance, its impressive growth led to increasing evaluation of MFIs potential social and environmental impacts. As a result, MFIs are increasingly expected to consider a broader spectrum of issues in their operations.