Relatively light and supportive regulation of microfinance, systematic and graded requirements for deposit taking, and a positive approach to foreign private investors make Cambodia a very popular destination for international social investors. Not surprisingly, over the past decade, Cambodian microfinance has gone from a largely NGO domain to a haven of commercial microfinance where international NGOs remain but mostly (now) as commercial investors gradually cashing in on their grant investments of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
We think of microfinance as being ‘invented’ in Bangladesh in the 1970s. To be sure, Grameen was the genesis of modern microcredit, the provision of small, unsecured loans to mostly women, for enterprise development. But microfinance – defined more broadly as financial services to the poor – goes back as far as money and commerce.
I am not a regular blogger (does the noun exist ? It sounds slightly inappropriate) but I have succumbed to an invitation to share some hasty and ill-considered thoughts with a wider readership than myself. And, as is often the case, the subject is microfinance; I know quite a lot about it, if knowing means writing books about it, criticising it, directing and rating it, but like just about everyone who reads this note, I have never actually used it.
Since the microfinance sector broadened its focus from loans to financial inclusion, savings have become a major focus. And rightly so – the argument for providing poor customers with a safe and reliable place is backed by both robust research and common sense. Meanwhile, MFIs are already delivering on the promise: in 2011, MIX Market reported nearly 80 million depositors world-wide, with an average balance of $994.
The 2013 European Microfinance Week will open with a debate. Dr. Aris Alip, founder of the CARD group of companies in the Philippines and Dr. Michael Chu, Professor at Harvard Business School and former director of Accion will tackle the question: What is the goal of microfinance, lifting the poor out of poverty or financial access for all?