Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mainstreaming Microfinance: Malegam Report and Artoo

Lately, the micro-finance industry reports have been squarely in two opposing camps: unconscionable profiteers or saviours for stimulating the economy for the poorest of poor. If nothing else, the Malegam report, as an official, publicly available document from India, shifts the conversation from sensationalist news items to promote informed debate. Additionally, having regulations (such as the 24% cap on interest rates, 25K rupee limit on loan size, max 2 lenders for 1 client etc) outlined in the report, mainstreams a  capital procurement instrument for the poor - a population not served by traditional capital markets.The debate is no longer whether micro-finance works or not- the debate is how to make it work better for the client as well as the lender. While many practitioners view the report favourably, some may argue otherwise; that the Malegam restrictions favor the bigger MFIs or that the industry will no longer be self-sustaining or that the restrictions are unenforceable. I think the report is a fantastic development irrespective of the specifics of the debate because it brings micro-finance into the mainstream.

In addition to all the analyses you can read for yourself (google or follow link above) I have another point to make- The report, with its concrete guidelines will spur technology innovation in bringing down the cost of transactions. IT hardware as well as software exits to bring transparency which reduces corruption and automation to reduce cost/transaction (of the large number of small loans MFI must deal with that raise their costs) but so far the MFI industry has been somewhat tech-averse - it increases risk to take a technology and market risk at the same time after all. With industry benchmarks to follow I believe entrepreneurs as well as established MFIs will be motivated to enlist technology to develop applications specif to the MFI industry.
For a specific example of "technology to the rescue" check out the initial results of start-up Artoo. Sameer Segal, founder of Artoo writes "we truly believe we can help MFIs bring their OER down to meet the new requirements".
Mainstreaming micro-finance will also allow the industry to open up new product offerings (e.g. savings accounts) that further benefit both client and lender.

1 comment:

Suresh Babu said...

Micro finance should benefit both the loaner and the borrower. This is very motto of this strategy if am not wrong. Thanks for the post on this topic!

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