Last night FAI had the pleasure of co-hosting a lively and informative panel discussion on the impact of cash transfers in international development with the Microfinance Club of New York. The panel (moderated by FAI's Timothy Ogden) included Paul Niehaus and Jeremy Schapiro, co-founders of GiveDirectly, Jenny Aker, Assistant Professor of Development Economics at The Fletcher School, and Johannes Haushofer, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs at Princeton University.
As is to be expected when you mix practitioners and academics, the evening's conversations had a good mix of thoughtful insights, debates, and allusions to other bodies of work for futher research. Below is a list of what was mentioned as well as some additional items we feel are a nice complement for the issues raised by the panelists, including a new FAI infographic showing what we know so far about microcredit. . . Read More
Recently Upsides sat down with FAI’s Jonathan Morduch to discuss his views on the current state of microfinance and his current project – US Financial Diaries. Morduch highlights that whether in the developing world or the US, the poor face many of the same financial struggles, which is why understanding money management strategies at the household level a crucial step to providing more effective financial services to the poor . . . Read More
What does it mean to live between poverty and the middle class? In a multi-media report released last week, Al Jazeera America digs into the lives of 5 Californian families that "earn too much to receive most government benefits yet too little to reliably make ends meet."
The piece profiles families with income below the self-sufficiency standard, a measure developed by the University of Washington in the 1990s. The self-sufficiency standard varies from household to household. It takes into account regional cost-of-living, ages of household members, and all major budget items. More people live below this standard than the federal poverty line, which doesn't allow for geographic cost differences and is based on assumptions about only the food portion of household budgets. According to Al Jazeera's report, the average self-sufficiency standard for a family of 4 in California is an annual income of $63,979 while the federal poverty threshold is only $23,850 . . Read More
I recently attended the launch event for Bill Easterly’s latest book, The Tyranny of Experts. His thesis is that international development policies have been determined by a group of so-called experts, who both ignore the rights of the poor and systemically violate those rights. After his presentation, Professor Easterly urged the audience to start more discussions that highlight a rights-based development agenda.
This call to action prompted me to think about how the provision of financial services can advance the rights of the poor, and reminded me of my first-hand experience with Slum Dwellers International (SDI) in Uganda. SDI is a grassroots organization of the urban poor that started in India in 1996 but now works in 33 countries . . . Read More
Today The New York Times features a perspective from Shaila Dewan on the importance of credit and saving in the lives of the poor. Dewan highlights that life without credit can be expensive and severly limiting in terms of accessing housing and other services or dealing with emergencies. She also notes that savings and credit are interconnected and quotes FAI's Jonathan Morduch on his own observations of the relationship between this activities from his research in Bangladesh . . . Read More
A recent report of the Gates Foundation, from their program on Financial Services for the Poor, highlights payment systems as a way of “Fighting Poverty, Profitably” – as the report says in its title. Payment systems, according to the report, “could serve as the connective tissue for bringing a broader array of financial services to the poor”.
The report brings together the existing data on payment systems to analyze how potential payments service providers could profitably extend their services to underserved populations in developing countries. They identify four cost and revenue centers – accounts, cash-in-cash-out, transfers, and what they term “adjacencies” – in their framework, and argue for revenue models built on three of the four (cash-in-cash-out, transfers, and adjacencies) to best give companies an incentive to serve the poor.
In countries that have already embraced mobile payment systems, such as Kenya, some of the most exciting action is occurring in adjacencies . . . Read More
In 2011, microfinance providers reached fewer total people than they did in 2010, as well as fewer people living in extreme poverty, according to the 2013 State of the Campaign Report, which is released annually by the Microcredit Summit Campaign. Entitled “Vulnerability,” the report presents some stark findings. This is the first time the number of microfinance clients has decreased since the Campaign began its conducting research on the industry in 1998. This overall decrease occurred despite an expansion of 1.4 million more clients in sub-Saharan Africa. Most of this reduction occurred in India, and was in part due to the microfinance crisis that began in Andhra Pradesh in late 2010.
There are a number of reasons for the slowdown. Microfinance institutions (MFIs) are more likely to go to markets that have already proven to be successful. Reaching poorer and more remote clients is generally more difficult and costly for organizations. Additionally, data limitations make it hard to know when local markets are saturated. Maturing markets, the global economic crisis, investor wariness, and donor fatigue also contributed to the slowdown . . . Read More
Cash is all the rage in development circles right now—whether it’s trying to drastically reduce the use of cash by the poor or drastically increase the use of cash by development agencies (both public and private). There isn’t an actual conflict here. In the first case, the idea is to reduce the use of the physical artifact of cash; the latter is all about increasing the direct transfer of money to the poor. So the two efforts are actually complementary: reducing the use of physical cash makes transferring money cheaper and more feasible.
The cost and risk of transporting, transferring and tracking physical cash has always been one of the major objections to cash transfer programs. Another is the idea that poor households won’t use cash well. At various times and places you can find someone arguing that the poor lack the training, education, sophistication, access to quality goods and services, impulse control, security, or moral sensibility to make cash transfers a good use of funds.
That position has always had little evidence on its side . . . Read More
Much of the dialogue around microfinance suggests that the poor are universally credit constrained and that cash shortages drive a monolithic demand for credit. As such, microfinance is often treated as a technical, rational and linear process that is characterized by an “if-you-build-it-they-will-come” mindset. Too often overlooked are the contextually specific and nuanced processes that influence consumers’ demand for microcredit in a variety of social, moral, cultural, and political contexts.
A fascinating new paper, “Explaining Participation and Repayment in Microcredit Schemes in Rural Morocco: the Role of Social Norms and Actors,” from the Institute of Research for Development at the Sorbonne University explores exactly these dimensions of microfinance. Drawing upon evidence collected from rural Morocco, the team of authors explores the socio-cultural factors that influence a household’s use of microcredit services . . . Read More
It's an important moment for the microfinance movement. At a time when real progress has been made in making financial services available to the poor, questions abound about the effectiveness of microfinance as a way of helping people escape from poverty. The priveleged position microfinance has enjoyed among poverty interventions and social investment is eroding. Charting the right path forward for microfinance--and effective investments in reducing poverty--requires a closer look at how microfinance really has worked . . . Read More
Jonathan Morduch talks about the reality of the poverty in a keynote address at The College of St. Scholastica. Read More
It's been over two years since the start of the great India insolvency. Four years since the Bosnia blight and No Pago Nicaragua. And nearly six years since the Morocco microfinance meltdown.
At this point, it's reasonable to say that the first global crisis in microfinance has passed. Life is on the mend.
In a recent email, Alok Prasad, head of the Microfinance Institutions Network in India (MFIN) described its most recent quarterly report as "green shoots in evidence." The numbers certainly bear him out. Elsewhere, investors speak of tightening their exposure to countries with overheating markets, pay attention to issues of overindebtedness, and are wary of the sort of runaway growth that was being posted by Indian MFIs back in 2008-10.
Development of sector-level infrastructure is likewise moving apace, with ever increasing credit bureau coverage of microfinance clients and increasing implementation of client protection practices . . . Read More
What’s next in financial access in 2013? Bindu Ananth and Deepti George say a focus on measuring and improving quality.
It has been over four years since we started KGFS, an attempt to provide a complete suite of financial services to financially excluded low-income households in India. Our journey began in the village of Karambayyam in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu. In that village of 3200 households that has no other formal financial institution, the KGFS branch and its three wealth managers have enrolled 2030 households and created a customised financial well-being report for each of them. Following up on these reports has resulted in the sale of 4966 insurance policies, 300 pension policies and credit disbursements of USD 2mn with no losses for this single branch. Mid-line results from an impact evaluation being conducted by Rohini Pande and Erica Field suggest that the presence of a KGFS branch has a significant impact on reducing the stock of informal, expensive debt. Over the last four years, we have built five independently managed KGFS institutions in five distinct regions of the country. These institutions together comprise a total network of 170 branches and are now serving about 300,000 households. The first of these institutions, with 68 branches in Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu, turned profitable within four years of inception . . . Read More
Last November, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office of Financial Empowerment hosted a conference on “Empowering Low-Income and Economically Vulnerable Consumers: Making the Case through Access, Data and Scale.” A key highlight of the conference was a breakout session about the incentives and obstacles to collecting data in the field. Leading the session were representatives from LISC, NeighborWorks, CGAP and the University of North Carolina’s Center for Community Capital. Everyone agreed that we need more rigorous data. What was less clear was exactly how to get there. Two key questions emerged throughout the day:What outcomes are we measuring? And, how do we collect data?
What outcomes are we measuring? Read More
One of the big changes observed in discussions over microfinance in the past few years has been increasing emphasis on discussing microfinance, rather than just microcredit. In practice this has meant a lot of discussion about microsavings, with advocates pointing to studies showing greater impacts from offering savings accounts than from offering loans.
But finance is about much more than just savings and loans. As emphasized in Portfolios of the Poor, one of the issues with living on $2 a day is that incomes for the poor are incredibly volatile, so that the $2 a day average masks days of nothing and days of higher incomes. Building up precautionary savings offers one way to help smooth these shocks, while credit provides another. But some of the shocks experienced by the poor are large enough when they occur that they wipe out savings and leave people in a position where they will struggle to either obtain loans or be able to repay them straight away . . . Read More
We do our best (not always successfully) to keep up with new research relevant to finance, poverty and development. Today, I’ll be sharing highlights from some new papers by FAI affiliate Sendhil Mullainathan.
In “Behavioral Design: A New Approach to Development Policy,” Mullainathan andSaugato Datta advocate for employing a behaviorally-informed economic perspective to design development policies and programs. Since behavioral economics helps us understand why people behave as they do, analyzing development policies through a behavioral lens allows us to make better policy diagnoses, which in turn lead to better-designed policies.
Mullainathan and Datta outline three ways in which behavioral economics can improve program design. First, it can change how we diagnose problems . . . Read More
In microfinance circles, people tend to be fond of asking the question, “Does microfinance work?” Over the last decade, countless studies have attempted to answer this question by studying the net impact of microcredit on the lives of borrowers. Yet, these impact studies don’t necessarily tell us much about the nuances of how organization-level factors might influence the final impact of microcredit. NYU Economist Hunt Alcott and FAI Affiliate Sendhil Mullainathan have a recent paper that notes that the MFIs that participate in rigorous impact evaluation aren’t like MFIs in general. But there is a very important deeper level of analysis that is important. Little attention has been paid to how individual groups and actors shape the nature of microfinance services – that is, how the behaviors of funders, bank executives, and front-line loan officers might fundamentally alter the delivery and outcome of microlending.
Here at FAI, we’re not just interested in financial products but in how systems and people interact to make the right (or wrong) products available (or unavailable). For example, why do loan officers behave as they do? What incentives affect a loan officer’s job performance and how? How does the relationship between the loan officer and the client influence the borrowing and repayment process? Read More
Intuitively, insurance should be highly appealing to poor households for two reasons—they face a lot of risks, and have few resources to effectively deal with negative shocks. But microinsurance hasn’t taken off. That leads to two main questions: Does microinsurance provide the benefits that we theoretically think it does? And if so, how do we overcome the barriers that are preventing people from buying insurance? Of course, the answer to the second is quite dependent on the answer to the first.
A new paper by Cole, Giné and Vickery presented at Innovations for Poverty Action’s recent Impact and Policy Conference in Bangkok tries to uncover some answers on the real world impact of microinsurance not just in terms of protection from an actual shock. One possible benefit of microinsurance is that it allows poor households to make different choices because they have to worry less about the impact of a shock . . . Read More
In Due Diligence, David Roodman confronts important questions about the impact of microfinance and discusses how governments, foundations, and investors can best support financial services for the poor. In particular, Roodman argues for the need to deemphasize microcredit in favor of other financial services.
To learn more about Due Diligence and Roodman’s perspectives on microfinance, please join us on October 3rd for a conversation with David Roodman and Jonathan Morduch (RSVP). You can also listen to previous conversations with Timothy Ogden and Jonathan Morduch on the state of microfinance today.
In case you haven’t had time to read the book before the event, here’s a cheat sheet of sorts . . . Read More
Last week Public Radio International reported on two young middle-class Indian men who spent three weeks in Bangalore living on 100 rupees a day followed by one week living at India’s controversial new poverty line of 32 rupees a day (roughly equal to 60 cents). “When you’re living on that amount, life is all about innovation,” says Tushar Vashisht in this story“…because every hour you’re thinking at least 10 minutes on that hour how you’re going to survive the next hour.” It's an interesting story that underscores many of the findings from Portfolios of the Poor: How the Worlds’s Poor Live on $2 a Day, foremost among them is that these two young men used savings to fund their daily existence. They didn’t experience the erratic shifts in daily income that characterizes poverty in India and other parts of the global south. “Somebody doesn’t pop out of the ground and give you $2 every day,” says Daryl Collins, co-author of Portfolios of the Poor, in this PRI story. “What is the most difficult is that sometimes it’s $5 and then it’s nothing and then it’s $1 and then it’s $2 and then it goes back to nothing.” Additionally, she adds “Somebody who is living on 100 rupees a day, they could indeed be living on 40 rupees a day because they are sending so much back home to the villages." Read More