Viewing posts in series: What's Next: 2013

What's Next? External Validity

What’s next? Jonathan Morduch says: Making RCTs more useful.

When you’re thirsty, that first gulp of water is really satisfying. But after months of just drinking water, you’ll likely start hoping for more from your beverages.

I think that’s where we are with RCTs of microfinance.

The first microfinance RCTs were refreshing. They quenched a thirst for any credible, rigorous evidence on microcredit impacts. No one was particularly hankering for data specifically on microfinance in Manila, Hyderabad, Morocco, or Bosnia. But that’s what we got. It didn’t particularly matter where the studies were from, or what the particular financial methodology was, or who exactly the customers were. Especially since the results were not only credible but surprising and provocative. Researchers were opportunistic choosing sites and partners , and who can blame them?

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What's Next: Another Repayment Crisis?

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 . . . 

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What’s Next? Understanding—and Improving—Microenterprise Performance

Hundreds of millions of people in the developing world work in microenterprises. These businesses tend to be very small, often employing only a single operator, and they tend to have difficulty growing. Yet growing evidence suggests that such businesses could increase profits by increasing investment – a number of recent studies find that the marginal return to capital among small firms in developing countries tends to be very high (i.e. de Mel et al. 2008). If returns to capital are high, why don’t microenterprises borrow, invest and grow rapidly?

The obvious answer is that these firms don’t have access to credit. But while credit constraints are likely part of the explanation for the puzzle, accumulating evidence suggests that it’s not just credit that limits investment . . . 

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What's Next? Connecting Finance and Health

Focusing on financial access can sometimes obscure the rationale for doing so.  We don’t really care about access to finance for its own sake. The point of providing quality financial services to poor households is to give them an easier, more stable path to prosperity. But what are the pitfalls and slippery spots on that path that we hope to ameliorate?

It seems that financing health care is one of the biggest obstacles that poor households face. Take Joseph, a farmer from the Kenyan Rift Valley Province. When his three-year old daughter inhaled a piece of corn she began struggling to breathe. Joseph had no cash at the time, so he waited before visiting a doctor, hoping she would get better.  But after three days, symptoms became so serious that Joseph had to take his daughter to the hospital for emergency care. The only way Joseph could accumulate the sums necessary to pay the bill was to sell his land. When I met him two years later, it seemed unlikely that Joseph would ever be able to buy it back. Selling the land had pushed the household into extreme poverty . . . 

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What’s next for KGFS?

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 . . . 

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What’s Next? Chris Dunford on Proving the Consumption Smoothing Benefits of Microfinance

A new theory of change is emerging for microfinance. People from poor households tap microfinance services to smooth consumption and build assets to protect against risks ahead of time and cope with shocks and economic stress events after they occur—leading to widespread poverty alleviation but not widespread poverty reduction.

This is the narrative coming out of the financial diaries reviewed by Portfolios of the Poor and the research summarized in Poor Economics and Due Diligence. More or less independently, perhaps in spite of that research, the microfinance industry has been adjusting toward supporting resilience strategies of the poor as it has become more sensitive to client demand – by moving toward a mix of loan, saving and other services and greater flexibility and choice to accommodate the use of microfinance for supporting diverse household needs rather than focusing just on the needs of micro entrepreneurs . . . 

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What's Next: Five Factors – Beyond Mobile Money – that will make Financially-Inclusive G2P a Reality

What’s next? Jamie Zimmerman says it's the opportunity to make government-to-person payments a major vehicle of financial inclusion.

Mobile money and electronic payments have leaped to the fore of many financial access conversations.  Take the launch of the Better Than Cash Alliance (BTCA) and the recently released latest Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) strategy as prime examples. Some (Tim Ogden of FAI, Jesse Fripp of SBI and I for instance), have suggested tingeing the optimism over payments with  caution, citing several hurdles that we must still overcome, and questions we must answer, before payments can become a financial access success story . . . 

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What’s Next? David Mckenzie on Risk Isn’t Just for Farmers, but isn’t all bad either

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 . . . 

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What's Next: Financial Access in 2013

The microfinance space has never been a dull place. As the tumult of the last few years—debates about effectiveness, industry crises and crashes in several countries—seemingly dies down, it’s a good time to speculate about what’s next. It seems clear that “business as usual” in terms of rapid growth and expansion paired with unvarnished enthusiasm and uncritical praise is not what’s next.

So what is?

Over the next few weeks we’ll be running a series of blog posts from folks at FAI and around the financial access world offering their takes on what’s next. Some are calls to action, others are predictions, and others pose the important questions we need to answer now. If you’d like to contribute, send us a tweet @financialaccess.

Herewith are my thoughts on “What’s Next?” . . . 

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