The micofinance identity crisis continues.
Pressure from all ends of the value chain continues to mount, further tightening the vice on the future of microfinance. Vishal Mehta, Co-founder and Partner of Lok Capital recently summarized investor sentiment by saying that, “the sector is not at all attractive unlike a year ago.”
As Lok Capital, a venture capital firm with investments in MFIs, is raising their red flag, SKS Microfinance is raising the upper limit of Foreign Institutional Investment in orer to shore up a balance sheet that has taken a beating over the past year.
While an infusion of capital might provide shareholders with some temporary comfort, larger issues in desperate need of resolution loom in the near future.
Yaseen Anwar, Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan recently spoke at the 5th Pakistan Microfinance Country Forum about the future of microfinance in Pakistan. His speech, while in depth, seemed to highlight the needs of everything from regulation reform to alternative delivery channels to financil literacy courses.
Further, with the harsh government-imposed restrictions placed on micro loans in Andhra Pradesh, a recent report has shown that in the absense of proper micro loan availability, borrowers are turning to non-traditional methods for credit.
In 59% of the sessions, respondents unanimously said that they had taken loans from money lenders in the absence of MFI credit. Daily finance companies—informal money lending entities—were the preferred choice of borrowers in 29% of the sessions.
This sense of confusion and uncertainty from investors through to borrowers are major growing pains that will need resolution sooner rather than later. A majority of borrowers in Andhra Pradesh have even stated that they would be willing to “repay loans if MFIs can disburse fresh credit”.
Things are not all in a disarray, however. International standardized regulations appear to be heading the way of MFIs.
The International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank group, is working with other institutions to promote global standards for corporate governance. 30 development finance institutions (DFIs) have agreed to adopt a set of standards based in part of IFC’s Corporate Governance Methodology.
The longer that regulation and consumer protection continue to be issues that are unmet in the microfinance industry, investors will stay at bay. These growing pains, while not indicative of a troubled industry, must be addressed through a collaboration of international organizations, governmental regulators, and MFI information-sharing. While I believe the industry is on the right path, the time to act is now.