Research reveals best paths for success as microfinance sector grows

February 11, 2009

As the microfinance sector passes the 150 million customer mark, an intense debate continues over the movement toward greater commercialization of an arena once led by nonprofits. "Microfinance Meets the Market," just published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, advances the debate, presenting new research from Jonathan Morduch of the Financial Access Initiative, housed at New York University's Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, and Robert Cull and Asli Demirgüç-Kunt of the World Bank. The research reveals complementary paths to a successful expansion of the microfinance industry.

"Arguing for a purely nonprofit or commercial approach to global microfinance services misses the point and limits the opportunities to reach a significantly broader population," commented Professor Morduch. "We shouldn't be choosing sides. By embracing both NGO and commercial options we can leverage innovation to drive down costs and expand access."

Roughly 40-to-80 percent of the populations in most developing economies lack access to formal banking services. There is general agreement that access to reliable financial services could improve the lives of hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of low-income people currently without access to banks.

In examining 346 of the world's leading microfinance organizations covering 18 million borrowers, the research presented in "Microfinance Meets the Market" reveals that while commercialization is a powerful trend, commercial banks such as Mexico's Compartamos and avowedly "social businesses" like Grameen Bank are not substitutes for each other. Each has benefits and limitations.

Commercial microfinance banks, as a group, make loans that on average are about four times larger than loans from non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Since poorer customers generally demand smaller loans, average loan size is a rough proxy for the poverty level of customers. Microfinance banks tend to serve a substantially better-off group of borrowers than do NGOs, and banks also serve fewer women as a share of their customers.

While many NGOs do in fact earn profits from their microfinance activities, investors seeking only financial returns would have little interest in most of the institutions serving poorer customers. Commercial investment is necessary to fund the continued expansion of microfinance, but institutions with strong social missions, many taking advantage of subsidies, remain best placed to reach and serve the poorest customers and some are doing so at massive scale. The paper shows that social investors, foundations, and public agencies remain an important part of the microfinance equation.

More information: The full article is available online, here:>

Source: New York University

Explore further: Message to Starbucks: Consumer idea generation is not one-size-fits-all

Related Stories

When Fed locks up funds, small businesses suffer

September 17, 2015

When the Federal Reserve raises interest rates to slow down a speeding economy—effectively raising the price of money—banks often sell down their stockpile of securities to keep the financial assembly lines going. That's ...

Netherlands bank customers can get vocal on payments

August 1, 2015

Are some people fed up with remembering and using passwords and PINs to make it though the day? Those who have had enough would prefer to do without them. For mobile tasks that involve banking, though, it is obvious that ...

Recommended for you

Ancient genome from Africa sequenced for the first time

October 8, 2015

The first ancient human genome from Africa to be sequenced has revealed that a wave of migration back into Africa from Western Eurasia around 3,000 years ago was up to twice as significant as previously thought, and affected ...

Rare braincase provides insight into dinosaur brain

October 8, 2015

Experts have described one of the most complete sauropod dinosaur braincases ever found in Europe. The find could help scientists uncover some of the mysteries of how dinosaur brains operated, including their intellectual ...

How much for that Nobel prize in the window?

October 3, 2015

No need to make peace in the Middle East, resolve one of science's great mysteries or pen a masterpiece: the easiest way to get yourself a Nobel prize may be to buy one.

The dark side of Nobel prizewinning research

October 4, 2015

Think of the Nobel prizes and you think of groundbreaking research bettering mankind, but the awards have also honoured some quite unhumanitarian inventions such as chemical weapons, DDT and lobotomies.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.