Microfinance: Conceptual framework5th February 2021
Microfinance is the provision of financial services to low-income clients or solidarity lending groups including consumers and the self-employed, who traditionally lack access to banking and related services. It is not just about giving micro credit to the poor rather it is an economic development tool whose objective is to assist poor to work their way out of poverty. It covers a wide range of services like credit, savings, insurance, remittance and also non-financial services like training, counseling etc.
Microfinance is a category of financial services targeting individuals and small businesses who lack access to conventional banking and related services. Microfinance includes microcredit, the provision of small loans to poor clients; savings and checking accounts; microinsurance; and payment systems, among other services. Microfinance services are designed to reach excluded customers, usually poorer population segments, possibly socially marginalized, or geographically more isolated, and to help them become self-sufficient.
Microfinance initially had a limited definition: the provision of microloans to poor entrepreneurs and small businesses lacking access to credit. The two main mechanisms for the delivery of financial services to such clients were:
(1) Relationship-based banking for individual entrepreneurs and small businesses.
(2) Group-based models, where several entrepreneurs come together to apply for loans and other services as a group. Over time, microfinance has emerged as a larger movement whose object is: “a world in which as everyone, especially the poor and socially marginalized people and households have access to a wide range of affordable, high quality financial products and services, including not just credit but also savings, insurance, payment services, and fund transfers.”
Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) in India exist as NGOs (registered as societies or trusts), Section 25 companies and Non-Banking Financial Companies (NBFCs). Commercial Banks, Regional Rural Banks (RRBs), cooperative societies and other large lenders have played an important role in providing refinance facility to MFIs. Banks have also leveraged the Self-Help Group (SHGs) channel to provide direct credit to group borrowers.
Proponents of microfinance often claim that such access will help poor people out of poverty, including participants in the Microcredit Summit Campaign. For many, microfinance is a way to promote economic development, employment and growth through the support of micro-entrepreneurs and small businesses; for others it is a way for the poor to manage their finances more effectively and take advantage of economic opportunities while managing the risks. Critics often point to some of the ills of micro-credit that can create indebtedness. Due to diverse contexts in which microfinance operates, and the broad range of microfinance services, it is neither possible nor wise to have a generalized view of impacts microfinance may create. Many studies have tried to assess its impacts.
New research in the area of microfinance call for better understanding of the microfinance ecosystem so that the microfinance institutions and other facilitators can formulate sustainable strategies that will help create social benefits through better service delivery to the low-income population.
Microfinance and poverty
In developing economies, and particularly in rural areas, many activities that would be classified in the developed world as financial are not monetized: that is, money is not used to carry them out. This is often the case when people need the services money can provide but do not have dispensable funds required for those services. This forces them to revert to other means of acquiring the funds. In their book, The Poor and Their Money, Stuart Rutherford and Sukhwinder Arora cite several types of needs:
- Lifecycle Needs: Such as weddings, funerals, childbirth, education, home building, holidays, festivals, widowhood and old age
- Personal Emergencies: Such as sickness, injury, unemployment, theft, harassment or death
- Disasters: such as wildfires, floods, cyclones and man-made events like war or bulldozing of dwellings
- Investment Opportunities: Expanding a business, buying land or equipment, improving housing, securing a job, etc.
The obstacles or challenges in building a sound commercial microfinance industry include:
- Inappropriate donor subsidies
- Poor regulation and supervision of deposit-taking microfinance institutions (MFIs)
- Few MFIs that meet the needs for savings, remittances or insurance
- Limited management capacity in MFIs
- Institutional inefficiencies
- Need for more dissemination and adoption of rural, agricultural microfinance methodologies
- Members’ lack of collateral to secure a loan