Thursday, August 30, 2012

What Is a Microfinance 

Institution (MFI)?



A microfinance institution (MFI) is an organization that provides financial services to the poor. This very broad definition includes a wide range of providers that vary in their legal structure, mission, and methodology. However, all share the common characteristic of providing financial services to clients who are poorer and more vulnerable than traditional bank clients.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the microenterprise movement led to the emergence of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that provided small loans for the poor. In the 1990s, a number of these institutions transformed themselves into formal financial institutions in order to access and on-lend client savings, thus enhancing their outreach.
Specialized microfinance institutions have proven that the poor are “bankable”. Today, formal institutions are rapidly absorbing the lessons learned about how to do small-transaction banking. Many of the newer players in microfinance, such as commercial banks, have large existing branch networks, vast distribution outlets like automatic teller machines, and the ability to make significant investments in technology that could bring financial services closer to poor clients. Increasingly, links among different types of service providers are emerging to offer considerable scope for extending access.

Characteristics of MFIs

Formal providers are sometimes defined as those that are subject not only to general laws but also to specific banking regulation and supervision (development banks, savings and postal banks, commercial banks, and non-bank financial intermediaries). 

Formal providers may also be any registered legal organizations offering any kind of financial services. Semiformal providers are registered entities subject to general and commercial laws but are not usually under bank regulation and supervision (financial NGOs, credit unions and cooperatives). Informal providers are non-registered groups such as rotating savings and credit associations (ROSCAs) and self-help groups.

Ownership structures: 

MFIs can be government-owned, like the rural credit cooperatives in China; member-owned, like the credit unions in West Africa; socially minded shareholders, like many transformed NGOs in Latin America; and profit-maximizing shareholders, like the microfinance banks in Eastern Europe. The types of services offered are limited by what is allowed by the legal structure of the provider: non-regulated institutions are not generally allowed to provide savings or insurance.



FORBES MAGAZINE named seven microfinance institutes in India in the list of the world's top 50 microfinance institutions.
----Bandhan, as well as two other Indian MFIs—Microcredit Foundation of India (ranked 13th) and Saadhana Microfin Society (15th) – have been placed above Bangladesh-based Grameen Bank (which along with its founder Mohammed Yunus, was awarded the Nobel Prize). Besides Bandhan, the Microcredit Foundation of India and Saadhana Microfin Society, other Indian entries include Grameen Koota (19th), Sharada's Women's Association for Weaker Section (23rd), SKS Microfinance Private Ltd (44th) and Asmitha Microfin Ltd (29th)

Roots of the Rise of MFIs

The recent rise and growth of micro finance institutions has only made such SHGs all the more vulnerable in the present scenario of economic distress. According to the State of the Microfinance Sector report of the ACCESS alliance, the MFI operations expanded by 13 times in four years to end the year 2009 at Rs 117.9 billion ($2.6 billion) in outstanding loans. Of its 26.6 million borrowers, poor women and disadvantaged sections form one of the largest sections of the clientele. Whereas there was only one for-profit MFI in the country in the middle of the 1990s, this number had spiraled to 149 registered micro finance institutions by 2009. Of these, about 11 per cent of the large micro finance companies had a disproportionally larger share in the credit market, having 82 percent of the clients and controlling about 88 per cent of the loan portfolio. This reveals the emergence of new corporate entities and private finance companies who have started to exploit the credit needs of the poor by charging high interest rates. An investigation by a report from the Down to Earth magazine in Andhra Pradesh revealed that whereas bank linked self-help groups were charging interest rates of about 15 percent from their borrowers, the interest rates charged by the MFIs were at about 60 per cent. This clearly showed that a space had been created for exploitative financial intermediaries for entering the rural and urban credit markets.

That this phenomenon was linked to the refusal of public sector banks and the state to extend the outreach of its formal credit infrastructure is evident from the fact that most of the MFIs are concentrated in the 256 districts where the poor have a demand for credit, but the formal banking system is not able to meet this demand. Of this Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have the greatest density of micro finance institutions, and more than 50 percent of the outstanding loans are in the southern states.
This meteoric rise of the MFIs has its roots in the liberalization of the banking system and its failure to meet the demands of the rural poor, especially women. Initially the MFIs were started in response to the program of financial inclusion. The SHG-bank linkage program was started by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) where non-government organizations (NGOs) and not-for-profit institutions played an intermediary role in promoting and facilitating the link between self-help groups and banks. Thus many MFIs started as not-for-profit NGOs and then began to expand their operations to make direct contact with the clients. Thus SKS Microfinance (which is the largest MFI in the country today) started as a not-for-profit institution and converted itself into a non-banking financial company in 2004. Similarly, Sampdana, another of the MFI giants, started with 500 clients and increased its clientele to about 3 lakh (300,000) in the period between 1998 and 2004 when it became another for-profit company. This conversion of not-for-profit institutions into MFIs was a result of a state policy that increasingly facilitated the penetration of big private capital in this sector. International institutions like the World Bank supported the funders of the MFIs like Basix and the NGOs like PRADAN and SEWA in order to facilitate the demise of public sector banking.

Weakness of the Neoliberal Model

Such policies only exposed the weakness and inability of the current government and bank driven programs to meet these challenges. Women participating in the bank linkage program faced difficulties in getting access to bank credit despite the fact that it is they who had formed the SHGs. Thus around one lakh SHGs under the bank linkage scheme are yet to be credit linked even though they have formed the group under the linkage scheme. Further, the bank linkage scheme itself operates in two ways: first where the SHGs are supported directly through the banks on the one hand and, second, where banks lend to the MFIs for onward lending to the SHGs. They believe that this will only increase their outreach. But it is precisely this strategy which has also created the space for a replacement of the banks with the MFIs in some regions. Thus NABARD’s own report on the Status of Microfinance, 2009-2010 shows that while the rate of growth of direct bank support to the MFIs went up by 8.1 percent during the last year, direct support to the SHGs only went up by around six percent. This shows that the banks found it easier to give bulk loans to the MFIs rather than strengthen their direct links with the SHGs. Further, the ACCESS alliance report shows that the operation of the MFIs expanded by 83 percent in the last two years whereas the expansion of banking operations was only half that rate. This shows that the roots of rise of the MFIs lie in the slow growth of public sector banking and their reluctant and tenuous links with the SHGs.

The second important factor that led to the rise of the MFIs was the failure of the poverty alleviation programs that relied on the SHGs as the main mobilization strategy. The Andhra example is well known in this regard. Here the withdrawal of low interest rate based self-employment programs has led to the increasing operation of the MFIs. Further, in governmental schemes like the SGSY or the Urban Self-Employment Schemes, subsidies were linked to the ability of the SHGs to get loans from banks. The design of many of these schemes was such that applicants had to get their loans sanctioned before they could avail of even the inadequate and reduced subsidy (which in most cases did not exceed 35 per cent of the entire project). This was accompanied by inadequate infrastructural, training and marketing support for such employment opportunities. Thus, even though many of these schemes were targeted at the poorest of the poor (those below the poverty line), the rural and urban poor were not able to avail of these schemes adequately. For example, the government of Delhi was able to make only about 500 SHGs and train 3,000 women in one decade of its Shahri Swarozgar Yojana. Thus, along with other macro economic factors, the failure to provide work to the rural and urban poor also made them more and more vulnerable to the MFIs as well as informal sources of credit to meet their daily needs. 

MFIs & SHG-Bank linkage programme

In a joint fact-finding study on microfinance conducted by the Reserve Bank of India and a few major banks, the following observations were made:
  • Some of the microfinance institutions (MFIs) financed by banks or acting as their intermediaries or partners appear to be focusing on relatively better banked areas, including areas covered by the SHG-Bank linkage programme. Competing MFIs were operating in the same area, and trying to reach out to the same set of poor, resulting in multiple lending and overburdening of rural households.

  • Many MFIs supported by banks were not engaging themselves in capacity building and empowerment of the groups to the desired extent. The MFIs were disbursing loans to the newly formed groups within 10–15 days of their formation, in contrast to the practice obtaining in the SHG – Bank linkage programme, which takes about six to seven months for group formation and nurturing. As a result, cohesiveness and a sense of purpose were not being built up in the groups formed by these MFIs.

  • Banks, as principal financiers of MFIs, do not appear to be engaging them with regard to their systems, practices and lending policies with a view to ensuring better transparency and adherence to best practices. In many cases, no review of MFI operations were undertaken after sanctioning the credit facility



• NBFC stands for non banking financial company that performs functions similar to banks in the absence of banks in rural areas.

• However, NBFC cannot issue checks drawn on itself and also cannot operate saving accounts.

• MFI stands for micro finance institutions and the operate at a further smaller level than NBFC

• MFI provide very small loans to the underprivileged sections of the society

• Because of complaints in the functioning of MFI, government is planning to convert them into NBFC


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