The International Finance Corporation (IFC) estimates that microfinance has
reached some 130 million people worldwide in the last 15 years. This is impressive growth, certainly, and has no doubt contributed to the improvement of indivudal and community economic circumstances in the many areas where microfinance providers operate effectively.
And this growth is expected to continue. For example, the value of loans extended by microfinance institutions in India is expected to
increase by 40% next fiscal year.
World Bank estimates that some 2.5 billion adults still lack access to financial services. So there is room for more to be done for the world's unbanked.
And it seems there are no shortage of organisations looking to help fill that void.
New entrants and large cash injections are coming from sectors that range from regional development funds, to telcos, insurance firms, media companies and established banks.
Some recent interesting examples include
Arab Gulf Program for Development (AGFUND),
Deutsche Bank and Ghanaian radio and TV operator Despite Group
But this rapid growth can not continue unrestrained if the ultimate positive goals of microfinance are to be achieved.
National regulators are attempting to beef up regulatory oversight of the burgeoning sector, requiring more stringent controls in fraud prevention and credit bureau usage, and in some instances greater capital requirements. This is motivated by a desire
to weed out opportunistic profiteers, but also to reduce the number of well meaning institutions that fail and require government bailouts or mass shut-downs, as happened in India's Andhra Pradesh state and
Nigeria in 2010.
To meet these new regulatory requirements, many maturing microfinance organisations will need to improve their ability to interface not only with the customers, but with regulators, and provide them with timely data.
Particularly if they offer or plan to offer more than just loans, mobile channel development is a priority for reaching rural populations with financial services for the first time. In conjunction with local agents for cash handling, the mobile channel can
be used for applying for and managing these loans, but also fostering a wider mobile payment ecosystem.
Kenya's M-Pesa mobile payment system is always held out as the poster child for financial inclusion powered by mobile phones. But the conditions that led to success for Safaricom in Kenya, don't exist yet in many countries, as
this recent article about mobile money in Afghanistan attests.
The announcement from
Myanmar last week about the creation of a mobile money service that ties together that country's telco operators, a network of agents and a bank illustrates a potentially more successful model.
Greater collaboration on the technical infrastructure required to grow a successful microfinance business will also become more common as the sector matures. At the scale of one individual microfinance organisation it can be difficult to invest in and implement
the hardware and software required to operate most effectively, let alone deal with increasing regulatory demands.
The emergence of cloud-based offerings for microfinance takes away much of this pain. But industry associations and partnership groups, such as the
SEEP Network and
MicroWorld will also play a role to help microfinance institions around the world tap expertise in best business practice, compliance and operations.