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Microfinance In India: The Story Of Resilience

The microfinance model of providing small collateral free loans to the ‘bottom of pyramid’ clients hitherto overlooked by the formal sector, has established itself as an effective & sustainable model for financial inclusion.

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Financial inclusion has rightfully been the key focus area for policy makers in the last few decades given the sheer size of our population that remained unserved and underserved. It needs no complex analysis to know that if India as a country has to improve its per capita income and graduate people above the poverty line – then access to finance has to be the key.

Despite policy push through the mainstream banking system, few factors acted as impediments to this critical national objective of financial inclusion. First and foremost being the fact that our formal Banking system largely designed its policies and reach (be it brick and mortar or digital) to cater to the urban/semi-urban population with established track record/income and collateral that fit into their defined Risk/Reward matrix as an Asset Class. Secondly, the ‘cost of delivery’ for bite size transactions in BOP market became a dampener for the Banks. Lack of financial literacy also acted as a constraint.

The microfinance model of providing small collateral free loans to the ‘bottom of pyramid’ clients hitherto overlooked by the formal sector, has established itself as an effective & sustainable model for financial inclusion. It was conceptualized to transparently deliver financial services and products at the doorstep of these very customers in a very simple to understand manner. The concept of Joint Liability leveraging social capital combined with doorstep delivery has helped microfinance gain trust & acceptability.

The Microfinance ‘journey’ of the last decade has run on two broad themes. On one side, it has weathered serious setbacks like the one of 2010 Andhra crisis, 2016 Demonetization crisis, the NBFC liquidity and credibility crisis and is currently battling the COVID-19 global pandemic. All these events created a perception in the minds of stakeholders that microfinance per se is a risky asset class because unfortunately for the sector – it has been impacted by such unforeseen events once every 3-4 years.

However, there is another side to the sector which is its brighter side:

1. Today, the sector serves around 6 crore unique customers with a combined portfolio size of Rs 2,31,000 Crore across 620 districts in 28 states and 8 UTs. This makes it the 2nd largest sector after Mortgages. However, what has been even more commendable is that the sector has grown @30% CAGR in the last 3 years vs the overall Retail Sector’s 17% CAGR

2. Another highlight of the Microfinance sector has been delivering financial products and services via a prudent amalgamation of ‘Touch and Tech’ at the lowest cost amongst all its global peers. The sector leverages advances in technology to constantly deliver greater transparency, data security and privacy and affordability for its rural customers at their doorstep.

3. With both reach and operational effectiveness, Microfinance today is a sustainable business model, calibrated to leverage its network to deliver other goods and services to the rural masses contributing to India’s phenomenal growth story

4. The sector also generates significant employment opportunities not only by hiring from the hinterland but also enabling its customers provide employment opportunities to others via financial support extended.

The sector has demonstrated remarkable resilience across the last decade and this has been made possible due to some key contributory factors :

- The ‘inherent’ need for such a model in aspirational India where a large unserved /underserved population still needs to be brought onto the financial bandwagon, ensured that Microfinance remained a ‘preferred’ vehicle for both the policy planners and the practitioners across the years

- The phenomenal support and conducive policy framework provided by the RBI which has been a catalyst in furthering Microfinance’s mission of financial inclusion. The sector has been accorded a special category under the larger NBFC category of RBI – lending it a distinct identity and strong credibility by having country’s first RBI recognised Self-Regulatory Organisation.

- The functioning of MFIN (the sector association) as an SRO since 2010 has enabled the sector to build its growth on strong pillars. Key pillars of MFIN’s work have been customer protection, industry code of conduct and policy advocacy, all of which contribute towards building of a Responsible Finance ecosystem.

- Microfinance being a high touch model, it has ensured highest degree of customer centricity and familiarity. Response time in crisis situations is much quicker and the resolutions proposed are very focused. This aspect helped the sector tide over the challenges brought about by Demonetization in 2016 but more recently this model has proven its resilience and sustainability in the ongoing Covid 19 crisis. The frontline soldiers ensured that the wheels of financing kept moving when the customers needed them the most during pre and post lockdown periods. Operating platforms were quickly modified to work on remote basis delivering loan services digitally Field processes were altered to incorporate all health and hygiene guidelines.

The strong bond with customers stood the test of time and brought about a high degree of mutual understanding and cooperation. Most of the financial pundits were proven wrong when the microfinance portfolio delivered better than expected portfolio metrics post Covid and RBI mandated moratorium period.

Today, the Microfinance Sector is partnering with the government to roll out various social schemes be it Shishu loans under Mudra or Pradhan Mantri Svanidhi scheme. The importance of the sector has been recognised by PM in his United Nations General Assembly speech by terming it as instrumental in furthering women entrepreneurship.

As they say “It’s not the number of punches that you land that make you a winner, it’s the fact that you still get up strong after taking a lot of punches and emerge a winner” and this is an apt description of a ‘Resilient’ Microfinance Sector in India thus far ……but the journey has just begun!!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Devesh Sachdev

Vice Chairperson – Microfinance Institutions Network (MFIN) & MD & CEO, Fusion Microfinance Private Limited

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