The term Microfinance is derived from the word microcredit which means “small credit” in simple terms. However, with the expansion of services from Microfinance Institutions (MFIs), different people, agencies, and institutions have defined Microfinance differently. Generally, microfinance is defined as the provision of financial and non-financial services from microfinance institutions to low-income households and small business who were excluded by commercial banks.
The term Microfinance now covers a wide range of product and services such as microloans, savings, insurance, and remittance. Some scholars believe that the first formal microcredit institution was “Grameen Bank”, which was established in 1976 in Bangladesh by Dr Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel peace prize winner in 2006.
The institution was set up as a non-profit institution to provide small credit, especially to women in the rural part of Bangladesh because it was difficult for them to receive loans from commercial banks. Over time, Grameen Bank grew in popularity and customer base and more MFIs started to emerge following the Grameen Model.
What is the Grameen Model?
The Grameen Model was created by Grameen Bank of Bangladesh which has currently the widest replication in many developing countries across the world. In Grameen model Five unrelated, self-selected prospective borrowers are formed and required to make a savings deposit and payment on a loan at given period. The institution does not evaluate these loans as individual loans but as group loans and also leaves members to do most of the management and financial services.
First, two members of the group will receive the loan and then the group members determine the rotation of access to credit, and after timely repayments, an additional two members receive loans. If any member in a group fails to make an installment payment on time, then the borrower or group will be cut off from the future borrowing. However, if the borrower/group makes payment on time and in an orderly manner then bigger loans are granted in the future.
The Grameen model provides credit to the very poor in rural areas without requiring any collateral. The model also has low transaction costs and focuses on women. The Grameen Bank approach is currently being applied in many countries. A few of such countries are Bhutan, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Chile, Guinea, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Zambia Some developed countries like Canada, France, and the U.S., have also adopted a version where it is being used to help people become income generators.
Trends in Microfinance
Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) have had global influence and spread around the globe because microfinance has been regarded as one of the effective tools for fighting poverty. Initially, MFIs depended on donations, grants and government subsidies. However, in last decade, some microfinance institutions have realised that they might need to make a profit to provide continuous service, cover their administrative, financial and operational cost, and also budget for the future development without needing any government funds or donations.
In recent years, MFIs have been focusing slightly more on their financial side and as a result, the industry is moving towards profit-oriented MFI’s which means that these MFIs are applying market-based principles. This implies that we have had three stages of MFI’s since their conception which can be seen from the following figure.
Some of the first microfinance institutions to adopt the profit-orientated approach were Bank Rakayat Indonesia (BRI), K-Rep in Kenya, Mibanco in Peru, First Microfinance Bank (FMFB) in Pakistan, and CARD Rural Bank in the Philippines. Similarly, PRODEM, the leading Microfinance NGO in Bolivia, transformed into a financial bank called BancoSol.
In conclusion, although MFIs were established as non-profit institutions to provide social services, it seems that microfinance institutions are becoming more like profit-oriented institutions for various reasons.