Integrating MIS with Microfinance

Some of the challenges faced by Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) in India have revolved around the issues of a lack of trained labor for local level administration, resource mobilization and the cost of services. One way to tackle these problems is through the use of Management Information Systems (MIS) and this is being demonstrated by Equitas, an Indian MFI.

TC-I had previously featured an interview with the founder of Equitas and they were recently featured as a leader in implementing information systems in microfinance, by Greg Chen of CGAP. Some examples of technology being used by Equitas are,

E-Docs. Membership and loan applications are completed manually by branches but are couriered to a central processing center. The documents are then scanned and from there on out, remain paperless. Forms use a series of check boxes which can be read by scanners and coded automatically.  Remaining manual entries (e.g. names) are entered by a dedicated back office processing unit.

Real Time Meeting Monitoring. Within 15 minutes of the end of a group meeting, loan officers send a text message (SMS) by cell phone with three pieces of information: meeting attendance, loan collections, and when the meeting ended.  This information is picked up by Equitas’s system which then compares it with what is expected, and creates a branch-by-branch report.

Equitas also uses SMS to gather real time information on cash management and Optical Readers for back-office operations.  The Equitas model shows the need for MFIs to focus not just on innovation in the lending model, but also on driving efficiency through various stages of the loan process. MIS has played an important role in the growth of traditional financial institutions over the past few decades and there is no reason it should not do the same for MFIs.

The complete article by Greg Chen can be found here.

[TC-I Call to Action]: Ennovent looking to fill Investment Manager position

Here is an opportunity for an experienced finance professional.

Job Profile

Title

Investment Manager

Job Objective

To develop and manage the investment portfolio of ennovent in India and Asia

Start Date

As soon as possible

Location

India – frequent travel in India and Asia

Reporting Relationship

Position reports to Managing Director

More information can be found here and general information on Ennovent can be found here.

Sa-Dhan to Host Microfinance Conference in New Delhi

Sa-Dhan, an association of community development finance institutions in India will host a National Microfinance Conference in New Delhi on March 31, 2009. The conference is centered on the theme, ‘Microfinance Ecosystem: Equilibrium Between Growth & Effectiveness’.

One of the goals for this event is for Sa-Dhan member organization to come together with academicians, practioners and policy makers to strategize on ways to overcome issues plaguing microfinance in India, such as “commercialization of microfinance institutions (MFIs), governance, risk management, provision of holistic microfinance services (like savings, microinsurance, livelihood, etc), resource mobilization and credit crunch and cost of services”.

The conference is set to bring the policy makers, mainstream financial institutions, donors, financiers, practitioners, academicians, researchers, parliamentarians and international participants in one platform. Amongst others, the conference would specially focus on Effective Microfinance, Linkages, Opportunities, Gap in Governance, Ethics/Values, Code of Conduct etc.

Some of the speakers at the conference include Prof. Muhammad Yunus of Grameen Bank and Ms. Ela Bhatt of SEWA Bank. More information on the conference can be found here, and the registration form is available here.

[TC-I Call to Action]: Total Immersion Programme in Finance and Development Summer Internships

The Centre for Development Finance (CDF) announces some very exciting internship opportunities for this summer.  If you’re looking for something more long term, word has it that CDF will likely be releasing postings for BoP related full time positions in the coming weeks… check back for more information!

Total Immersion Programme in Finance and Development (TIP/FD) – Summer 2009

CDF invites internship applications for the Summer 2009 IFMR “Total Immersion Program in Finance and Development (TIP/FD).”

Description of the program follows and application requirements follow below and in this CDF TIP document, and to apply please use the following link.

The TIP F/D provides undergraduate and graduate students interested in microfinance, development finance, and economic development an opportunity to gain hands-on experience in working on issues relating to access to financial services for urban and rural poor in a developing country. Interns will participate in a structured, two-week course directed by leading researchers, IFMR Centre Research Associates, and practitioners from the Indian government, microfinance institutions (MFIs), and NGOs. The course will be followed by eight weeks of work on a CDF projects which will consist of either field-based research, policy/sector wide studies or data analysis.  Past interns have completed stand-alone projects or worked to initiate, implement, and scale-up existing projects or pilots at the Centre.

The list of summer internship projects can be found online here and in this CDF Project Descriptions document. Interns may also be placed on another of CDF’s ongoing projects.

Internships are unpaid, although CDF will assist with housing and food or provide a small stipend of up to Rs 10,000/month toward living expenses. All interns are encouraged to obtain funding to cover international travel and personal expenses during the internship period.

This year, the TIP/FD will take place between June 8 and August 14, 2009. Applications will be accepted until April 15, 2009, although we encourage interested applicants to apply as soon as possible to ensure the best matching of interests and skills.

Positions of Particular Interest to the TCI Readership: Continue reading

Why you should CARE about microinsurance

We have written about microinsurance before, including SKS’s Vikram Akula’s decision to develop a product for his customers. Now, Bajaj-Allianz and CARE India will be developing a product of their own. In an interesting partnership between the charity and a commercial company, this venture will aim to help individuals substantially improve livelihoods through the safety net insurance can provide. On Allianz’s site there is a great interview with RN Mohanty, Chief Operating Officer, CARE India, speaking to this new partnership. Here is an excerpt:

The biggest challenge was definitely educating people that risk protection is an important part of their lives. We do this because we want to inculcate a culture of savings with the community, not just insuring for the time being. The general mindset in rural India is that unless you get something out of it immediately it is not worth investing. If you look at our client list, close to 90 percent are first-time insurers.

The rest of the interview can be read here.

[TC-I Call to Action]: Programme Head, Centre for Micro Finance

Lakshmi Krishnan of the Centre for Micro Finance, IFMR writes to us about a new opening in the organization.   This is particularly exciting for anyone interested in microfinance, research, and traveling throughout India.  Several classmates in graduate school had worked with IFMR and came away with good experiences after participating in breakthrough research.

IFMR CMF is now hiring a Programme Head in Chennai to manage a portfolio of 4-6 projects with a variety of partners. Read about the IFMR CMF Programme Head position for further information and contact information.

Evaluating social returns on microfinance

Whether you are an individual investor, an institutional fund, or a microfinance organization, the issue of returns on social investment is always a concern.  The difference is usually in the approach that each stakeholder may take in measuring these returns.  The Grameen Foundation made a major stride in the effort to create an evaluation framework by releasing guidelines to evaluate social returns to investments.

As of 2006, socially-focused investors in the U.S. had channeled more than $663 million into microfinance. Most of these investors choose microfinance because they expect financial as well as social returns related to reducing poverty. Until recently, however, there were few tools to help them track how well their investments were achieving their goal of improving the lives of microfinance clients and how those “returns” compared to industry-wide performance benchmarks.

When I read about a new set of guidelines, I imagined some complex framework, or a laundry list of things to look for.  Instead, the guidelines are quite short and simple.  Maybe even the measurement of social returns follows Occam’s razor!

The guidelines are just a first step – some of the questions may need a little more teasing out.  For example,  a question listed for institutional investors to ask: How effective are the MFIs at alleviating poverty?  Investors may want a more elaborated approach in terms of what “effective” means.  At the same time, the strength of these guidelines is that they are flexible and realize that social investments, even in a field like microfinance, can vary.  Along with GF’s previous initiative, the Progress out of Poverty Index, which tracks microfinance institutions’ track records with poverty alleviation, the evaluation guidelines are a welcome development in the world of performance indices.

Transfer money after the beep

Here is an interesting approach to the technological hurdles of mobile banking. Called Cashnxt, this venture in Kerala, uses high-pitched sounds via mobile phones to encrypt and decrypt the secure data needed to perform a financial transaction. An article on ReadWriteWeb, explains it as such:

As a customer, if you and a vendor are a member of the Cashnxt network, you can conduct transactions using your mobile phones. The merchant dials CashNxt’s IVR number, enters their PIN and transaction amount, and then hears a high pitch sound on their mobile phone. The customer does the same – calls the IVR number, enters their PIN and hears a high pitch sound. The two phones are then brought together, held close enough for CashNxt to encrypt and decrypt the sounds. 

Go after the jump to see a youtube video of the process:

Continue reading

Checking in on CGAP and Branchless Banking

When I heard that Gautam Ivatury of CGAP would be at NYU’s “From Innovation to Impact” Conference, I thought it would be a great time to follow up with my previous interview with him.  While he did not have time to talk today, we are going to schedule a follow up soon.  Nevertheless, I was able to listen to his presentation on what CGAP has been doing to help move the market to be more amenable to branchless or mobile banking.

Here are a couple highlights from his talk, but stay tuned for a more in depth interview in the coming weeks.

  • The most interesting point raised was the importance of centering the business plan around the potential agents.  In essence, branchless banking would operate in the same way people currently refill their cell phones throughout India.  A shopkeeper, authorized by a bank or cell phone company to accept withdrawals and deposits, would receive an SMS or some other communication from a customer’s phone and then either accept the deposit or disburse cash.  Ivatury emphasized that such models have only been successful when it is designed to ensure that it is profitable and worthwhile for these agents themselves — a point, while obvious, can be easily overlooked by a major player.
  • Ivatury also commented on the process of actually “moving the market” — or getting the greater financial community on board and outlined the process as such:
    1. Research and Information — first find the data that must be presented
    2. Synthesis — analyze the data in a way that is clear and concise
    3. Communicate — get mainstream media, like the Economist or Financial Times, to pick it up
    4. Influence — once major players are aware, bring them together through events to persuade them to adopt it
    5. Market Changes

Upcoming Conference: “Microfinance from Below,” Tufts Fletcher

This upcoming March 26th – 28th, 2009, the Tufts Fletcher School will be holding a conference entitled, “Microfinance from Below: The Power of Savings and Savings Groups in Frontier Economies.” Registration is free. More details follow below:

The Center for Emerging Market Enterprises (CEME) at The Fletcher School, Tufts University—with support from Oxfam America and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—will host a conference in March 2009 that explores the dual nature of savings groups. As a subject of debate within the microfinance sector, groups constitute both a target of and shield against exploitation, a market for and competitor to commercial alternatives, and a means of both communal unity and division. The “Microfinance from Below: The Power of Savings and Savings Groups in Frontier Economies” conference will examine the potential and limits of financial self-service, the social nature of savings groups, and the best ways for institutions to form, strengthen, and serve them—and then let them go.

Rang De: India’s First Microlending Site

Moneycontrol.com reports the launch of India’s first peer to peer microlending site, RangDe.org.  The site explains the driver behind an online forum for microloans:

Rang De is a unique platform for individuals to become Social Investors and connect with borrowers of microcredit by lending small sums of money.

Unique features of Rang De are:

  1. Mission to drive down interest rates and make microcredit accessible to all. Rang De will always remain non profit to ensure this happens.
  2. The only online microlending platform that does not use a payment gateway and still makes payments possible. Register and see how we make this possible.
  3. 30 day loan disbursal guarantee.

You may wonder what the difference is between this model and a regular MFI. According to Rang De, they are able to offer rates “at least lower by 4%” than traditional MFIs. This allows them to potentially reach populations that could not afford microcredit before. The model is very similar to Kiva.org, which connects entrepreneurs in developing countries with the rest of the world, except Rang De focuses exclusively on India.

Interested in getting in on the action? It’s easy enough, according to the Moneycontrol.com article, when you invest Rs 1000:

A Rang De Social Investor will get back this money at the end of the loan tenure and earn a return of 3.5% pa in addition to the social return of having made a sustainable difference.

At the time this post was written, 123 social investors have used Rang De to disburse Rs 1789000 worth of loans to 281 borrowers.

(IFMR) Trust Me

Editor’s note: In addition to being informative, this post also outlines what IFMR Trust is looking for in potential hires. If you would like to see that immediately, go after the jump.

Before Thanksgiving break I had the pleasure of sitting down at an informal roundtable with Dave Wallack, Senior Vice President of People to learn more about IFMR Trust‘s ambitious plans to provide financial inclusion to every person in India. Chaired by Dr Nachiket Mor, who is also the President of the ICICI Foundation for Inclusive Growth, the Trust’s mission is to “ensure that every individual and every enterprise has complete access to financial services.” In order to accomplish this goal, the Trust is looking at a rather unconventional business model that where the non-profit parent oversees multiple self-sufficient for-profit silos in various financial sectors.

The three ventures that the Trust has currently launched are the IFMR Trust Holding Company (ITHC), the IFMR Trust Advisory Services (ITAS) and the IFMR Trust Guarantee Company (ITGC). Each venture has a specific and distinct goal. The ITHC aims to build a network of Kshetriya Gramin Financial Services (KGFS) that will serve as low-cost, paperless branches providing access to financial products. According to Wallack, the goal is to have one of these branches for every 10,000 people or 2,000 households. Wallack emphasized the feasibility of such scale is due to the incredibly low-cost structure of each branch. By being completely paperless, transaction costs is on the scale of 20-30 rupees as opposed to $20 dollars. Wallack self-titled the initiative as the Starbucks of microfinance, as they are able to provide loans at only 11.5%, far less than the typical 20-30% charged by traditional MFIs.

The ITAS’ charge recognizes that microfinance is merely a stopgap or defensive measure and that more aggressive financial services will be needed to enable true inclusion. In order to do this, the ITAS has structured as essential a private equity firm and with the aim of raising $150 US. Utilizing this capital, ITAS will look at 14 different supply chains that reach the rural population and figure out ways of improving and fixing them through investments in operating companies along the product cycle. These investment strategies, organized as Network Enterprises, will operate in a for-profit fashion with the belief that the quest for profits will seek out the most efficient and effective ways to address the supply chain breakdowns.

One example is the current gap that exists between urban labor demand and rural supply. After some preliminary research, ITAS discovered that the major hurdle was that rurual workers could not afford to live anywhere in the city for their first 2 weeks, because they had yet to been paid. In order to resolve this ITAS partnered with a local temporary housing and staffing company in order to provide that stopgap housing for these workers.

Finally, the ITGC will focus on providing much needed debt capital to small and medium size enterprises throughout India to truly enable them to grow. Here, the organization is partnering with many existing financial providers to roll out their offerings more aggressively.

Continue reading

Microfinance Process Excellence Awards

Nirantara Community Services, Arohan, and Sanghamithra Rural Financial Services have been announced winners of Royal Bank of Scotland and PlaNet Finance’s India’s Microfinance Process Excellence Awards .

They were the third annual awards and the winners for the awards were selected from a pool of 67 nominees, which were shortlisted after receiving applications from the initial pool of applicants. The award winners were announced at the Microfinance India Summit 2008, held Nov. 11th to 13th in New Delhi. National winners for the three categories of awards were Nirantara Community ServicesArohan, andSanghamithra.

[Source: Microcapital.org]

Evolution of microfinance through lens of human resources

One of the most recognizable names in Indian microfinance has decided to step down from his role as CEO. Vikram Akula, the visionary founder and leader of SKS Microfinance will step down.

Mr. Akula says that this change will allow him to focus on a new initiative – microinsurance.  As MicroCapital reported earlier this year, SKS partnered with Bajaj Allianz Life Insurance Company to offer insurance products toclients.  This announcement comes amid rapid growth in the company. Suresh Gurumani, Director, Barclays Bank, will take over as SKS Microfinance’s CEO.  An official transition date was not given.  

This event marks a point of evolution for the microfinance industry at large as entrepreneurs are now looking to the next big financial product to develop for their contstituencies. As microfinance becomes increasingly commoditized and regulated, risk-takers like Akula are now pushing the envelope further to find other services that are in need. TC-I wishes Akuka the best in his new endeavor(s).

[Source: Microcapital.org]