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Credit Access in Mauritania
Located in the Sahel region of West Africa, Mauritania is a predominantly desert-country that bridges western sub-Saharan Africa and the Arab Maghreb. As Mauritania experiences robust growth from a thriving natural resource industry, poverty rates significantly declined.

The poverty headcount fell from 44.5 percent of the country’s population in 2008 to 33 percent in 2014, yet Mauritania remains ranked 159 out of 188 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index.

Diagnosing the Problem

Credit access in Mauritania is one of the leading impediments to economic growth. A World Bank report on Financial Access and Household Welfare in Mauritania notes that the credit market is shallow, divided and informal. There are few formal credit providers that operate in the country. Most banks, ATMs and the financial infrastructure is exclusive to the capital, Nouakchott.

Beyond these barriers to a more inclusive credit market, there are potent cultural barriers that continue to restrict credit access in Mauritania. From extensive information asymmetry between lenders and borrowers to weak legal and government institutions to gender hierarchies, these factors remain as obstacles to accessing credit. Because of these barriers, with regard to ease of credit access, Mauritania ranked 162 out of 189 countries in the 2016 Doing Business report.

The role credit serves in the growth of developing countries’ economies cannot be overstated. Increased credit access is essential for allowing farmers, businesses and consumers across Mauritania to utilize investment capital and help expand economic activity.

Improving Credit Access in Mauritania

Research conducted in India and Pakistan demonstrates that the growth of rural financial services and infrastructure is correlated with improved household welfare and increased development of bank branches. The impact of bank branches is two-fold: non-agricultural economic output increases and rural poverty decreases.

As of 2016, the rural population of Mauritania stood at 39.55 percent, according to the World Bank. Mauritania and its rural population have much to gain as efforts to improve credit access continue. Access to credit significantly influences economic incentives at the household level, which can increase consumption and improve investment decisions and rates of wage growth. Furthermore, as households are able to get credit more readily, they become less reliant on the consumption of household production, which can lead to improved living standards, food security, a better education and an acclimation to the nonagricultural sectors of the economy.

Going Forward

In order to ensure credit access in Mauritania continues to expand, policymakers should pursue strategies for expanding financial services in underrepresented rural areas. Greater access to financial services and microcredit programs beyond the country’s urban centers can facilitate rural households’ access to credit.

Recent positive trends in mobile banking are already allowing rural populations to have increased access to financial services across Sub-Saharan Africa. Improved credit access in Mauritania could spark productivity growth and improve welfare among the poorest households in the country.

– McAfee Sheehan
Photo: Flickr

Rang De Facilitates Peer-to-Peer Microloans in India
According to the World Bank, approximately 20 percent of India’s population is poor. This totals 270 million people. These low-income individuals often lack credit or banking history and are considered too risky to finance by traditional lenders, like banks.

Rang De is a peer-to-peer microlending platform that works to increase low-income Indians’ access to capital. So far, Rang De has disbursed 57,096 microloans in India.

How Rang De Facilitates Peer-to-Peer Microloans in India

Low-income individuals are often unable to access capital from major lenders. Often, this underserved population turns to independent lenders who charge extremely high-interest rates for small loan amounts. Microloans from qualifying lending institutions are an alternative to predatory lenders. Rang De keeps interest rates low, between six and 10 percent.

Loans are financed by social investors, who choose a borrower through the platform and contribute in multiples of Rs.100. So far, 12,443 social investors have helped finance microloans in India.

Interest is used to pay back investors and to fund Rang De’s internal expenses; two percent of interest payments go to each. The rest of the interest payment funds rural partners who conduct literacy training sessions and collect borrower statistics.

Rang De’s Success So Far

Social investors can choose to finance a wide range of borrowers, from entrepreneurs to students to farmers. One example is Pooja Devi, a tailor who secured a loan of RS.10000.

Devi’s husband works at a factory and earns only Rs.7000 per month, too little to pay for their housing. Devi holds a Master of Arts degree but lives in a village with few work opportunities. As a new mother, finding suitable work while looking after her infant has proven impossible.

Devi accessed a Rang De loan to purchase a sewing machine for her at-home tailoring business. Her business is about four months old and she currently earns only Rs.1000 per month but plans to grow her client base. Tailoring at home gives Devi the flexibility needed to look after her infant while providing an additional stream of income for her family.

Ensuring Continued Success for Rang De

Rang De’s cofounder, Smita Ramakrishna, says that Rang De purposely keeps initiatives small so individual lenders receive more assistance. In addition to facilitating microloans in India, Rang De also focuses on increasing the financial literacy of borrowers. “For every sector we work with, we actually design the loan product to make sure that it works for them,” said Ramakrishna.

The majority of Rang De’s microloans in India, 93.25 percent, go to women. To further support this group, Rang De launched a new initiative targeted at women called Swabhimaan. Swabhimaan provides online loan applications and credit scoring. Self-serve kiosks set up around villages serve as portals to the online services. Women will be able to access same-day loans from Rang De with more ease and autonomy thanks to the kiosks.

To tackle skepticism in target borrower communities, Rang De publishes interest rates publicly on its website. The nonprofit also regularly updates social investors and hosts in-person meetings with both investors and borrowers.

Rang De’s hands-on approach and transparent business practices have led to a consistently high loan repayment rate of 93 percent. Ultimately, Rang De’s cofounders believe the innovative initiatives implemented through Rang De will “go a long way in making poverty history in India.”

– Katherine Parks
Photo: Flickr

credit access in Burkina Faso

In Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in West Africa, access to credit is very limited. Around 44 percent of the population lives on less than $1.90 a day, only 15 percent of the population has access to a checking account and a mere seven percent of the population has access to banking services.

But the scarcity of credit access in Burkina Faso is more reflective of the country’s socioeconomic structural barriers rather than a systemic lack of capital. The banking system is regulated by the Centrale des États de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (BCEAO) and is comprised of 12 commercial banks and five specialized credit institutions, and as of June 2011, the majority of these banks met the new capital regional requirement of CFAF five billion.

But credit access is generally concentrated to a few large clients, with collateral requirements and high interest rates of 10-12 percent, preventing the majority of small and medium sized borrowers from participation. Pervasive gender inequality especially exacerbates these high barriers of access for women. Women are typically confined to lower paid informal sector jobs (such as subsistence agriculture) and there is no legislation prohibiting discrimination in access to credit based on gender or marital status.

However, the recent implementation of microcredit initiatives has helped lower these barriers to credit access in Burkina Faso, especially for women in rural areas. One of these programs is part of the Victory Against Malnutrition Project (VIM) that works with 200 villages in the Sanmatenga province and is funded by USAID’s Office of Food for Peace, implemented by ACDI/VOCA, Save the Children and three local NGOs. For example, in 2015 through a partnership with the microfinance institution Caisse Populaire, VIM brought financial agents to the village of Ouintokouliga and offered education and access to financing options.

For village resident Nobila Koroga, access to this additional capital allowed her to buy more animals on her farm which, in turn, generated enough extra produce and additional income to create food security for her household, pay her children’s school fees and cover unexpected issues such as family medical visits. This is especially significant considering that Burkina Faso’s human development index ranking is one of the lowest globally and the country is especially challenged by low levels of education and healthcare.

As Koroga’s experience demonstrates, credit access is a crucial asset in socioeconomic development and empowerment. The government of Burkina Faso has recognized this and is making financial inclusion a priority, as outlined in a recent IMF report.

One of the goals of the government’s four-year National Plan For Economic And Social Development, which went into effect in 2016, is to bring broader banking service utilization rates to 35 percent by 2020. This will begin to be implemented in 2018 through the national inclusion financial strategy, which, alongside further expanding microcredit initiatives, also emphasizes mobile banking and the reduction of administrative barriers.

Additionally, on March 14, the IMF approved a three-year arrangement with Burkina Faso under its extended credit authority, totaling $157.6 million in support of these initiatives. While credit access in Burkina Faso, and banking more broadly, still has a long way to go in terms of inclusion, the success of these international collaborative microfinance initiatives and the country’s broader long-term strategy demonstrate it is embarking on a path toward success.

– Emily Bender

Photo: Flickr

Credit access in BoliviaCredit access is considered a key driver of economic growth and poverty alleviation, capable of granting the poor and small businesses the funding necessary to invest in their future. In the past, credit access in Bolivia has seen an expansion through innovative commercial initiatives and through recently imposed laws, Bolivia’s government has sought to encourage the expansion of credit in the country and to direct it toward productive and socially useful sectors.

In one respect, the story of credit access in Bolivia has been particularly influential: commercial microfinance. When BancoSol, originally a charity sponsored by Acción Internacional, transformed itself into a microfinance commercial bank in 1992, it became the first chartered microfinance bank in the world.

The transition showed the country that microfinance could function without the largesse of nongovernmental organizations and within a commercial environment. Significantly, by proving this model was feasible, it provided a meaningful lesson for international observers.

Since then, the country has continued to burnish its legacy of credit initiatives in microfinance and beyond. It has consistently ranked highly in the annual Global Microscope, a report prepared by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) that assesses the regulatory environment for financial inclusion in 55 countries.

In 2016, Bolivia ranked thirteenth of 55 and sixth of the 21 Latin American and Caribbean countries included, and in its 2015 report, the EIU highlighted the country’s Financial Services Law (FSL) as a key in moving toward greater financial inclusion. Whether the FSL, enacted in 2013, will achieve all its goals is yet to be determined, but evidence to date suggests the government’s initiatives have had their intended effect.

The law, among other objectives, mandates credit quotas and interest rate caps to encourage lending to designated productive sectors and social housing. This requires banks and other financial institutions to extend a minimum share of their credit toward these objectives at an affordable rate. A 2015 report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) found that the requirements were spurring progress: total credit reached almost 46 percent of GDP in 2015 from 35 percent in the mid-2000s, and credit directed to the productive sectors and social housing increased 26 percent in the year leading to June 2015.

In combination with elements of the law improving deposit insurance and consumer protection measures, the FSL has laid the groundwork for furthering the expansion of credit access in Bolivia. As the IMF report emphasizes, the Bolivian financial system is fundamentally sound, but the methods employed to increase credit access do not come without risks.

In attempting to lower borrowing costs, interest rate caps can ultimately limit access to credit and hurt bank profitability, while credit quotas can lead to banks’ portfolios becoming over-concentrated and designated borrowers becoming over-indebted, as credit is extended disproportionately to certain sectors. The report stresses that managing these risks will be vital for the country to ensure its expansion of credit is healthy and sustainable.

Overall, from BancoSol’s breakthrough in the 1990s to modern regulatory initiatives, credit access in Bolivia has continued to expand. Given the capability of financial inclusion to economically empower the poor, it is likely to remain an important goal in the country for the foreseeable future.

– Mark Fitzpatrick

Photo: Flickr

Digital Finance is Empowering Women in Bangladesh

Recent innovation in digital finance is empowering women in Bangladesh by meeting their unique financial needs and capabilities. While 90 percent of Monetary Financial Institutions’ 21 million clients are women and 35 percent of Bangladesh women hold a bank account, women make up only 18 percent of digital finance users in Bangladesh.

Some of the barriers that hinder the inclusion of women in digital finance are low mobility, cultural barriers in male-dominated markets and English illiteracy incompatible with English-language phone menus. Women in Bangladesh also face low financial literacy, so they require guidance and training in order to benefit from increasingly more prevalent mobile-based platforms.

In addition, members of a typical household in low-income countries share one mobile phone. So, it makes sense that more than just having a registered mobile money account in her name is necessary in order for a woman to be financially included in Bangladesh.

Most low-income women in Bangladesh currently turn to insecure and informal saving mechanisms like keeping emergency funds stashed at home, buying excess stock for their business, using clay money boxes  or working with neighborhood savings groups. This puts their savings at risk of loss due to natural disasters or theft. It is no wonder, then, that it is difficult for women to save money for their futures, to pay school fees, to attain loans and to afford healthcare and insurance.

Saving money is particularly important to women. In Bangladesh, since women are dependent on their male spouses to provide for their families, they lack a safety net if their husband dies or abandons them. This makes women more vulnerable to health risks and death than men.

One innovation through which digital finance is empowering women is the human-centered designs financial service providers have been developing that are more intuitive, easy-to-use and affordable. The Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, an organization devoted to alleviating poverty by empowering the poor, started a training program for women in remote areas to learn how to handle mobile money.

Some other efforts that address the digital inclusion gap are:

  • Dutch-Bangla Bank Limited’s signing with 245 garment factories to distribute salaries to garment workers (mostly women) with accounts through agents, ATMs and client-initiated mobile transactions.
  • The Asia Foundation’s new program that will assist women entrepreneurs in using digital financial services and in using e-commerce to reach new markets.
  • Swosti’s new “mobile credit card” for depositing money and withdrawing emergency loans.
  • Grameen Bank’s creation of the concept of microcredit to be used by low-income women.

Some potential improvements that have been suggested further demonstrate how digital finance is empowering women. Some of the propositions include promoting government transfers and increasing the access women have to registered accounts by changing identity requirements and allowing for one-to-one interactions with women agents and sales representatives to improve communication and prevent harassment.

Other suggestions include making additional banking services that improve financial security for women available such as loan payments, insurance and long-term savings. Digital savings accounts would enable women to save small amounts of money as frequently as they want. It has also been suggested to make use of various channels of accessing finances to simplify the interface of mobile finance platforms.

There are so many financial possibilities that digital finance can make possible for women in Bangladesh. By considering the barriers to financial inclusion, the country is well on its way to improving the lives of its women and their families.

– Connie Loo

Photo: Flickr

Credit Access in UgandaThe ability to access credit in various countries is not often a topic of discussion. This issue usually tends to fall by the wayside when discussing various problems of countries around the world, despite the issue being of great importance when it comes to both the financial literacy and economic growth of a country.

In Uganda, credit access is not a pressing issue. The country is among the top six nations in Africa in regards to accessing credit. Credit access in Uganda is very important to sustaining economic growth and helping to alleviate poverty in the country. The increase in financial services for poorer communities can have a huge impact on eliminating poverty in those areas, which will improve the economy of the whole country and help improve financial literacy among the citizens.

Uganda has 24 banks, four credit institutions, a Social Security Fund, 60 private retirement benefit schemes and seven mobile money providers throughout the country. The abundance of credit access in Uganda has helped improve the economic status of the country as a whole, especially for those in impoverished neighborhoods. Financial services are immensely important when trying to improve the economy of a country, and that is what is happening in Uganda. The accessibility of financial services to poor citizens allow them to save money and help both them and the country grow economically.

The security of financial institutions allows the impoverished citizens of the country to feel safe entrusting their money to a bank and allows them to save more money than they would without a financial institution so easily accessible to them. This allows both citizens and businesses to balance their income and manage any financial shocks they may experience in the future.

Uganda is slowly but surely improving economically. The country saw a GDP growth of 4.8 percent in 2016, which is an improvement for the country as a whole. Although not as high as some neighboring countries, it is still progress for Uganda, and hopefully, it will continue to grow.

Currently, the most popular form of credit access in Uganda is mobile banking, with more than seven million users. This is because of the increased popularity and use of technology in the country. More than half of Ugandans now have access to a financial institution. This is a vast increase from 28 percent in 2009. This shows that both financial literacy and economic stability are increasing in Uganda.

As the economy grows, so does the financial literacy of the country. The accessibility of financial institutions makes it easier for citizens to become more financially literate and manage their money better than they have previously. This will continue to benefit both the citizens and the country in the long run, as Uganda become more economically stable because of the number of easily accessible financial institutions that are now operating in the country.

– Simone Williams

Photo: Flickr

Credit Access in LiberiaLiberia is a predominantly rural nation. Because of this, the financial literacy of its citizens and the country’s financial institutions are often put on the backburner. This has resulted in credit access in Liberia lagging behind when compared to other countries.

In the country of Liberia, there has not been an effective credit rating system, and many businesses lack the records needed for credit approval. In response to this, the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) has established a credit reference system that contains credit history and derogatory information about certain creditors. The CBL focuses on delivering financial services to the communities in the country without any services available to them. These services allow these sections of the country to become integrated into the formal economy.

These services include increasing access to medium-term financing, creating an environment for private-sector job creation and improving and empowering the Liberian-owned business segment of the economy. This will help improve credit access in Liberia and allow more citizens and businesses to have up-to-date financial records. It will also improve the legitimacy of those businesses and their credit records.

The CBL has also begun to issue treasury bills in an effort to develop a capital market. This has allowed the country to expand its foreign market, which helps improve the economy of the country as a whole. With the help of the CBL, the financial system in Liberia is steadily improving. This is happening despite the Ebola crisis and external shocks from the fall in international commodities. Liberia is slowly becoming more financially stable, which is helping both citizens and businesses.

Throughout the country, there has been significant progress in strengthening the banking sector. This has included the adoption of a national corporate governance framework and increasing the regulatory capital adequacy ratio and the minimum capital requirements. These changes to Liberia’s banking system have helped improve the effectiveness of financial institutions throughout the country.

The CBL has recently implemented regulations for all licensed insurance companies operating in Liberia. The regulation sets the capital requirement for each class of insurance business. It also requires each company to maintain a minimum amount of capital. This has been implemented in the hopes of strengthening the insurance sector. These regulations have had a positive effect on credit access in Liberia. They help improve the economy of the country and strengthen its finances.

Despite a significant portion of the population still residing in rural areas, the financial institutions throughout the country are helping businesses become more credible and allowing them to maintain their financial records through banks. As a whole, Liberia has greatly improved its banking sector, and is well on its way to being a significant part of the formal economy.

– Simone Williams

Photo: Flickr

solidarity lendingFor too long, the plight of the urban poor had monopolized the concerns of those working to eradicate abject poverty. The millions of people in rural poverty have been forced to toil in silence, overshadowed by their urban counterparts and underrepresented by the advocates of economic development. Most are relegated to subsistence agriculture, making the best of what little they have. However, a renewed emphasis on the rural poor has facilitated new and innovative techniques to help, among them solidarity lending.

One such pioneer is SHARE Micro Finance Limited, which offers loans to rural women in India in an attempt to fund entrepreneurship among the rural poor. Recently, a number of studies have been conducted to assess the effectiveness of such programs, with some encouraging results. An article from the Stanford Graduate School of Business tells the story of Vinod Khosla, a venture capitalist from India. Khosla described solidarity lending as a “virtuous pyramid scheme” where groups of women are given modest loans from SHARE. This program differs from individual loans because “the group members are under strong social pressure not to default…and if one person does, the others have to make up for it”.

The program empowers women to invest the money in a stall at the local market or use it to invest in equipment which enables them to produce or transport their items more efficiently. To some, this may seem like only a marginal benefit, but Khosla reports that among nearly 200,000 clients, 77 percent saw reduced poverty.

To test the feasibility of such programs further, a study on solidarity lending was conducted in Mongolia, which compared the results to those of regular lending practices. Research showed that while repayment rates were similar, food consumption increased among group lenders, an encouraging sign to researchers.

Another study on group lending conducted by the African Growth Institute in Kenya revealed that “microcredit is an important entrepreneurial tool in alleviating poverty”. They also found that group lending was a way of achieving greater financial stability.

Because of innovative initiatives like solidarity lending, the rural poor are better equipped to prosper. By providing groups with much-needed access to financial capital, farmers from India to Mongolia to Kenya are no longer overlooked.

– Brendan Wade

Photo: Flickr

Credit Access in LaosFor many years, the government of Laos has been working to improve the country’s financial infrastructure and in turn its economic abilities. In more recent years, the focus on financial improvement has been through credit access for small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Improving access is an ongoing mission with a variety of different aspects that need to be addressed.

SMEs are vital to Laos’ economy and people, employing a large percentage of the country’s working population. Yet, a lack of credit access in Laos for these SMEs, with only about 12 percent being able to receive formal credit, leaves many businesses unable to grow and compete with other enterprises in Asia.

In 2014, the World Bank Group funded $20 million towards the growth and expansion of SMEs in Laos. This growth was accomplished with the use of long-term credit access. These funds, which were provided to commercial banks, made it easier for SMEs to access loans by reducing collateral and creating less of a risk for the banks themselves, which made them more willing to provide these funds. Although this project did allow many SMEs to upgrade their infrastructure and expand operations, it still was not enough to solve all the issues related to credit access in Laos, and many businesses continued to suffer.

As of 2017, Laos has been working to reform its credit system in order to improve access to funding for SMEs. The first step of reform is working to create a standardized credit reporting system. Although this is not a direct solution for credit access, it is a move towards it. Credit reporting is a way in which banks and lenders are able to maintain and access credit histories for companies wishing to receive funding.

This makes it easier to assess risk and in turn, allows more SMEs to receive loans and reduces costs and collateral when doing so. The creation of a credit reporting system requires both funding and planning, which Laos has looked outside the country for. Japan, Canada and Switzerland have all aided with funding and planning as part of a larger International Finance Corporation project to improve the economic infrastructure and financial access of Laos.

Credit access in Laos is improving with government reforms and projects that make the financial systems and economic infrastructure of the country more hospitable for SMEs. However, this process takes a lot of time, planning, and funding, which Laos is unable to provide on its own. With further increase of foreign support, Laos will continue moving towards improving credit access in the country. This will help improve the country’s economy as well as provide many jobs for its people. As Laos’ economic abilities increase, it will not only better provide for itself, but become a more valuable asset to the global economy and the many countries invested in its financial future.

– Keegan Struble

Photo: Flickr

Credit Access in GhanaLocated on the western coast of Africa, Ghana is a country of lowland hills, secluded beaches and historical colonial buildings. Named Africa’s most peaceful country by the Global Peace Index, Ghana is considered a leading African nation due to its status as the first country south of the Sahara to break free from colonial rule.

While Ghana has already taken major steps towards improving the country’s stability and proficiency, such as improving water sanitation and education, it still has a long way to go in terms of building up its economic stability to mirror those of other nations. One key method to improve the country’s economy is through strengthening farmers’ access to technology and making loans more accessible to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which are both happening through improving credit access in Ghana.

Strengthening credit access in Ghana would help alleviate poverty on a large scale, and this would be mostly due to how it would help farmers and business owners. In Ghana, agricultural production encompasses 23 percent of the country’s GDP, while SMEs make up approximately 50 percent, and having credit access is a vital component of making these industries run efficiently and smoothly.

In the agricultural industry, technology is an essential component of the Ghanaian culture and economy, and unfortunately, many farmers lack access to technologies that have the ability to make the agricultural system productive. In order for farmers to have access to such resources, they need to have access to credit.

In recent years, research has shown that improving credit access in Ghana will boost the country’s adoption of more productive technologies, which will lead to a rise in the country’s overall GDP. A study was done by Swiss Management Center that also found the combination of high cost of credit and unavailability of credit are Ghana’s main constraints on the Ghanaian economy.

Lack of credit access in Ghana is a major barrier to technology adoption, and in order for Ghana to reach a stable economy that incorporates food security and safety, Ghana must find a way to overcome this. In a policy brief conducted by the Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative at UC Davis, researchers identified two main concerns of credit access in Ghana:

  1. Index-insured loans are not as reliable as payouts and may not cover losses.
  2. While credit loans increase credit supply, these types of loans have an extremely low demand.

In this survey mentioned above, 73 percent of the sample borrowed money in 2014, while only 54 percent demonstrated a willingness to pay market value for their insured loans. This problem of insurance is quite profound in Ghana, as lower-income and lower-educated farmers are more inclined to take out uninsured loans to cover technologies and farming supplies, while banks would prefer insured loans in order to protect their portfolios and reduce the number of borrowers.

Likewise, banks do offer loans that are specifically made to meet the needs of small businesses. However, banks are often hesitant to lend to the SME sector, and this is largely due to credit history. Banks that lend to small businesses are only willing to do so at extremely high-interest rates, something that many companies are not willing to accept.

However, despite the conflicts of interest and benefits that are occurring within the credit access debate, Ghanaian policymakers are currently creating a plan that details a comprehensive strategy to improve credit access in Ghana, and the hope is that it will focus on improving the structure and stability of the country’s smaller businesses.

Both the Ghanaian agricultural and commercial industries have long ways to go until they are on a path of improvement rather than standstill, but Ghanaian lawmakers are determined to find a way to improve the country’s future credit availability.

– Alexandra Dennis

Photo: Flickr