Consumer Credit Access in Panama Continues to Expand

Reports from 2014 highlighted good news in the Panamanian economy. Continued years of growth particularly helped the credit sector, and lending was increasing at rates of more than 10 percent per year. This was a healthy rate in comparison with similar rates of overall economic growth in the country. Consumer lending was not left behind during this boom, and household credit access in Panama increased at rates nearly on par with general growth.

This increase in credit access in Panama was great news for its developing domestic economy. Panama’s strategic location and the canal linking some of the world’s most-traveled shipping lanes have made it a center of commerce since the early 20th century. However, despite countless international commercial links, many of Panama’s people did not see the benefits of strong development until a century after the opening of the canal. A new government measure of poverty released in 2017 showed that nearly a fifth of the population was living in significant poverty.

The strong growth reported in 2014 was followed by further increases in small household lending in Panama as microfinance products began to increase their offerings in Panama. In 2017, the government of Panama revised a large number of regulations to assist microfinance and its effects in reducing poverty in the country. This was joined by the creation of REDPAMIF, a nongovernmental microfinance network, to assist lenders in creating a fertile environment for the success of expanding credit operations.

Small consumer lenders in Panama are following the pattern of successful development and small lending projects worldwide in diversifying their offerings. From the same 2017 report, 40 percent of the microlending portfolio in Panama is in loans to women. Similarly, in a highly urban country (nearly three out of four Panamanians live in the metropolitan area of Panama City), 13 percent of their loans are disbursed to rural borrowers.

Panama’s economy has continued to improve rapidly. An investment to expand the canal, which opened to new and larger shipping vessels in June 2016, has paid off in rates of growth that are outpacing most of the rest of the world. With good management and continued success in innovative development trends, credit access in Panama and the country’s poverty rate should continue to improve in the coming years as well.

– Paul Robertson

Photo: Flickr

credit access in Suriname
While small, the South American country of Suriname has a booming mining economy. With a recent rise in oil prices, Suriname has worked to overcome a recent dip in economic growth and currency inflation. Credit access in Suriname is also on the rise, and there have been several advancements in credit access and its reporting in recent years.

International Finance Corporation

The International Finance Corporation (IFC) reported that in 2013, Suriname created a new credit reporting system that increased the access businesses have to information about credit processes. This has been built and implemented to help build better business strategies and manage risky lending strategies, measures that then save small businesses from dangerous credit choices.

Systems like these encourage lending growth and healthy business strategy in small countries. Although Suriname has little to no record of credit histories before 2013, the IFC’s new credit reporting system is a step toward healthier credit access in Suriname.

Female Investors and the U.N.

Suriname is in the process of an economic reboot after economic growth statistics dropped from five percent in 2012  to -10.4 percent in 2016. At a 2012 presentation to the U.N., a representative for Suriname spoke on behalf of the female population of Suriname and presented a proposal for a new national gender policy; the plan delineated how the nation would prevent further discrimination of Surinamese women in business practice.

One of the areas in which women have been hurt by discrimination is in the credit access market. By implementing this new policy-based on the Beijing Plan for Action, Suriname hopes to alleviate the added stress of gender discrimination on its credit market.

Growth of Credit Access

Although only two of many new policies offer a solution for credit access growth, Suriname has a strong and constantly increasing economy that helps to grow credit access within its borders.

– Molly Atchison

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

credit access in Peru
The access to bank accounts is not what first comes to mind when one thinks of privilege, but this issue is a major reality for numerous countries. Amongst these countries lies Peru and its amount of accessible bank accounts and credit access for the financial institutions in the country.


Lack of Bank Accounts

Despite Peru possessing the fastest-growing economy in their region, having a bank account is not a common occurrence amongst the population. This lack is due in part to the absence of information available to people about their bank accounts, as well as services of banks being severely limited. These instances contribute to a common theme among Peruvian banks that incites little incentive in the citizens of Peru to create accounts.


General Absence of Financial Literacy

The lack of financial literacy in the country is another problem with credit access in Peru. Many Peruvians don’t have savings in a bank of any kind, and only 40 percent of people know how to calculate annual interest rates. With little to no financial literacy, Peruvians have a hard time putting their trust into financial institutions, especially when those institutions aren’t forthcoming with information about accounts.


Banks Withhold Information

For the citizens that do have bank accounts, their financial situation is not much better than citizens who do not because the banks of Peru often conceal information from the public about their own accounts. These instances make it hard for citizens to put their trust into banks, as these institutions are the ones keeping private information that should be available to account-holders.


Credit Impacts to Lower Income Individuals and Communities

This is especially crippling for the lower-income citizens. Those citizens with less substantial income, and who put their trust in banks have a very hard time finding out what their account balance is. This could have a supremely negative effect on families that do not have much and cannot afford to overdraft their account and go into debt. They would not know when their account was low, and therefore never know if they overdraft the account until it is too late.

The lower-income communities are also the communities that are comprised of lower education rates, an instance which is directly correlated to the lack of financial literacy in the citizens of those same neighborhoods.



The Grupo Monge and Credit Access in Peru

Despite their lack of financial literacy, the Grupo Monge (GMG) works with the Entrepreneurial Finance Lab (EFL) to help people with no previous credit history become financially literate and create bank accounts within the financial institutions of Peru. These efforts have the potential to help almost 12 million citizens of Peru.

The GMG has helped create bank accounts for more than 3,000 citizens without credit access in Peru. This fiscal growth increased the Peruvian market for financial institutions and helped many citizens become more financially literate in securing and monitoring their finances. These changes will have a positive effect on the Peruvian economy because with more citizens contributing to the credit of the country, the nation should continue to grow as a result.

– Simone Williams

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

credit access in MaliFor many of the poor in developing nations, securing loans is often an unfeasible task. Reforms to credit access in Mali, however, are providing much-needed relief to smallholder farmers endeavoring to improve conditions for themselves and their families.

The Importance of Microfinance in Development

The practice of providing access to financial resources and small loans to those in developing nations, known as microfinance, has become the latest instrument in the effort to alleviate poverty. Too often, the world’s poor are denied access to loans, making it exceedingly difficult to start businesses or make capital investments that would enable them to improve productivity and elevate their incomes. Although microfinance across developing economies has yielded mixed results previously, the capacity remains for well-structured and pragmatically targeted initiatives to succeed.

Credit Access in Mali Denied

When these programs are successful, the implications can be powerful, especially for women and smallholder farmers. In developing economies, women reinvest 90 cents of each dollar they earn into “human resources” like healthcare, nutrition and education, according to a study conducted by the Harvard Business Review. This is substantially more than men and illustrates the impact small investment opportunities can have for the well-being of women and their families.

Despite this, securing loans is harder for women because most do not have property in their names to offer as collateral, typically make lending to them impractical. Furthermore, in Mali, 70 percent of loan applications sought by farmers are rejected because they are deemed risk-prohibitive. Because farmers’ incomes typically fluctuate with seasonal variance in agricultural output, banks are usually hesitant to provide financial backing.

Securing loans is also rare for farmers in Mali because banks focus primarily on commercial lending and often refuse the longer term loans many Malian farmers in the young mango, papaya and cashew nut industries need to get their businesses off the ground. Unstable political institutions in the country, like inconsistent enforcement of contracts, and poorly defined property rights further exacerbate these challenges.

Credit Where Credit is Due

An initiative which began in 2013 is addressing these issues and attempting to increase credit access in Mali. The Agricultural Competitiveness and Diversification Project by the World Bank seeks to “reduce the risk of investing in agricultural endeavors through technical assistance, new technology and greater knowledge of the supply chain and key actors,” according to World Bank Agribusiness Specialist Yeyande Kasse Sangho.

To provide loans, the program relies on the Innovation and Investment Fund (IIF) and the Guarantee Fund. The IIF offers a three-tiered lending system with each tier providing different levels of subsidies based on the size of the enterprise, with smaller enterprises receiving a greater subsidy. The Guarantee Fund, also financed by the World Bank, offers up to 50 percent of the loan guarantee, giving a needed cushion to the two commercial banks in Mali receiving the deposits.

In addition to this World Bank initiative, Mali sought in 2016 to improve access to credit by improving its credit information system regarding the regulations of credit bureaus in the West African Economic and Monetary Union. In 2017, it established another credit bureau, doubling-down on its resolve to ensure its citizens have access to capital.

With initiatives like these, Mali is demonstrating its commitment to making accessible credit the new normal for its people. Further improvement to credit access in Mali will only serve to assist in lifting more people out of poverty.

– Brendan Wade

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

credit access in AzerbaijanAs is the case in many developing economies, credit access in Azerbaijan is not as easy to come by as it should ideally be. That being said, significant efforts are being made to improve the ease of credit access and ensure that the country’s financial system has the capacity to cope with the increase in demand for credit that will likely come with greater ease of access.

Many of the obstacles to credit access in Azerbaijan are similar to the ones present in other countries. It is particularly difficult for businesses to secure a line of credit. Lenders require extensive collateral and often charge high interest rates. Encouragingly, there are government programs that enable particularly small businesses to secure funding even if they cannot secure a line of credit from a private institution.

Poor financial literacy, especially among business owners, is also impeding credit access in Azerbaijan. Many are often denied loans because of problems that they could rectify if given the needed support and education. For example, many Azerbaijani businesses fail to keep written records because they fail to understand that this impacts their perceived creditworthiness.

Improving financial literacy is an important part of expanding credit access in Azerbaijan. The MicroFinance Bank of Azerbaijan has reported that consumer loans, in particular, are being disbursed at a much higher rate than before, suggesting that creditors are becoming more willing to lend more liberally to reasonably worthy clients.

Also noteworthy are the extensive efforts that are underway to modernize the financial system and promote new lending and borrowing practices. The country’s first private credit bureau was recently established and intends to promote risk pooling and information sharing among the 20 largest domestic financial institutions. It is anticipated that this alone will greatly improve credit access in Azerbaijan by promoting responsible lending and eliminating some of the logistical hassles of applying for and granting credit.

– Michaela Downey
Photo: Flickr

credit access in GeorgiaCredit in Georgia is comparatively easy to access compared to similar economies in the region. That being said, any deficit in this area is still a major obstacle to economic development. However, steps are being taken to identify the factors standing in the way of credit access in Georgia and determine how to eliminate them

Georgia is ranked as one of the best countries in eastern Europe and central Asia for credit access. Very well-qualified borrowers are able to secure lines of credit without too much difficulty, and the country’s financial system is conducive to lending. It is worth noting that a significant share of applicants are denied because they have unacceptably high levels of existing debt.

However, credit access in Georgia is an issue mainly for new businesses. It is estimated that 40 percent of the small to medium-sized enterprises in Georgia that need credit cannot access it because they are denied or discouraged from even applying. Those who can theoretically be approved for loans often find that the interest rate offered to them is prohibitively high. Seventy percent of applicants for financing said that high interest rates were an issue for them.

Another more minor problem is that it is easier to get a loan in U.S. dollars than it is to get a loan in Georgian lari. As a result, the exchange rate is depreciating and borrowers are extremely vulnerable to fluctuations. Many borrowers are not even aware that borrowing in a foreign currency exposes them to this kind of risk. This is a good example of the unintended consequences of poor access to credit denominated in the local currency.

Fortunately, those who are able to borrow thanks to microfinance programs offered by the U.S. and others generally report that they are happy with their experience. Georgia also has a good financial infrastructure in that there is centralized credit reporting, although many people do not fully understand how it works and are unsure of what to do if they run into trouble.

The Smart Campaign has done extensive research on financial literacy and credit access in Georgia. This research has helped to identify several ways to improve credit access in Georgia, which, if enacted, promise to boost the Georgian economy by encouraging greater financial security while also liberalizing lending practices.

– Michaela Downey

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

credit access in GuatemalaGuatemala, a country located in Central America, is known for its dedication to financial transparency, especially in regards to credit access.

Credit access in Guatemala is a make-or-break factor in determining the success of a business, regardless of its size. Credit allows businesses and their owners to make purchases that typically lie outside of their disposable income. This often includes startup costs and capital improvements; however, it can also be used for everyday expenses such as payroll.

Larger companies tend to have an easier time attracting creditors, whereas smaller businesses often have trouble, an alarming problem for a country where 60 percent of the economy is made up of small businesses.

Banks are the most common provider of credit access in Guatemala. Microlending is the main reason people turn to banks for credit access, as it allows citizens who do not have any credit history to build credit in a timely fashion. As of now, there are 24 microfinance institutions in Guatemala.

The top five microfinance institutions in Guatemala are:

  1. Genesis Empresarial
  2. Compartamos – GTM
  4. FINCA – GTM

However, since 2014 there has been an increase in the default rates on microloans. Rocael Garcia, manager of the microfinance firm Finca, credits this problem to people in rural areas having less ability to pay and people in the middle class having less willingness to pay.

Other, less conventional ways of acquiring credit include financial freedom, venture capital and equity investors. While some people try to acquire credit access on their own, it proves to be difficult, as the government controls 50 percent of the financial services offered in Guatemala.

Of the three unconventional methods above, venture capital is the strongest, most secure option. There is a 39 percent chance that Guatemalan entrepreneurs will successfully find venture capital. Since 2014, the amount of people looking into venture capital has steadily increased.

Equity investors are considered to be the least effective sources of credit access in Guatemala, as it is incredibly difficult to raise money by issuing shares on the stock market. To make the process even more difficult, a public offering is only allowed if it is previously registered according to the Law of Value Markets.

Credit access in Guatemala continues to be available as the country focuses on economic opportunity and financial transparency. While the distribution of income remains relatively unequal, credit access – or rather, the opportunities given to business owners who have access to credit – steadily works to even out the scale.

– Chylene Babb

Photo: Flickr

credit access in Burundi

Burundi is a resource-deficient country that has been struggling to emerge from years of civil war. Underdeveloped in the manufacturing sector with the agriculture area accounting for roughly 40 percent of its GDP and employing over 90 percent of the population, the large majority of Burundians rely on agriculture to make a living. In order for the people of Burundi to grow income-generating businesses in the agricultural sector, the demand for financial assistance must be able to meet the supply. Poverty among the population has limited the capacity for credit access in Burundi.

Being able to obtain a loan at banks in Burundi is not easy; Burundi ranks 129th out of 137 economies in the 2017-18 Global Competitiveness Index compiled by the World Economic Forum. As a result of this difficulty, most entrepreneurs turn to loan sharks.

Traditional banking services are not sturdy or large enough to serve the population’s needs in building assets and establishing property. Retail and corporate banking is at a very early stage of development and many depend on microcredit or informal lending for credit access in Burundi.

Burundian farmers rely on agriculture for their livelihoods, and One Acre Fund (OAF) has experienced an immense demand from these farmers for the services they offer. One Acre Fund is a nonprofit that offers credit and guidance in order to assist small landowners in growing their way out of famine and help them build thriving futures. Burundi is just one out of the many developing countries they serve.

OAF offers a complete package of services, utilizing a four-step market-based strategy that allows the organization to remain financially sustainable and grow to touch the lives of more farmers each year.

  1. Asset-Based Loans
    Financing for quality seeds and fertilizer is given to farmers on a credit basis, and they are offered a flexible repayment plan that allows them to repay their loans in any amount throughout the term.
  2. Delivery
    Farm inputs are delivered to areas that are within walking distance of all the farmers that OAF serves.
  3. Training
    Trained professionals offer the farmers guidance on advanced agricultural techniques throughout the entire season.
  4. Market Facilitation
    Solutions for storing crops and techniques on monitoring the constant variations of the market are taught to the farmers so that they are able to time the sale of their crops in order to maximize profits.

This strategy has allowed for thousands of families to yield higher-quality crops without spending additional funds. With Burundi being one of the poorest countries globally, farmers that are usually starting at a low-profit baseline have seen large improvements in their earnings since being involved with One Acre Fund. Subsequently, retention of farmers and loan repayment rates in Burundi are some of the highest of all the countries OAF serves. By providing all of these services in one, One Acre Fund allows farmers a useful way to get farming help and credit access in Burundi.

– Zainab Adebayo

Photo: Flickr

Credit Access in South AfricaBecause poverty has hindered a large portion of South African households from getting access to formal credit sources, informal credit like loan sharks and mashonisa loans has prevailed. Economists believe that better credit access in South Africa provided by financial institutions might help to boost the economy as well as alleviate poverty.

Previous research from the University of Cape Town had already shown the strong relationship between economic growth and credit expansion in South Africa. Recently, economist Roelof Botha from the Gordon Institute of Business Science reiterated the idea that credit expansion – especially by financial institutions lending money to unsecured borrowers – could invigorate the struggling economy.

Though South Africa is experiencing a declining economy, the household debt to income ratio has dropped consistently, from 87.8 percent in 2008 to 73.2 percent in 2017. This ratio appears to be exceptionally low compared to South Africa’s trading partners like Australia, which exceeded 200 percent in 2017 despite its growing economy.

Notwithstanding a high percentage of homeownership (more than 54 percent), Botha argues that the low value of the homes – which disqualifies them as collateral – has become “unnecessary obstacles” for the households to obtain credit from formal channels.

Lowering the bar for obtaining credit allows consumers to purchase more goods or even to start small businesses, which are both beneficial to the overall economy. Furthermore, research from Innovations for Poverty Action shows that better access to credit could not only increase the quality of life of the borrowers, but also give lenders more profit.

In an article published by Boston Consulting Group in April 2017, researchers claimed that though the percentage of South African adults who have borrowed from commercial banks rests at a modest 12 percent, informal credit accounts for a greater portion of the entire credit market.

Compared to formal channels, debts from informal channels are more difficult to regulate and might exacerbate the financial situation of already unsecured borrowers due to the sky-high interest rate.

In addition, the South African informal debit market bears an alarming default rate of an estimated 12 percent – much higher than countries that are risk-averse like China (1 percent) and Germany (2 percent).

The Reserve Bank has already started to lower its repo rate and plans to reduce the rate further to increase credit access in South Africa in 2018, expecting better economic growth. The steady inflation rate, averaging 4.9 percent through most of 2017, also provides households with better credit affordability.

From a long-term perspective, Botha said, the number of households with a buying power of R120,000 or higher per year experienced a dramatic increase from 200,000 in 2002 to 2.7 million in 2016, making the average real growth 15 percent, which is much greater than the average economic growth rate. Therefore, credit expansion should have the potential to further this growth.

Expanding credit access in South Africa provided by regulated financial institutions has the potential to increase purchase power, lower unemployment rates and eventually boost economic growth while removing the financial barriers imposed by unregulated informal credit, helping people to exit poverty.

– Chaorong Wang

Photo: Flickr

Credit Access in Bosnia and HerzegovinaPeople often sing the praises of microfinance as a means of encouraging entrepreneurship and growth in developing countries. Without a doubt, microloans are a resourceful tool. With the encouragement of the international community, they have been used rather extensively to help improve the ease of credit access in Bosnia and Herzegovina. That being said, it is important to view microloans not as an economic panacea, but as a component of the overall financial sector that can and does affect other aspects of the developing economy.

The economic crisis that began in 2008 continues to affect credit access in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In addition to causing extended deflation, which hurts small businesses, it also left lending institutions very risk-averse, especially where small and medium-sized enterprises are concerned.

The situation is not all bad. There is an unusually large number of financial institutions in the country and the demand for credit is beginning to increase as the economy grows. This increase in demand is also caused by the growth of many small businesses. Unfortunately, conservative lending practices mean that while it would appear that would-be borrowers have plenty of options, it can still be difficult to get a loan. Additionally, high taxes and complicated regulations mean that there is a large informal sector in the country, further complicating the small business environment. Some of these informal operations are able to undercut their formal counterparts, making competition difficult and hampering people’s ability to get a loan.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is attempting to bring about change. Its Development Credit Authority Loan Guarantee facility backs up to 50 percent of the loan principal for borrowers deemed too risky for a regular loan. USAID is improving credit access in Bosnia and Herzegovina by enabling borrowers to secure financing who would otherwise be rejected.

However, it is important to consider how improving credit access in Bosnia and Herzegovina might have unintended impacts. This growth in access to microloans without broader changes in the macroeconomy has meant that while it is easier to secure financing to start a business, the same cannot be said for securing financing to grow an existing business.

While the international community has stepped in to encourage microloans, they have not done the same to encourage banks to make larger loans available to medium-sized enterprises seeking to grow. While many banks claim to offer this kind of financing, the reality is that many will only lend to the most exceptionally qualified applicants, and even then the rates and terms offered may simply not be feasible for the borrower.

This means that there is an ever-growing cohort of businesses in the country that are too large to benefit from microloans but too small or still too risky to borrow from domestic banks. This is a major hurdle to clear before credit access in Bosnia and Herzegovina can really be said to have improved.

It is also important to consider the impact that improved credit access in Bosnia and Herzegovina may have on education. One recent study found that 16 to 19-year-olds in Bosnia and Herzegovina whose parents received microfinancing for their family businesses were nine percent less likely to be regularly attending school. This figure jumped to 19 percent when the adults in the household had only a primary school education.

This is not to say that improving credit access in Bosnia and Herzegovina for small businesses isn’t a worthy endeavor. It most certainly is, and it can and does lift people out of poverty. However, it is important to also provide continued support and acknowledge the ways that this issue interacts with Bosnia and Herzegovina’s broader economic circumstances to ensure that this money is able to make a real difference.

– Michaela Downey

Photo: Google