Microfinance is the provision of financial services to low-income clients or solidarity lending groups including consumers and the self-employed, who traditionally lack access to banking and related services. It is not just about giving micro credit to the poor rather it is an economic development tool whose objective is to assist poor to work their way out of poverty. It covers a wide range of services like credit, savings, insurance, remittance and also non-financial services like training, counseling etc.
Microfinance sector has grown rapidly over the past few decades. Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus is credited with laying the foundation of the modern MFIs with establishment of Grameen Bank, Bangladesh in 1976. Today it has evolved into a vibrant industry exhibiting a variety of business models. Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) in India exist as NGOs (registered as societies or trusts), Section 25 companies and Non-Banking Financial Companies (NBFCs). Commercial Banks, Regional Rural Banks (RRBs), cooperative societies and other large lenders have played an important role in providing refinance facility to MFIs. Banks have also leveraged the Self-Help Group (SHGs) channel to provide direct credit to group borrowers.
Salient Features of Microfinance
Gaps in Financial System and Need for Microfinance
According to the latest research done by the World Bank, India is home to almost one third of the world’s poor (surviving on an equivalent of one dollar a day). Though many central government and state government poverty alleviation programs are currently active in India, microfinance plays a major contributor to financial inclusion. In the past few decades it has helped out remarkably in eradicating poverty. Reports show that people who have taken microfinance have been able to increase their income and hence the standard of living.
About half of the Indian population still doesn’t have a savings bank account and they are deprived of all banking services. Poor also need financial services to fulfill their needs like consumption, building of assets and protection against risk. Microfinance institutions serve as a supplement to banks and in some sense a better one too. These institutions not only offer micro credit but they also provide other financial services like savings, insurance, remittance and non-financial services like individual counseling, training and support to start own business and the most importantly in a convenient way.
The borrower receives all these services at her/his door step and in most cases with a repayment schedule of borrower’s convenience. But all this comes at a cost and the interest rates charged by these institutions are higher than commercial banks and vary widely from 10 to 30 percent. Some claim that the interest rates charged by some of these institutions are very high while others feel that considering the cost of capital and the cost incurred in giving the service, the high interest rates are justified.
Channels of Micro finance
In India microfinance operates through two channels:
SHG – Bank Linkage Programme
This is the bank-led microfinance channel which was initiated by NABARD in 1992. Under the SHG model the members, usually women in villages are encouraged to form groups of around 10-15. The members contribute their savings in the group periodically and from these savings small loans are provided to the members. In the later period these SHGs are provided with bank loans generally for income generation purpose. The group’s members meet periodically when the new savings come in, recovery of past loans are made from the members and also new loans are disbursed. This model has been very much successful in the past and with time it is becoming more popular. The SHGs are self-sustaining and once the group becomes stable it starts working on its own with some support from NGOs and institutions like NABARD and SIDBI.
Micro Finance Institutions
Those institutions which have microfinance as their main operation are known as micro finance institutions. A number of organizations with varied size and legal forms offer microfinance service. These institutions lend through the concept of Joint Liability Group (JLG). A JLG is an informal group comprising of 5 to 10 individual members who come together for the purpose of availing bank loans either individually or through the group mechanism against a mutual guarantee. The reason for existence of separate institutions i.e. MFIs for offering microfinance are as follows:
Controversy on MFIs
The Indian microfinance sector witnessed tremendous growth over the last five years, during which institutions were subject to little regulation. Some microfinance institutions were subject to prudential requirements; however no regulation addressed lending practices, pricing, or operations. The combination of minimal regulation and rapid sector growth led to an environment where customers were increasingly dissatisfied with microfinance services, culminating in the Andhra Pradesh crisis in the fall of 2010.
Due to low repayment rates, microfinance institutions, with exposure to Andhra Pradesh, suffered significant losses. Banks stopped lending to microfinance institutions all over India; for fear that a similar situation would occur elsewhere, resulting in a liquidity crunch for microfinance institutions, which are largely dependent on bank lending as a funding source. With the sector at a standstill, microfinance institutions, microfinance clients, banks, investors, and local governments were calling for new regulation to address the prominent issues of the sector. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) responded by appointing an RBI sub-committee know as the Malegam Committee.
This committee aimed to address the primary customer complaints that led to the crisis, including coercive collection practices, usurious interest rates, and selling practices that resulted in over-indebtedness. The existing regulations did not address these issues, thus, who should respond to these issues, and how they should respond, was uncertain. This prolonged the general regulatory uncertainty and the resulting repayment and institutional liquidity issues. The Malegam Committee released their recommended regulations in January 2011.
As per the report the top 10 Microfinance Companies in India are as follows.