What you need to know about Microfinance

What is microfinance?

According to Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (2008) microfinance is the supply of loans, savings, and other basic financial services to the poor (CGAP).

What is an MFI?

A microfinance institution (MFI) is an organization that provides microfinance services, ranging from small non-profit organizations to large commercial banks (CGAP).

Why would poor people need financial services?


Small Loans Savings Can Make a Difference to the Poor: Says Kofi Annan- 7TH Secretary General of the United Nation.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated that the great challenge before us is to address the constraints that exclude people from full participation in the financial sector... Together, we can and must build inclusive financial sectors that help people improve their lives. Kofi stated that Microfinance has proved its value, in many countries, as a weapon against poverty and hunger (Kofi Annan- UN Secretary General).


Why don’t they just go to a bank?

The poor rarely access services through the formal financial sector. They address their need for financial services through a variety of financial relationships, mostly informal (CGAP).

Why are microcredit interest rates so high?

The nature of microcredit – small loans – is such that interest rates need to be high to return the cost of the loan (CGAP).

What are the effects of microfinance?

NCDF's vision of inclusive finance is focused on assuring that each of the Least Developed Countries where UNCDF works has a continuum of financial institutions that together offer appropriate financial products and services to all segments of the population. This must be supported by sound policy, legal and regulatory frameworks and is characterized by:

·         Access at a reasonable cost of all households and enterprises to a broad range of financial services including savings, short and long-term credit, leasing and factoring, mortgages, insurance, pensions, payments, local money transfers and international remittances;

·         Sound institutions guided by appropriate internal management systems, industry performance standards, performance monitoring, institutional transparency, accountability and sound prudential regulation;

·         Financial and institutional sustainability as a means of providing access to financial services over time; and

·         Multiple providers of financial services, wherever feasible, so as to bring cost-effective and a wide variety of alternatives to customer (UNCDF Microfinance)

When is microcredit not appropriate?
Microcredit may be inappropriate where conditions pose severe challenges to loan repayment. For example, populations that are geographically dispersed or have a high incidence of disease may not be suitable microfinance clients. In these cases, grants, infrastructure improvements or education and training programs are more effective. For microcredit to be appropriate, the clients must have the capacity to repay the loan under the terms by which it is provided (International Year of Microcredit 2005)


Frequently Asked Questions about Microfinance (FAQs)




What is the difference between microfinance and microcredit?

Microcredit is a small amount of money loaned to a client by a bank or other institution. Microfinance refers to loans, savings, insurance, transfer services, microcredit loans and other financial products targeted at low-income clients. Microcredit has been changing the lives of people and revitalizing communities worldwide since the beginning of time.





Who are the clients of microfinance?

The clients of microfinance are generally poor and low-income people. They may be female heads of households, pensioners, artisans or small farmers. The client group for a given financial organization depends on that organization’s mission and goals.



How do financial services help poor and low-income people?

Anyone who has access to savings, credit, insurance and other financial services is more resilient and better able to deal with everyday demands. Microfinance helps poor and low-income clients deal with their basic needs. For example, with access to microinsurance poor people can cope with sudden expenses associated with serious illness or loss of assets. Merely having access to formal savings accounts has also proved to be an incentive to save. Clients who join and stay in microfinance programs have better economic conditions than non-clients.






What is a microfinance institution? 

A microfinance institution (MFI) is an organization that provides financial services targeted to the poor. While every MFI is different, all share the common characteristic of providing financial services to a clientele poorer and more vulnerable than traditional bank clients.






What is an inclusive financial sector? 

An inclusive financial sector allows poor and low-income people to access credit, insurance, remittance and savings products. In many countries, the financial sectors do not provide these services to the lower income people. An inclusive financial sector will support the full participation of the lower income levels of the population.






If microfinance is about serving the poor, why does the provision of financial services need to be profitable?

Microfinance institutions need to be profitable in order to cover the costs of reaching out and meeting the demand of underserved segments of the population over a sustained period of time. Additionally, after a series of very small loans, a microentrepreneur often wants to expand her business; a microfinance institution must keep up with the demand for larger loan amounts so businesses can grow into small enterprises.





How can poor people afford such high interest rates?

Microcredit interest rates are set to provide viable, long-term financial services on a large scale, while subsidized interest rates generally benefit only a small number of borrowers for a short period. Studies conducted in India, Kenya and the Philippines found that the average annual return on investments by microbusinesses ranged from 117 to 847 per cent. These high returns are commonplace among microentrepreneurs, and while the interest rates seem high, they usually represent only a small portion of microentrepreneurs’ total returns. Interest rates charged by informal moneylenders are overwhelmingly higher than those of MFIs.





Do poor people save?

Poor people save all the time, although mostly in informal ways. They invest in assets such as jewelry, domestic animals, building materials and things that can be easily exchanged for cash. Access to secure, formal savings services provides a cushion when families need more money for seasonal expenses and in tough times. Secure savings accounts allow people to guard against unexpected expenses associated with illnesses, build assets, prepare for old age or pay for school fees, marriages and births.





Why is microfinance so important for women? 

In a world where most poor people are women, studies have shown that access to financial services has improved the status of women within the family and the community. Women have become more assertive and confident. Furthermore, as a result of microfinance, women own assets, including land and housing, play a stronger role in decision-making, and take on leadership roles in their communities.






Microfinance Glossary


Bankable people are those deemed eligible to obtain financial services that can lead to income generation, repayment of loans, savings, and the building of assets.



Microcredit is a small amount of money loaned to a client by a bank or other institution. Microcredit can be offered, often without collateral, to an individual or through group lending.


Group lending, also known as solidarity lending, is a mechanism that allows a number of individuals to provide collateral or guarantee a loan through a group repayment pledge. The incentive to repay is based on peer pressure; if one person in the group defaults, the other group members make up the payment amount.

Individual lending, in contrast, focuses on one client and does not require other people to provide collateral or guarantee a loan.


Microentrepreneurs are people who own small-scale businesses that are known as microenterprises. These businesses usually employ less than 5 people and can be based out of the home. They can provide the sole source of family income or supplement other forms of income. Typical microentrepreneur activities include retail kiosks, sewing workshops, carpentry shops and market stalls.


Microfinance refers to loans, savings, insurance, transfer services and other financial products targeted at low-income clients.


Microinsurance is a system by which people, businesses and other organizations make payments to share risk. Access to insurance enables entrepreneurs to concentrate more on growing their businesses while mitigating other risks affecting property, health or the ability to work.


Microsavings are deposit services that allow people to store small amounts of money for future use, often without minimum balance requirements. Savings accounts allow households to save small amounts of money to meet unexpected expenses and plan for future investments such as education and old age.


Remittances are transfers of funds from people in one place to people in another, usually across borders to family and friends. Compared with other sources of money that can fluctuate depending on the political or economic climate, remittances are a relatively steady source of funds.


Unbanked describes people who have no access to financial services (services that include savings, credit, money transfer, insurance, or pensions) through any type of financial sector organization such as banks, non-bank financial institutions, financial cooperatives and credit unions, finance companies, and NGOs. Implicit in this definition is that financial services are usually available only to those individuals termed “economically active” or “bankabl (International Year Microcredit, 2005).





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