While microfinance products and lending methodologies vary significantly on the ground, two main features of microfinance have made this enormous expansion of access to finance possible: microlending has become scalable due to cost efficient operating models and due to risk management methodologies that ensured high repayment rates.
We need to look more carefully at the interactions between microfinance institutions and their clients, examining how MFI practices play out in lives of clients on an everyday basis. Stuart posed two specific hypotheses: if a lender needs clients to borrow continually, it incentivizes overselling and overindebtedness, and that insistence on immediate, in-full repayment drives some clients to begin bicycling loans.
While over-indebtedness can be difficult to observe in practice, we can use simple surveys to estimate one proxy for over-indebtedness: cross-indebtedness, or the number of institutions from which the typical borrower has a loan.
Over-indebtedness is as old as lending itself. A growing credit market will always bring about cases of client over-indebtedness. To put consumer protection measures in place is an essential part of good practice.
The large MFIs seem to be revising down their growth targets, there are ongoing experiments with new products and there is some hope that a microcredit bureau, at least on a limited scale, will see the light of day within a year or so.