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Information sharing, credit booms, and financial stability

11.10.2016F.Leon, University of Luxembourg & S. Guérineau, Université d'Auvergne

The global financial crisis has highlighted the vulnerability of financial systems and stressed the need for improving the management of financial vulnerability. The financial stability issue in low-income countries (LICs henceforth) has received less attention in recent years, insofar as they have been less impacted by the global financial crisis than emerging economies. However, a better understanding of financial fragility mechanisms in LICs is crucial. The experience of LICs shows that they could suffer sharp increases in non-performing loans and banking crises, and that the cost of banking crises is high, even if the banking sector is small.

In a recent paper, we investigate the determinants of financial fragility in advanced and developing countries, focusing on the interaction between credit booms and credit information sharing systems. A large number of studies have shown that excessive credit booms are one of the main drivers of financial crises. The development of credit information sharing (CIS) institutions may attenuate the negative effect of credit booms and/or limit the occurrence of such booms.

First, CIS can mitigate the negative effect of credit booms. A rapid growth of credits can weaken the quality of credit screening. During credit booms, credit officers cannot devote sufficient time to correctly screen new projects and bad projects have a higher probability of being financed. The presence of efficient CIS institutions could attenuate the negative effect of credit booms with screening. In addition, credit booms often fuel a rapid rise in asset prices (real estate and equity bubbles). Since assets may be used as collateral, the price rise will itself help an acceleration of credit growth ("financial accelerator") and reinforce the deterioration of screening. The presence of information sharing mechanisms may allow banks to diversify their portfolio. This diversification can limit the increase of asset prices induced by rapid credit growth, and therefore limit the detrimental impact of such episodes.

Second, CIS might affect the occurrence of credit booms, even if its effect is theoretically unknown. On the one hand, information sharing may curb credit growth by avoiding some customers borrowing from several banks. On the other hand, a reduction in the information asymmetries across banks may lead to an easing of lending standards and, in turn, an increase in the volume of lending (lending boom). Mechanisms through which CIS alleviates the detrimental and occurrence of credit booms can differ between developing countries and industrialized economies.

In order to identify the impact of information sharing and its transmission channel, we built a dataset combining a bank-level and country-level database. The sample included 159 countries with 79 developing countries and 80 emerging and developed countries over the period 2008-2014. To study whether developing countries differ from other countries, two groups of countries were distinguished: countries with a GNI per capita below US$ 4,125 in 2014 (n=79, called developing countries) and countries with a GNI per capita exceeding US$ 4,125 (n=80, called developed and emerging countries). Financial fragility was assessed by scrutinizing annual changes in the ratio of NPL to total loans. Episodes of financial fragility were identified every time this ratio jumped by at least 3%. This measure enabled capturing all episodes of financial distress and not only the extreme ones (banking crisis). The development of CIS was assessed by the depth index and the coverage of CIS. Both were extracted from Doing Business.

Estimations confirmed findings from other papers by highlighting the stabilizing impact of CIS. The paper also documented that this result held for both less developed countries (GNI per capita below US$ 4,125) and other countries (advanced and emerging). In a second step, the complex relationships between CIS, credit booms and financial fragility were analyzed. Econometric estimations pointed out several important results: (i) information sharing development had a direct effect on financial stability, even when the impact of credit booms was taken into account; (ii) the higher the scope of information collected, the lower the likelihood to observe a credit boom (but the coverage of CIS did not matter); this effect was smaller and less significant in developing countries; (iii) CIS mitigated the detrimental effect of credit boom but this result held only for advanced and emerging countries; and (iv) credit booms were strong predictors of financial vulnerability, especially in advanced and emerging countries.

These results have several policy implications. First, credit growth is a key variable for macro-prudential policies in low and middle income countries. Second, current efforts to develop CIS schemes should be strengthened, since the latter allow for credit expansion without excessive increase in the overall credit risk. Third, CIS has little impact on credit booms in developing countries, which justifies the extension of other tools - such as macro-prudential policies - to prevent excessive credit growth. Finally, extending the coverage of information sharing systems is not enough, since depth of information sharing is more efficient in avoiding credit booms.

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About the Authors

Florian Léon is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at CREA (University of Luxembourg). Samuel Guérineau is an Associate Professor at the Université d'Auvergne.

This work is part of a research project which received financial support from the DFID-ESRC Growth Research Programme (Grant No. ES/L012022/1). Other project's contributions focus on the implications of capital flows (FDI, aid, remittances) on long-term growth. All contributions are available and can be commented on the blog dedicated to the project.

What we learned from the Conference on Financial Sector Development in African States Facing Fragile Situations? - Part 1

19.07.2016Amadou Sy, Director of Africa Growth Initiative, Brookings Institution

Last month, leaders from the public and private sectors and development partners gathered in Abidjan to discuss the links between fragility, resilience and financial sector development in Africa. This event, a joint initiative created by the African Development Bank, the Making Finance Work for Africa Partnership (MFW4A), FSD Africa, FIRST Initiative and the Initiative for Risk Mitigation in Africa (IRMA), also provided an opportunity to explore prospects for partnerships, innovative policies and private sector-led solutions to accelerate financial sector development in fragile situations in Africa.

In this first instalment of a six-part series, Amadou Sy, Senior Fellow and Director of the African Growth Initiative, Brookings Institution, looks at some of the major takeaways of the conference.

What is fragility?

Using a "harmonized definition," the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Asian Development Bank, and the World Bank classify states as being fragile when they exhibit poor governance or when they face an unstable security situation. For practical purposes, governance is measured by the quality of policies and institutions (states with a CPIA score less than or equal to 3.2) and insecurity is assessed by the presence of United Nations or regional peace keeping operations (PKO). In sub-Saharan Africa most fragile states are also low-income countries (LICs).

While the focus of the "harmonized definition" is on institutions and insecurity, participants stressed that fragility is a multi-faceted concept. In particular, fragility implies weak state institutions, poor implementation capacity, underdeveloped legal and financial infrastructure as well as low social cohesion and the exclusion of a large share of the population from financial and other services. The nature of fragility is also fluid and fragile states face situations ranging from violent conflicts to post-conflict economic recovery. The sources of fragility go beyond poor governance, low GDP per capita, and conflicts to include vulnerability to commodity shocks and other macroeconomic shocks, and exposure to the risk of pandemics.

The need to broaden the definition of fragility was further explored with reference to a quote from President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia "fragility is not a category of states, but a risk inherent in the development process itself". Mr. Sibry Tapsoba, Director of the Transition Support Department of the AfDB argued for a multidimensional approach, which applies a fragility lens to (i) look beyond conflict and violence; (ii) focus on inclusiveness and institutions; (iii) recognize the importance of the private sector; and (iv) recognize the presence of asymmetries in resources, policy, and capacity.

Participants also insisted on the need to go beyond the negative connotation of fragility and recognize instead that fragile states are in transition and present opportunities for human and financial sector development.

What role for financial sector development (FSD) in fragile countries?

Empirical evidence points to the positive role that financial sector development (FSD) can play in fragile countries. There is a positive correlation between financial sector and economic growth, poverty reduction, and inequality reduction. FSD can be a driver of growth through increased job creation and it can help mitigate risks through increased savings, loans, and insurance.

A key finding stressed by Ms. Emiko Todoroki, Senior Financial Sector Specialist at FIRST Initiative is that fragile countries fare worst in all macro and financial metrics, except one: the share of adults with mobile accounts. Digital financial services are offering solutions in fragile states and there is a need to understand better their role.

In the same vein, Ms. Thea Anderson, Director at Mercy Corps argued for the need to focus in on micro issues such as the role of delivery channels, payments infrastructure, insurance, and blended finance (including impact investment), and Islamic finance. As she noted, FSD is relevant even in the more volatile security situations. For instance, refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) can be viewed as a market segment and their financial inclusion can be kick-started with the use of functional identification (which also help comply with Know Your Customer (KYC) requirements). Mr. Paul Musoke, Director of Change Management at FSD Africa also highlighted the role of markets and market building in a difficult context. He noted the need to look for scale, sustainability, and systemic change. As markets are dynamic and not predictable, taking a systems approach can be useful. Such an approach includes asking questions such as what factors are going to play a role in the future? Who is going to pay for infrastructure? What level of development should we target?

Lastly, Mr. Cedric Mousset, Lead Financial Sector Specialist, World Bank reminded the audience that governance remains a key dimension of fragility. Weak governance in fragile countries exposes them to a higher risk of non-compliance with regulations such as anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML-CFT) regulation. Improving governance, although it may be a slow process, is needed to support FSD. Measures to support political stability, improve the business and macroeconomic environment, ensure legal security, and build capacity remain important.

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You can download all the presentations on the conference website.

You can also view a selection of photos here.

For more information, please contact:

Pierre Valere Nketcha Nana
Email :p.nketcha-nana[at]afdb.org

Abdelkader Benbrahim
Email: a.benbrahim[at]afdb.org

Cashless Nigeria – Leading by example

20.10.2015Camilo Tellez-Merchan, Knowledge and Research Manager, BTCA

As Nigeria rolls out one of the developing world's most ambitious policy platforms to boost digital payments and drive greater financial inclusion, it's important to take stock of the country's progress to date, so that policy-makers around the world can learn from Nigeria's experiences.

To this end, the Better Than Cash Alliance has just released two pivotal studies documenting Nigeria's digital journey, including the prospects for further progress in key areas, and four in-depth case studies which, whilst not a representative sample of all large businesses, nonetheless provide several important lessons.

In aggregate, the studies paint a mixed but broadly encouraging picture of Nigeria's success. The transition from cash to digital payments is progressing at very different speeds in different sectors of the economy and by different payment type.

The most promising findings relate to mass payments from a single payer to many payees ('bulk payments'). On this front the Nigerian Government is leading by example, making all of its pension payments, supplier payments and payments to state and municipal governments electronically, along with 61% of its salary and social subsidy payments. Importantly, the Government's leadership has created momentum that is combining with the Central Bank of Nigeria far-reaching Cash-less Nigeria program and driving significant progress towards digital payments among large businesses.

Cash-less Nigeria entails a wide range of policy initiatives ranging from public information campaigns, point-of-sale guidelines and restrictions on cash-in-transit services, and fees to disincentivize cash withdrawals. It is supported by the National Electronic Identity (e-ID) Card, a national ID that citizens may also choose to activate as a MasterCard-branded payment card. The policy was first implemented in 6 states (Lagos, Rivers, Anambra, Abia, Kano, and Ogun State) and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), and it was rolled out nationwide in 2014.

As an indication of progress in Nigeria's corporate sector, as of 2013 large businesses now pay 61% of salaries electronically (compared to 31% in medium businesses, and 15% in small businesses). Indeed, one of the key insights to emerge from BTCA's studies is that digital payments now appear to have passed a tipping point in Nigeria's corporate sector, with the result that for large businesses it is not a question of whether to make the transition to digital payments, but rather one of when and how.

However, for other payment types the progress has been more modest. Although they exist, when it comes to payments by many payers to one payee (e.g. consumers paying a utility company or the national tax authority) digital payment options have not been widely utilized. Factors contributing to this low take-up include an absence of aggressive marketing of digital payment options by utility and other consumer-facing companies, the ubiquity of cash payments, and the large portion of the population that does not have a bank account.

Payments by individuals to one commercial payee (ie. a merchant) make up the overwhelming volume of payments in Nigeria, as it does in many markets. In this category, only 1% of payments by volume are currently being made digitally.

Several key barriers to the faster digitization of payments emerged from the Better Than Cash Alliance's studies. Chief among them is the widespread concern among individuals and small businesses about the scrutiny and consequent tax obligations they will face if they adopt digital payment tools. At the same time, there also exists a broad lack of understanding among individuals and small businesses of the benefits of going digital. There is a clear need for more public education campaigns to fill this knowledge gap. That being said, there is also evidence from a 2014 survey of 600 small businesses that some merchants are starting to recognize some of the key benefits, such as better record-keeping tools.

Also central to the findings is recognition of the need for better infrastructure and stronger incentives to drive change forward. While digital payment infrastructure is advancing rapidly in Lagos, and to a lesser extent in other major cities, it is, unsurprisingly, far less developed in rural and remote areas. Action is needed to overcome these digital gaps.

It is also noteworthy, that debit cards have been widely issued to Nigeria's urban and banked population, but consumers overwhelmingly only use them for cash withdrawals (which are generally free), rather than to make payments at the point-of-sale (POS). This low demand among consumers for digital point-of-sale facilities in turn means merchants have little incentive to invest in digital POS facilities, such that "the use of cards at merchants appears to be at a standstill", according to our analysis.

These are the types of challenges that Nigerian policy-makers will need to address with a new round of targeted initiatives if Nigeria is to build on its successes and aggressively drive greater financial inclusion through digital payments. Happily, the ambition and leadership the Government and Central Bank of Nigeria have already demonstrated augurs well for the future. 

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Camilo Tellez-Merchan is the Knowledge and Research Manager for the Better than Cash Alliance. Prior to joining BTCA, he worked at CGAP in Washington and the GSM Association in London where he supported providers in the area of digital financial services. He has also worked at the UN Economic Commission for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok, and at the Microsoft Labs in Bangalore where he conducted ICT4D research in the technology for emerging markets team.

Gravatar: Carol Caruso, Senior Vice President, Channels & Technology, Accion

New Case Study Provides Evidence on the Impact of Digital Field Applications

21.09.2015Carol Caruso, Senior Vice President, Channels & Technology, Accion

This post was originally published on the Center for Financial Inclusion Blog website.

Providing micro financial services is often a costly endeavor. As practiced in most places today, it involves many manual processes which limit the potential for scaling up and expose vulnerability to poor service, errors, and fraud. Furthermore, as telco operators and fintech companies bring services to customers through new distribution mechanisms, microfinance banks (MFBs) need to explore innovative ways to competitively deliver their services. Hence, it is promising to see a rise in the use of tablets, smartphones, and other devices housing applications that digitize field operations. Digital field applications (DFAs) offer MFBs a way to take advantage of technology to solve some of these challenges. Globally MFBs have deployed DFAs in a wide variety of ways. For example, loan officers equipped with DFAs can process loan applications and answer client inquiries in the field, eliminating paper forms, digitizing data, and saving time and money for organizations and their clients. Bringing financial services out to clients can achieve a much-needed personal touch and can even increase the richness of the client interaction. For example, client education and consumer protection awareness can be more effective when digital messages are delivered by a field staff member. DFAs can also improve credit operations. When assessing loan applications and risks, field officers can operate more efficiently if digitally equipped.

In order for MFBs to successfully leverage these tools, both for their and their clients' benefit, they must understand their business case, and incorporate best practices for implementation that have been derived from lessons learned by others. There is no shortage of pilots that have been halted due to challenges arising from lack of experience and understanding - despite hardware availability or subsidies.

With this in mind, Accion's Channels & Technology group have published a case study aiming to provide some clarity on the impact of DFA use by examining the business case, implementation process, and effects for three MFBs: Ujjivan Financial Services in India, Musoni Kenya, and Opportunity Bank Serbia (OBS). Our case study presents a consolidated review of the findings from the three MFBs, with an accompanying Excel-based business case toolkit, available for MFBs to examine the potential impact a DFA might have on their business. Individual cases presenting the findings from each institution are also available - here, here, and here.

DFAs Are a Sound Investment

When we analyzed the business case - reviewing capital and operational expenditures, cost savings, and revenues earned - we concluded that an MFB could reasonably expect to achieve breakeven between 12 to 24 months after implementing a DFA. Furthermore, although the primary motivation for implementing DFAs was in most cases to improve loan processing efficiency, all three institutions experienced a variety of benefits that went well beyond their core objective.

Key results included:

  • Average loan officer case load increased by 134 percent at Ujjivan
  • Loan application turnaround time (TAT) decreased from 72 to 6 hours at Musoni
  • A new digital credit scorecard delivered a credit-decision in the field for 80 percent of targeted loans at OBS

Additionally, the institutions realized a range of adjacent benefits, including enhanced credit scoring and Social Performance Monitoring (SPM) capabilities, improved enforcement of controls and policies, and a reputation as market innovators.

During the study we also explored client impact and found that clients benefited from increased convenience due to a faster loan application process with fewer KYC documents required, or were notified more quickly if they were not qualified.

Lessons Learned

In studying which elements were essential for successful implementation, strong change management capability was crucial. Several key activities emerged as best practices:

  • A clear understanding of the institution's requirements coupled with strategic business process reengineering ensured the solution was designed optimally to meet their needs.
  • Close cooperation between MFB staff and the solution provider during planning and piloting also proved critical for successful integration and take-up, as testing with end-users revealed pain points that could be redesigned to enhance usability. Furthermore, this collaborative approach helped cultivate project champions among internal staff, an important part of organizational change management.
  • All three MFBs approved contextually appropriate modifications to their DFA solutions, rather than opting for out-of-the-box functionality. For example, the decision to operate in offline mode required robust back-end integration, data storage, and CBS security, but allowed loan officers to perform certain functions in areas of low connectivity.

Overall, results from the case study were very promising, and we hope that more studies will compliment these findings. Equally important is to hear from a wider set of MFBs about their use of DFAs, and the related impact, challenges, and lessons learned.

 

 

Carol Caruso is Accion's Head of Channels & Technology (C&T); responsible for bringing innovative delivery channels and technology solutions to Accion partners and increasing sector development through advisory services and initiatives. Carol has 20 years of experience in business and IT consulting services in developed and developing countries. 

South Africa’s Proposed Credit Regulations Irk Credit Providers, Please Consumers

27.07.2015Magauta Mphahlele, CEO, National Debt Mediation Association (NDMA)

This post was originally published on the Center for Financial Inclusion website.

A few weeks ago, South Africa's Department of Trade and Industry published new proposed regulations pertaining to the National Credit Act limiting fees and interest rates on short-term and unsecured loans along with credit cards. The public may lodge comments to the draft regulations up until 30 days after its publishing date of June 25th. The intelligence used to inform the proposals have not been released so it is not clear what policy, cost, or operational factors were taken into consideration to arrive at the outlined changes. Meanwhile, the microfinance industry in the country, which has been lobbying for the flexibility to charge significantly higher interest rates and fees, seeks to understand the regulators' rationale.

The draft regulations were published after a protracted court battle where one of the industry associations representing micro-lenders requested the court to force the regulator and policymakers to review the fees requirements of the National Credit Act. The fees and interest rates hadn't been reviewed since the Act became effective in 2007 - a concern when taking into account factors like inflation.

Credit providers have responded with dismay and concern about the proposed changes, especially the interest rate caps on unsecured loans. They have expressed the fear that the proposed interest and fee changes will affect the cost of administering credit, reduce profits, and constrict access to credit for borrowers. Other commentators have viewed the reductions favorably considering consumers are already over-indebted to a large extent and the interest rate cycle is predicted to start trending upwards. On this blog a few months ago, I shared that in 2014, the National Credit Regulator (NCR) Credit Bureau Monitor revealed that out of South Africa's roughly 23 million credit active individuals, about 11 million have impaired records.

Now, for some specifics. Bear in mind that the rates listed below are subject to change according to fluctuations in the market's interest rate cycle - namely, fluctuations in the market's "repo rate," which is the rate at which the central bank lends to commercial ones. However, the proposed amendments do dampen the effect of repo rate changes on interest rates so that increases in the cost of capital for banks don't get passed on to borrowers. 

  • Credit Cards & Overdrafts: Current per annum interest rate: 22.65%; proposed interest rate: 19.775%
  • Unsecured Credit Transactions: Current per annum interest rate: 32.65%; proposed interest rate: 24.75%
  • Short-Term Loans (Up to R8,000 (US$648) Repayable Over Six Months): Current per month interest rate: 5%; proposed interest rate: 5% on first loan, and 3% on any additional loans within the same year
  • Maximum Monthly Service Fee: Currently R50 per month; proposed R60 per month
  • Mortgage Agreement: Current (per annum) interest rate of 17.65% would not change with new rules

The draft provision has raised major concerns and uncertainties regarding specifics surrounding the rules and regulations. For example, for monthly service fees, the draft states: "This service fee covers the cost of administering a credit agreement which is the operational cost of the credit provider such as rent, labor, communication, banking, processing of repayments and related costs." It remains unclear what credit providers are allowed to charge for outside the proposed R60 per month and how this will affect sustainability and profitability.

The proposed regulations are part of a broader legal reform strategy in South Africa to address overindebtedness and reckless lending, which the government views as getting out of control. The strategy encompassed recent amendments to the National Credit Act to introduce more stringent loan affordability tests, and moves to stop credit providers from employing unnecessary and hidden fees. The amendments on affordability were promulgated this past March. The amended legislation introduced the new affordability guidelines because any such regulatory mechanisms were lacking. In some cases of reckless lending we are investigating, evidence indicates that consumers consistently under-declare their monthly expenses by as much as 60 percent, that way it appears they have more money for loan repayment.

The affordability amendment requires credit providers verify income as well as conduct the following assessment: calculate the consumer's discretionary income; take into account all monthly debt repayment obligations; and take into account maintenance obligations and other necessary expenses. Additionally, a credit provider must take into account the consumer's debt repayment history under credit agreements.

The new affordability measures incorporate minimal expense norms, which are individuals' necessary expenses that a provider must accept they have and keep free from use for loan repayment. Given the structure of these new expense norms, their introduction will restrict credit to lower income consumers, especially those who currently depend on state grants, unless they have proven additional income. Many view this as a good thing but others fear that they will gravitate towards underground lenders who charge illegal and usurious interest rates and use hard core and illegal collection tactics like retaining bank cards.

Though these affordability amendments to the National Credit Act are already enacted, we'll be eager to witness what transpires during the 30-day comment period for the proposed interest rates and fees amendments. Of course client well-being and protecting against overindebtedness is the central priority of microfinance, but these proposed changes don't seem to match the financial realities required to serve lower income clients.

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