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A.J. Renold of Opportunity International Blogs on MFTransparency

Published on December 28, 2009
Microfinance is a young and growing industry. Formal microfinance services such as savings, credit and insurance, have yet to reach a majority of the working poor around the world and thus there are many microfinance providers trying tap into this demand.As is the case with many industries in their early stages, the explosion of providers and products outpaces the creation of industry standards and an appropriate regulatory framework. One major problem that has arisen is that credit products are complicated.Microcredit products have a variety of pricing strategies which can be used to change the actual price of a loan, known as the annual percentage rate (APR), and also change repayment amounts. While the APR is the final reflection of how much a customer is paying for a loan, repayment amounts do not always accurately reflect the APR. In the worst case, a microlender can use low repayment sizes to deceive a customer into paying a higher price for a loan. (This assumes that a customer is not shown or does not understand APR, and would prefer a loan with a lower repayment amount) Started in July 2008, Microfinance Transparency (mftransparency.org) has set out to be a venue for industry transparency where all stakeholders can access accurate price information.

Founder, Chuck Waterfield, and other talented individuals from MFTransparency have the goal of compiling data based on actual lending products and then translating price information into medium that is understood down to the poorest and least educated customer. The most important outcome is that better information enables stakeholders to make better decisions. MFTransparency has received support and participation from Opportunity International as well as over 250 other industry leaders, representing over 80 million clients. On Wednesday, November 18th and Friday, November 20th, MFTransparency held webinars presenting completed data from their work in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Cambodia. Their work in compiling data and presenting it clearly (free of charge!) is impressive.

On MFTransparency, a user can go from a country overview of true loan pricing (see screen shot bellow), all the way down to seeing an actual schedule of loan repayments. Loan pricing data can be sorted by microfinance institution, by product and by a multitude of other filters. So far, only two countries have been launched, but price data from Peru, Kenya, and Azerbaijan are coming soon. By supporting initiatives like MFTransparency, Opportunity International and other microfinance providers can drive our industry toward a better, more transparent future.

Alexandra Fiorillo, MFTransparency’s Vice President of Operations, and one of the webinar panelists, shared a great story on her work collecting data. She had a microfinance institution in Kenya submit their data set to her before she landed in Kenya to begin the project. This level of participation and eagerness to do so is a great sign of the promise that MFTransparency holds. We have set out to bring access to financial services to the poor and collaboration efforts like this will help to achieve this goal. I encourage those interested in greater transparency among microfinance providers to find their way onto mftransparency.org and take some time to play around with the data. Find out why smaller sized loans typically have higher interest rates.

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