Don’t charge to enlarge: the effect of interest rate changes on microfinance access
Friday, February 7, 2014
A STORY in the finance section this week looks at what has happened to microfinance interest rates. To summarise briefly: we argue that as microfinance for the very poorest borrowers has expanded, microfinance institutions (MFIs) have had to raise their rates. As MFIs target poorer, less reliable customers, they need to charge higher rates to cover increased defaults and steeper funding costs.
So our story looks at the effect of increased access on interest rates. But what about vice versa? What effect do changes in interest rates have on microfinance access? That is another perennial source of controversy in the microfinance community. Some argue that demand for microfinance loans is elastic: borrowers respond strongly to changes in the interest rate. With higher interest rates, far fewer borrowers are willing to take out a loan. That means to increase access to microfinance, lowering interest rates is preferable.