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Microfinance as Business


  • David Roodman


  • Uzma Qureshi


We analyze microfinance institutions (MFIs) as businesses, asking how some succeed in covering costs, earning returns, attracting capital, and scaling up. We draw on existing literature and interviews with industry players and academics. Key microfinance business challenges include building volume, keeping loan repayment rates high, retaining customers, and minimizing scope for fraud. Since the 1970s, microfinance innovators have developed clever solutions to these problems. Some have built huge organizations that serve thousands or millions of clients and have demonstrated an impressive capacity for change—in countries, to boot, with weak infrastructure and human capital. The individual innovations have spread both through a Darwinian process of selection and through cultural diffu-sion. We examine three kinds of determinants of commercial success: product design, management, and environmental factors such as regulation. We conclude that much about how microfinance is de-livered can be understood as responses to business imperatives. Indeed, the discoveries of techniques for cost-effective microfinance delivery are the real genius of microfinance, rather than the "discovery" that the poor can repay that dominates its public image. But by Occam's razor (simpler explanations are more plausible), the power of commercial imperatives to explain so many product design choices weakens an alternative explanation for them, namely that they are made primarily to help clients. These doubts point up the need for more rigorous impact evaluations of microfinance.

Suggested Citation

  • David Roodman & Uzma Qureshi, 2006. "Microfinance as Business," Working Papers 101, Center for Global Development.
  • Handle: RePEc:cgd:wpaper:101

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Alesina, Alberto & Devleeschauwer, Arnaud & Easterly, William & Kurlat, Sergio & Wacziarg, Romain, 2003. "Fractionalization," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 8(2), pages 155-194, June.
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    6. Edward L. Glaeser & Rafael La Porta & Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes & Andrei Shleifer, 2004. "Do Institutions Cause Growth?," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 9(3), pages 271-303, September.
    7. Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson & James A. Robinson, 2001. "The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(5), pages 1369-1401, December.
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    9. Paolo Mauro, 1995. "Corruption and Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 110(3), pages 681-712.
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    JEL classification:

    • O16 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Financial Markets; Saving and Capital Investment; Corporate Finance and Governance

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