Vulnerability of Microfinance to Strategic Default and Covariate Shocks:Evidence from Pakistan
This paper investigates the repayment behavior of microfinance borrowers in Pakistan using a unique dataset of about 45,000 installments/repayments covering 2,945 microfinance borrower households over the period 1998-2007. In early 2005, the microfinance institution for these borrowers adopted a new system with strict enforcement of punishment against repayment delays/defaults. This reform led to a healthy situation with almost zero default rates, overcoming the previous problem of frequent defaults. We hypothesize that strategic default under the joint liability mechanism-if one group member is hit by a negative shock and faces difficulty in repayment, the other members who are able to repay may decide to default as well, instead of helping the unlucky member-was encouraged by weak enforcement of dynamic incentives and responsible for the pre-reform failure. As evidence for this interpretation, we show that a borrower’s delay in installment repayment was correlated with other group members’ repayment delays, beyond the level explained by possible correlation of project failures due to locally covariate shocks during the pre-reform period. The post-reform period is divided into two sub-periods by an earthquake in October 2005. Analysis of repayment behavior in the post-reform period yields the results that suggest that (1) the relative success under the new system was because of the suppression of strategic behavior among group members, thereby allowing joint liability schemes to function as individual lending schemes de facto and (2) the earthquake only marginally affected the new system in terms of repayment delays.
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