A front page article in the Wall Street Journal states that the micro-finance push maybe creating a credit bubble in India. What started as a social initiative, caught the eyes of investors due to higher returns. Micro-finance loans have interest loans to the tune of 24% - 39% and are generally given to women (more than 90%) who are supposed to be better repayers. Apparently the RBI (Reserve Bank of India) does not regulate interest rates in this market except for advising organizations not to charge too high rates.
Today the number of lenders offering micro-finance has jumped almost 400% from 50 in 2004 to more than 200 in 2008. NBFC (Non Banking Financial Companies) have entered the fray. The loaned amount has grown from less than 0.5 million to 2.4 million. As a result, atleast in some towns and villages there are too many lenders are chasing few good borrowers and - funds loaned for starting business are being used to buy TVs or spent on marriages. Apparently in some over-crowded markets - lending practices are lax; it is often difficult for lenders to cross-check with each other or to verify the utlisation of funds. I just hope the stories of Ramanagram are not being repreated across the country.
This is not to the say that the credit needs to Rural India are being met. Rural Indian economy has very few sources of funds and an even lesser understanding of financial products. I know this by virtue spending an year scaling my organization's distribution beyond metros. It will be really unfortunate if poor lending practices deprive the region and the people their chance for development.
The article published on August 13, 2009 written by Ketaki Gokhale is titled - A Global Surge in Tiny Loans Spurs Credit Bubble in a Slum. You can read it at the WSJ website, but a subscription is needed