The Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation receives a new technical assistance grant of €900 000 from PROPARCO to facilitate rural communities’ access to insurance products.
Insurance products are tools that enable to protect people against a series of risks, particularly related to diseases or natural disasters. They are drivers of economic development and social well-being. Yet the penetration rate of insurance in Africa is less than 2%. To address this, it is essential to ensure the sustainability of insurance products for people excluded from traditional insurance markets.
New technical assistance programme: training of microfinance institutions to microinsurance
The Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation receives a technical assistance grant of €900 000 from PROPARCO, a subsidiary of AFD group, in order to implement a microinsurance programme with the International Labour Organization (ILO).
This new technical assistance programme will enable the Foundation to train and support partner microfinance institutions so that they can add new insurance services to their products, including agricultural insurance. Their clients, vulnerable individuals often excluded from insurance products (low-income households, women, smallholders, microenterprises and small and medium-sized enterprises) will thus be better protected and will be able to increase their resilience to climate, economic and sanitary shocks.
The Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation will be able to rely on the expertise of the ILO’s Impact Insurance programme to develop this programme and train nearly a dozen partner MFIs in Africa and South-East Asia.
The Foundation had already obtained a guarantee of €10 million from the AFD group to support these partner institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa during the Covid-19 crisis at the end of 2020. This guarantee, as well as this grant, is part of the long-standing partnership between the Foundation and AFD / PROPARCO that started in 2013 with the launch of the African Facility programme which comes to an end in December 2021.
ADA, Inpulse and the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation joined forces in 2020 to monitor and analyse the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on their partner microfinance institutions around the world. This monitoring was carried out periodically throughout 2020 to gain a better insight into how the crisis has developed internationally. We are extending this work this year, on a quarterly basis. The conclusions presented in this article follow the second quarter of 2021. With this regular analysis, we hope to contribute, at our level, to the construction of strategies and solutions adapted to the needs of our partners, as well as to the dissemination and exchange of information by and between the different stakeholders in the sector.
The results presented in the following pages come from the seventh survey in the series shared by ADA, Inpulse and the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation. Responses from our partner microfinance institutions (MFIs) were collected in the second half of July 2021. The 78 institutions that responded are located in 40 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA-32%), Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC-30%), Eastern Europe and Central Asia (ECA-22%), North Africa and the Middle East (MENA-9%) and South and Southeast Asia (SSEA-6%).
The fairly positive overall trend nevertheless conceals highly contrasting realities, with the largest number of institutions returning to growth and others continuing to encounter difficult economic conditions. The first group shows growth in their assets and positive development projections for the end of 2021. This outlook remains measured nonetheless (mostly between 0 and 10% of portfolio growth) as factors such as client demand and risk management continue to affect expansion opportunities.
Conversely, some institutions are facing difficulties specific to health contexts, the effects of which are weighing on economic life and are having a strong impact on transaction volumes. As a result, the profitability of their financial performance has been affected to the point of having a negative effect on the equity capital of the most fragile.
An operating environment that continues to improve overall
The reduction of operational constraints and the gradual recovery of business activities are again confirmed in this latest survey. Needless to say, this trend hides some disparities that are less well oriented due to the measures taken to fight the spread of the virus. At the beginning of July 2021, 47% of the institutions surveyed said that they no longer faced operational constraints on a daily basis (Figure 1). Also, all constraints relating to traveling in the country and meeting clients do not concern more than 20% of respondents.
This is reflected in the level of activity of the institutions: 72% of the MFIs have either returned to a pace similar to that before the crisis or are experiencing a gradual recovery without major interruptions (figure 2). This phenomenon is particularly visible in the ECA region, where the level of activity has not declined for almost all institutions. In the LAC and SSA regions, a majority of organisations are in the same situation (63% and 68% respectively). In these areas, the difficulties are particularly acute in East Africa, Panama, and Honduras. Finally, for MFIs in the MENA region, the trend is towards recovery while those in SSEA are largely facing new difficulties (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Sri Lanka).
Part of MFIs have returned to growth
It is in this context that MFIs continue to disburse loans to their clients. Whereas the increase in portfolio at risk (PAR) and the reduction in the loan portfolio were the major financial consequences of the crisis in 2020, only 36% of the MFIs surveyed in July still report a decline in their outstanding loans (figure 5).
This positive analysis masks a slow process, however, as shown by the response of our partners to whether they met their disbursement targets in Q2 2021. More than half (53%) indicated that they did not meet their disbursement targets in this period, a figure that is relatively close to that obtained in Q1. This result is not entirely correlated with an organisation’s level of operations: more than half of the MFIs in the LAC and SSA regions report unmet targets despite a favourable operating environment. Note that three major reasons are cited by MFIs that did not meet their growth targets this quarter: the drop in amounts requested by clients (45%), clients’ reluctance to commit to new loans (43%), and managing risk by focusing only on existing clients (38%). Thus, MFIs in the EAC region are the exception with excellent performance in Q2 2021.
Even if these indicators reveal an inconsistent pace of development, the year 2021 is expected to end with growth in outstanding loans for the vast majority of MFIs. In fact, 86% of the institutions surveyed expect to have more outstanding loans than in December 2020 by the end of the year 2021. This growth will be reasonable for a large proportion of them: 44% of respondents expect portfolio growth of between 0 and 10%, particularly in the MENA and Latin America & Caribbean regions. For slightly more than a third of MFIs (36%), it will be between 10 and 30%. Projections are split between these two estimates in the other three regions analysed. Finally, it should be noted that 10-20% of MFIs in each region expect to reduce their outstanding loans.
Credit risk remains under control but is still present
Despite these reassuring signs of portfolio growth, MFIs still face a high credit risk, a lingering remnant of the crisis. In point of fact, 58% of respondents in Q2 2021 stated that the current portfolio at risk remains higher than in early 2020. While some institutions still have an active moratorium (only 5%), the loans of clients in trouble at the beginning of the crisis are now showing up in the PAR as restructured or delinquent loans. In addition, there are clients in arrears who did not have a moratorium. All these loans are provisioned to cover the proven risk of default. The decline in profitability is another major financial consequence of the crisis, fuelled by the sharp increase in provisioning expenses and the reduction in the number of outstanding loans.
In detail, it appears that 59% of our partners have increased their provisioning levels compared with before the crisis (Figure 6). For most (71% of these 59%), the increase is between 0 and 25% of the usual amount, a situation that is found in every region except the SSEA. Conversely, there is a group of MFIs (40%) that no longer see a major increase in credit risk and whose provisioning expenses are similar to the past or even decreasing. In this respect, the ECA region again stands out, as this is the case for nearly 60% of the organisations surveyed in the region.
As we noted in our recent studies, however, this has not yet translated into a very large increase in loan write-offs. At the end of Q2 2021, 59% of respondents indicated that loan write-off levels for the year were either down from previous years or at the same level. Nevertheless, 13% of MFIs had to write off at least twice as many loans as they did before the crisis.
Equity has been largely unaffected so far
The profitability of microfinance institutions is affected by the return of business activities, the variation in outstanding loans and the risk coverage (factors presented in the foregoing paragraphs). The trend is downward for 51% of our partners (Figure 5). However, the information collected at the end of June 2021 is reassuring: 80% of respondents have a level of profitability that is at least balanced, which does not affect the capital of their structure (Figure 7). In the same vein, despite a negative result, 11% of respondents do not feel pressure on their equity. The situation is nonetheless more critical for 8% of the partners surveyed, whose level of capitalisation is at risk, leading to a potential breach of covenant with their funders or the regulator.
Given the difficulties faced by some of the clients, whom are up against new waves of complications related to COVID-19 or other factors, potential losses could affect the solvency of microfinance institutions. Some of them already require the intervention of their shareholders or investors. In our last study, we learned that the type of shareholder that institutions want to turn to depends on the reason why this support is needed (to cover losses or to grow). This survey shows that 20% of the respondents are already confronted by this issue: needs may arise despite recent capital support, but some MFIs are also without a solution in this regard (10%). These cases show that the impact of the crisis will still be felt by institutions already hard hit by this unprecedented period, but also by less robust MFIs. Vigilance on capital need remains necessary as the long-term impact of credit risk could turn the tables on other organisations if the overall situation does not improve, for example with the arrival of new epidemic waves.
In 2013, the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation made the strategic decision to launch a technical assistance programme coordination activity in order to strengthen its capacity of impact. Funded by the French Development Agency (AFD), the African Facility is the first assistance programme initiated by the Foundation. It aims to support small, high-potential microfinance institutions with a social commitment by coupling a line of financing with a technical assistance activity.
The Foundation now offers six major technical assistance programmes, in cooperation with major international organisations, to strengthen the network of microfinance institutions and impact businesses in Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Asia. This activity Technical assistance has thus become one of the Foundation’s four lines of business, alongside investment, financing, and investment advisory.
Diversifying and structuring its technical assistance programmes
Since the launch of this activity, the Foundation has mobilised appropriate funding from institutional actors. It also follows clear procedures, based on international best practices and compliance with funders’ criteria on procurement rules.
The breadth of its technical assistance is reflected in the variety of programmes the Foundation coordinate, both general and thematic. With eight years of experience, it now has a proven ability to strengthen its partners.
In addition to strengthening its partners in their operational consolidation, the Foundation also supports them in addressing the many challenges they face in constantly changing environments and markets. Technical assistance programs help develop strategies for inclusive green finance, digitalisation, financial inclusion of refugees, etc.
The Foundation also plays a role in promoting social impact banking practices. The Solidarity Bankers programme makes a major contribution to this within the Crédit Agricole Group.
Lessons learned and recommendations
In 2020, with the methodological help of Cerise, an independent organisation, the Foundation decided to conduct an in-depth evaluation of its technical assistance. It is now drawing lessons from this model through recommendations concerning the entire process: internatl procedures, intervention methods, involvement of beneficiary organisations, choice of the service provider, reporting, post-mission monitoring.
Through this document, the Foundation report on this work by sharing its experience with all those who contribute to the consolidation of the inclusive finance sector.
Feedback on the programme with the testimony of Thomas DOVONOU – Head of Credit Department, in charge of the Promotion of New Products at RENACA.
RENACA is a Tier 2 microfinance institution created in 2005 to strengthen significantly the economic base of vulnerable rural, peri-urban and urban self-employed populations. RENACA provides individual and group loans to a predominantly female clientele in six regions of Benin. Within the technical assistance programme of the African Facility, RENACA has received support from the YAPU consulting firm to strengthen its actions in inclusive green finance.
Why was the development of a business plan important for your institution?
This mission was an initial intervention with RENACA-Benin (Réseau National des Caisses Villageoises d’Epargne et de Crédit Autogérées du Bénin) to develop our green agenda and define our organizational objectives. On the one hand, we wanted to benefit from an introductory awareness on the concept of inclusive green finance. On the other hand, an institutional assessment was needed to do a situational analysis of our actions in the field of inclusive green finance in order to identify and take advantage of market opportunities.
As RENACA operates mainly in rural areas, one of our priorities was to receive advice to develop our agricultural credit product offering, in terms of scope, productivity and management of risks linked to climate change. The consulting firm also trained us on the concept of Climate-Smart Agriculture.
What did you expect from the consultant? Did the results meet your expectations?
The YAPU consulting firm carried out an assessment of RENACA on its level of initial implementation of inclusive green finance, based on a review of our documentation, our processes and by interviewing our teams. The firm has truly worked with all of the Network’s players (general management managers, operational staff, elected representatives and clients) to define our challenges and structure our priorities in an action plan. This allowed us to have a framework to strengthen our activities towards a more active and responsible organization from an environmental point of view.
We particularly appreciated the participatory approach of YAPU, as well as the good preparation of the mission and the quality of the documentation provided.
What actions have you implemented following the mission?
We first completed a Green Index and shared the results within the Network. Thus, the teams were informed of our current situation in terms of the level of implementation of inclusive green finance and became aware of our areas of improvement and possible opportunities.
Then, the results of the mission were used to improve the inclusive green finance system through the implementation of some recommendations.
For instance, we drew up a list of activities excluded from funding because they are harmful to the environment and the well-being of customers (production of charcoal, extraction activities leading to the pollution of water bodies, etc.) In addition to this list, a list of behaviors for lasting change expected from our customers was formulated.
We have also developed our offer of agricultural financial products through the establishment of an appropriate system in terms of strategy, actor profile (operational agents and pool of agricultural finance specialists), procedures and policies, tools, financial resources, partnerships, etc.
Finally, RENACA has developed an environmental and social policy, which has been adopted by its Board of Directors. The next step will be to disseminate it to network stakeholders (operational agents, customers, elected officials, etc.).
Ultimately, thanks to YAPU’s intervention, we better understood the opportunities and challenges of inclusive green finance. This mission therefore enabled a real awareness of the Network’s teams, from general management to field agents.
Phare Performing Social Enterprise (PPSE) is a social enterprise created in 2012 on the initiative of Phare Ponleu Selpak (“The Brightness of the Arts”), a Cambodian NGO, which has been working for more than 20 years for access to quality and artistic education for children in a precarious situation. Today, the NGO welcomes more than 1,000 children and has more than 300 students in its performing arts school located in Battambang. It offers these young artists circus, theater, music and dance lessons through professionalization programs lasting 4 to 6 years.
The Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation has been a shareholder of PPSE since 2013 and provides financial support in the development of its projects including the Phare Cafe, the Phare Boutique and Phare, The Cambodian Circus. PPSE also benefited from technical assistance through the Solidarity Bankers program in 2019 and 2020.
Phare, The Cambodian Circus was created to offer employment opportunities to young students and graduates of Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPSA) Circus programs. 80% of the dividends made are donated to the PPSA association in order to ensure the sustainability of the project. The initiative is a success: Phare artists perform every evening under the Big Top in Siem Reap and their performances have gathered more than 100,000 spectators since the opening in 2013. They have also made numerous tours around the world: in Asia, Australia, the United States but also in Europe. The Crédit Agricole group also had the privilege of welcoming the troupe to its campus in Montrouge in 2015. In 8 years, Phare, The Cambodian Circus has become one of the most innovative social business models in Cambodia.
Do not miss the opportunity to discover their work during their French tour between November and December 2021. “L’Or Blanc”, the title of their show, is a periphrase refering to rice, omnipresent in everyday life and in the Cambodian imagination. It is the central element of the scenography and brings a poetic dimension to the feat of the artists who perform juggling and acrobatics with poetry and energy. Much more than a circus show, Phare performances are unique in the world: they combine dance, theater, live music and circus arts. Breathtaking.
The 5th edition of the African Microfinance Week (SAM), a biennial conference dedicated to the development of financial inclusion in Africa, will take place from October 18 to 22, 2021 in Kigali, Rwanda, on the theme of resilience.
Organized by ADA Microfinance in Luxembourg, the main objective of SAM 2021 is to federate the reflections and commitments of the different categories of actors in the African sector of inclusive finance. Conferences and training sessions are organized throughout the week in order to discuss strategies and actions to be carried out to strengthen the resilience capacities of financial service operators and beneficiary populations and accelerate their progress towards sustainable development objectives.
The SAM conference: “We are not born resilient, we become resilient: strengthening inclusive finance to overcome crises”
This conference will be held over two days and will be structured in plenary sessions.
In this context, Philippe Guichandut, Director of Inclusive Finance Development at the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation, will speak during two sessions on “MFIs and the way through the Covid-19 crisis in Africa: survey results and lessons” as well as on “The financing of the inclusive finance sector in times of crisis: what role for investors and donors in strengthening the resilience of the sector? “. On this occasion, Philippe Guichandut will share the experience of the Foundation during the Covid-19 crisis and the results of surveys carried out, in partnership with Inpulse and ADA, with their partner microfinance institutions.
Violette Cubier, Technical Assistance program Manager at the Foundation, will speak during an experience sharing session on financial innovations to promote the resilience of refugee populations.
Trainings and workshops
SAM 2021 will also offer around twenty training courses on different themes: agricultural finance, digital finance, inclusive insurance, social performance, etc.
At the initiative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation, a training session will be organized on the theme of financial inclusion for refugees and host communities.
Microinsurance training will also be held by the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation, the International Labor Organization and the Micro Insurance Network.
Eventually, Sébastien Simonot, Senior Investment Manager at the Foundation, will speak during the workshop “Green and inclusive finance: Understanding and tackling client vulnerabilities”. The training will provide participants with an overview of basic client needs assessment frameworks, data collection tools and strategies for integrating these inclusive green finance programs into their organization.
The opportunity to meet its partners
SAM 2021 will also be an opportunity for the Foundation to meet its African partners and in particular the partners involved in the African Facility programme, developed since 2013 in partnership with the Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and which will come to an end as of December 31 of this year. Meetings will be organised ahead of the SAM and will allow all parties involved to take stock of this programme, which has particularly focused on technical assistance and has made it possible to strengthen some twenty microfinance institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa, priority intervention area of the Foundation.
The Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation is proud to be a signatory of the Cerise + SPTF Client Protection Pathway. The Client Protection Pathway guides providers in implementing the Client Protection Standards, which are the essential practices for excellence in consumer protection in terms of product design & delivery, prevention of over-Indebtedness, transparency, responsible pricing, fair & respectful treatment of clients, privacy of client data, and mechanisms for complaints resolution.
The Client Protection Pathway is a tool developed by CERISE* and the Social Performance Task Force (SPTF)** to help financial service providers commit, make and share progress and even certify to client protection standards.
Edouard Sers, Head of Risk, Compliance and Impact at the Foundation expresses enthusiasm over the launch of the client protection pathway: “When the Smart Campaign closed last year, I was concerned that the industry might lose its focus on client protection. As a partner of 76 MFIs in Sub Saharan Africa, South East Asia, South Asia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the Grameen Credit Agricole Foundation pays great attention to their practices during each due diligence and stands ready to accompany them in their path to excellence in client protection, through financing and technical assistance. I am thrilled that CERISE and the SPTF take up this important role in our industry.”
It is only through collective action that we can ensure the stability of the industry, even more so in these times of climate change and pandemic. The Foundation therefore highly encourages its partners to prioritize client protection and join this major initiative.
*CERISE is an organization created in 1998 which promotes responsible, inclusive and ethical finance and works with various actors in the sector to co-create free social standard and social assessment tools.
** SPTF is a non-profit organization that seeks to develop and promote standards and good practices for social performance management to make financial services safer for clients.