Serving the Rural Community with Affordable Financial Services

In every society, access to financial services for every citizen is a vital part of sustained economic development. More emphasis should be given to the roots of society: the rural sectors and working-class. But most of the time, it is very hard to identify financial institutions that provide these needed services, which could improve the livelihoods and reduce risk. Most commercial financial institutions do not provide the proper services needed to support these sectors, as it is not viable to provide cheap services to these communities. They are also unable to provide their services directly to the target group because of high transaction costs coupled with small transaction size and the higher perceived risk of financing clients without collateral.

Therefore, may countries today use alternative approaches instead. The goal is to bring all people into the country’s financial system so that they will have continuous and permanent access to affordable financial services.

There are several categories of financial providers

1) Formal Financial Institution: Professional entities such as licensed banks.
Problems: The small profits that can be earned may not compensate for the significant cost and effort involved in tailoring products and delivery systems, especially low-income people. Nevertheless, banks interested in this niche have successfully created a separate unit within the bank, or established a separate affiliated company before.

2) Informal Providers: Small member-managed entities that are not licensed.

3) Semi-Formal Institutions: NGO, small financial cooperatives, and community-based financial organizations

a) Cooperative Financial Institutions (Cooperative banks, credit unions to small village based cooperative entities)

b) Microfinance Non-Governmental Organizations

c) Community Based Financial Organizations (village savings, loan associations, savings and credit associations, self-help groups)

d) Traditional village-based providers (money lenders, small shops and input suppliers who provide goods on credit, and informal savings and credit groups)

The formal financial institutions approach focuses on building strong, stable financial systems that serve the entire population. This is the preferred approach when there are Labor banks, microfinance institutions, and financial cooperative/ credit union networks that are interested in broadening their outreach to the low-income society. The community-based institutions approach focuses on building strong informal or semi-formal community financial institutions, and then linking them with the formal financial sector.

The Purpose of Microfinance:

Microfinance is the provision of financial services, including savings, credit, insurance and payment services, to low income people. Typically, low-income people, especially those living in rural areas, have been unable to obtain quality services at a reasonable price from the formal financial sector. Microfinance is best supported through financial sector programs, however, in many countries where social funds operate there are no financial sector programs with a strong emphasis on access to finance issues, nor are there many viable microfinance institutions.

The Purpose of Social Funds:

Social funds are demand-driven mechanisms that channel resources to the poor and support subprojects that respond directly to the priority needs of the low-income population. They have been used in a growing number of countries to alleviate the social and economic effects of economic crises, cushion the impact of adjustment programs, generate short-term employment, and finance small-scale investments in poor communities. Access to micro-credit is not sufficient, the poor also need access to savings, insurance and payment services. Several wide-scale studies have been conducted on identifying lessons, best practices, and potential pitfalls; they include Panama, Yemen, and Eritrea.

Example Bosnia and Herzegovin:

The overall aim was to jumpstart the process of establishing a strong microfinance sector so as to help raise incomes, create jobs, and develop the smallest businesses. To provide access to credit to the economically disadvantaged, specifically low-income micro-entrepreneurs who had no access to credit from the commercial banking sector.

Problems in the past:

Government policy is oriented more towards creating employment and improving income in response to a crisis than toward long-term objectives. As such, social fund activities were not geared towards strengthening or reforming the microfinance sector, but rather towards using existing microfinance programs as channels for expanding employment. Further problems range from governments and donors using these organizations to channel cheap credit to rural populations to mismanagement of funds.

The Purpose of Credit Unions:

A credit union is a community based financial institution with representation from all socioeconomic levels. Main purposes are the economic, social, and political promotion of democracy and securing of financial stability, and to provide competitive and quality financial services responsive to the needs of its members to improve their livelihood. All credit unions operate within a common bond, such as employment- all members must work for the same group of employers or industry or in the same occupation. Credit unions are for service rather than for profits.

What is the right approach?

Consulting with communities to identify the demand for and supply of financial services among the working-class and rural areas to be covered. What financial services are provided, by whom, and how? What are the gaps in coverage, in terms of types of customers served, types of services provided, and geographical reach? Consider ownership structure, governance and management structure, financial products, customer base, ability to cover costs and existing relationships with professional financial services intermediaries