Banking more open to microfinance needs; 99 percent women borrowers

New Delhi, March 8 (IANS) With women accounting for 99 percent of microfinance borrowers in India, a major change occurring in the financial system is the greater responsiveness of formal banking sector to articulated needs of the population, the government said on Tuesday.

“The culture is changing in India … there is a greater responsiveness to the articulated needs of the people,” Financial Services Secretary Anjuly Chib Duggal said while addressing the South Asia conclave on Financial Inclusion here, organised by the Microfinance Institutions Network (MFIN).

Noting that the recent banking licences granted by the Reserve Bank of India to Bandhan Bank and other small financial institutions, Duggal outlined the future scenario for last-mile reach of finance to the needy.

“We’re looking, in a time span of three to five years, at a hybridisation of delivery points, at high-touch banking institutions, with microfinance institutions being among them,” she said.

The secretary said that borrowers of microfinance, of whom 99 percent are women, are now being referred to as such, and no longer as “beneficiaries”, because they come with concrete business plans.

“We’re looking at realignments in the banking sector, we’re looking at chemists as banking points,” she said, pointing out that a recent banking licence had been granted to a pharmaceutical company.

India is a “cradle of microfinance” with seven out of every 10 borrowers from the country and as many as 32 million borrowers in this category, of whom 99 percent are women, said MIN chief executive Ratna Vishwanathan.Bangladesh comes next with 22 million such borrowers.

She said the conference had deliberately chosen to open on International Women’s Day on Tuesday.

“The regional conference on financial inclusion looks at facilitating cross-learning among stakeholders of South Asia Micro-entreprenaurs Network (SAMN), and explore the role improved access to finance can play in unlocking the economic potential of the region by contributing to job creation, especially by promoting entrepreneurship among the youth and women,” she said.

Duggal described the microfinance culture as one “coming from the heart” that has enabled “opening up the mind to what people can do”.

“Microfinance institutions have given permissions to people, explicit and implicit, especially to traditionally disadvantaged sections like women. This impact has had the effect of motivating other people,” she said.

She cited the example of the Mudra Bank launched late last year to develop entrepreneurship, particularly among the disadvantaged sections.

Mudra, she said, had become a “runaway success” having already disbursed loans of Rs.1,15,000 crore.

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