A trail connects a skyscraper in Manhattan’s Financial District to a tiny food stand in a village in the southeast Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Initially wild and overgrown, the trail now resembles a well-developed road, cleared and shaped. The trail does not connect customers to call centers or raw materials to laborers; the path connects lenders seeking abnormal returns on their investments to borrowers living in poverty. This is the path of private equity investments in microfinance. Microfinance is a powerful financial innovation that has changed personal finance in many parts of the world. While microfinance began as non-profit means of empowering low-income entrepreneurs, the promise of scale, high repayment rates, and underserved markets has made microfinance an increasingly attractive investment for profit-seeking investors. This observation is supported by an unprecedented level of private equity investment in microfinance enterprises. Microfinance’s promise as an investment opportunity is best exemplified in India, which offers a vast low-income population, low penetration of personal financial products, liberal regulatory policies, and cultural forces that support group liability structures. This Note analyzes the investment potential of microfinance through the scope of Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) in India in four parts. Part II describes the MFI business model and explores how MFIs create contractual advantages and operational efficiencies in serving low-income borrowers. Part III explores how the Reserve Bank of India regulates MFIs and the incentive effects of these regulations on MFI behavior. Part IV attempts to quantify the extent of private equity investment in MFIs. Part V analyzes why private equity firms invest in MFIs and argues that two emerging trends may make MFIs less attractive investments in the future.
Private Equity Investments in Microfinance in India,
Mich. Bus. & Entrepreneurial L. Rev.
Available at: http://repository.law.umich.edu/mbelr/vol4/iss2/5