Micro Finance, Macro Growth 22 Oct, 2008

With spirits down and low in urban areas (largely because they have reached a saturation point, and partly due to the credit crunch), the next phase of development in India will come from the tier II cities and the rural parts of the country.

Whether it’s the retail, banking or telecom sector, everyone has their eyes glued on the next billion users of their facilities and services.

What is fueling this phenomenal growth? Micro finance. Two simple words that promise to change the rural landscape.

Let’s begin with telecom itself, where close to 60% growth is expected from rural India. By collaborating with micro finance institutions (MFIs), telecom operators, and equipment and handset manufacturers are helping benefit the self employed population in Indian villages. Anytime, anywhere connectivity now enables rural entrepreneurs to deliver their services on call.

More specifically, rural entrepreneurs have chosen to use credit provided by MFIs to start their own ventures or to become associated with established corporates that aim to reach the rural hinterland through local partnerships.

In the last couple of years, banks such as ICICI have also made headlines for reaching out to rural customers through its customized loan portfolio. Microfinance is seen as a mutually profitable venture that provides new business opportunities for banks, and opens up new avenues of opportunities for the rural banking customer. For example, the Financial Information Network and Operations (FINO), in association with the World Bank, is expected to run pilot projects with microfinance institutions, banks and government agencies to make use of IT in rural banking.

To ensure that microfinance is successfully implemented, it is also important for rural bankers to understand its true role. In fact, in Philippines, there are foreign-funded programs that aim to teach the rural bankers how to effectively design their microbanking-related business.

Anticipating the retail boom in the country, various agri-business consultancies and big names in the retail sector have opened the doors to microfinancing and are inviting people from rural regions to join them in taking the business of retail to hinterland. Apparently, Reliance Retail is eyeing partnerships with existing MFIs as part of its supply chain with rural and semi-urban markets. Retail biggie Bharti is also believed to have shown interest in exploring the MFI route for supporting the retail supply chain, contract farming operations and dairy sourcing.

There are as many opportunities in the rural sector, as there are industries in our country. With external factors such as the sub-prime crisis affecting our bread and butter, perhaps focusing on our internal strengths and opportunities is a good option!

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