The upstream funding for microfinance needs to be diversified to harness a diverse array of borrowers, so as to avoid the constraints and unique compulsions of any one source. However, at present in India, MFIs are not permitted to mobilise deposits, or borrow from international lenders, or from MIVs (Microfinance Investment Vehicles).
The role for securitisation
A recent transaction
The bulk of the securities issued were purchased by ICICI Prudential AMC, the country's third largest mutual fund. The entry of a mutual fund investor into the micro-loan backed securities (MLBS) market, as well as the treasury desks of major Indian banks, has given Equitas a new investor base and lower cost of financing. This should enable lower cost borrowing for the households that Equitas lends to.
IFMR Capital has previously done a MLBS transaction, but there it was the sole investor in the BBB rated (subordinated) tranche. In the Equitas transaction, there was investor interest in all tranches; a majority of the BBB tranche was purchased by a private bank. This is relatively new for the Indian corporate bond market, which has hitherto been wary of BBB securities. These developments are thus synergistic for both the growth and development of microfinance and for the corporate bond market.
The ultimate goal is an ecosystem where securitisation paper is constructed using loans made by multiple MFIs, sold to a diverse array of domestic and foreign investors, actively traded on the secondary market, with trading that is supported by high quality disclosure of data about the underlying loans on a daily basis. IFMR Capital will work in all aspects of this ecosystem, including facilitating listing and engaging in market making.
Looking beyond the vision of MFIs funding themselves through securitisation, there is also a role for (say) 1000 small banks (as argued in Raghuram Rajan's report). A key ingredient of making this work is bringing in market discipline, by having regulations which require them to finance (say) a quarter of their assets using subordinated debt, and using this BBB bond market to exercise market discipline on them. The task of bank supervisors would be simplified when the BBB bond market, the CDS market and the stock market jointly serve up a list of the 50 weakest banks on each trading day. The stock market is in place in India; what is now missing is the BBB bond market and the CDS market.