Results of new empirical research that examined the impact of microcredit on poverty reduction in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ethiopia, India, Mexico, Mongolia, and Morocco were the topic of discussion at a forum today held at the World Bank Group headquarters. The studies, conducted as randomized evaluations of microcredit from 2003 to 2012, found that while microcredit can be a valuable tool to help people expand business activities, it has not led to substantial improvements in household living standards or reductions in poverty.
The forum, jointly organized by the World Bank Group, CGAP, Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), and the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), convened experts and renowned economists who examined how innovative designs and delivery of financial products can help reach the 2.5 billion “unbanked” adults around the world without access to formal financial services.
The studies, which were featured in the January 2015 edition of American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, generally share the conclusion that expanded access to microcredit has a modestly positive, but not transformative effect on borrowers and communities. Evidence across all six studied also found that:
- There is little to no support for microcredit’s harshest critics, who argue that microcredit borrowers can quickly become over-indebted: even in the case of individual lending at high interest rates, there was little evidence of harmful effects;
- Microcredit generally helped increase business activities, but rarely affected entrepreneurs’ profits or household income;
- Microcredit did afford some people more freedom in optimizing the ways they earned money, consumed, invested, and managed their financial risk.
“The significance of the results from the studies is that they affirm our commitment toward financial inclusion,” noted Bertrand Badré, Managing Director and World Bank Group Chief Financial Officer. “They also underscore that microcredit is just one financial tool. A multifaceted approach is needed if we are to meet the goal of universal financial access by 2020 that World Bank Group and partners put forward in 2013.”
Participants of the forum also included representatives of donor organizations, investors, researchers, and financial service providers who reflected not only on the research findings but also on the importance of testing new products and delivery channels, and understanding how innovation - such as use of mobile phones - can expand the reach of a range of financial services to poor and unbanked populations.