Microcredit has become a popular anti-poverty policy in the last decades. Now with more than 150 million borrowers, microcredit has undoubtedly increased access to formal financial services for the poor.
Microcredit has become a popular anti-poverty policy in the last decades. Now with more than 150 million borrowers, microcredit has undoubtedly increased access to formal financial services for the poor. An extensive debate exists about the advantages and disadvantages of group liability, where a group of individuals are all responsible for each others’ loans if one member defaults, versus individual liability, where only the borrower is at risk if they default. Group liability may improve repayment rates but it also raises the possibility that bad clients will take advantage of good clients in their liability group.
While individual liability lending may address some of these issues, it also has potential drawbacks in the form of less intensive screening of members, and higher default rates due to the lack of member responsibility to cover group members’ loans. Additionally, credit officers may spend more time in securing payment or using a more intensive and time-consuming credit investigation and background checks.
In the Philippines 25% of the population live below the national poverty line, and many depend on small and individual enterprise for their livelihood. The islands of Leyte, Cebu, and Bohol, where this study takes place, host a wide range of economic activities, including farming, fishing, manufacturing, and commerce. As is true in much of the Philippines, most of this area has been heavily penetrated by microfinance institutions. Rural banks, cooperatives, and NGOs offer both individual- and group-liability microcredit loans and competition is strong. Most of the lending centers involved in this study are located in small towns or rural villages, though some are located in mid-sized cities. The majority of the members of the Green Bank of Caraga, the sample of this study, are microentrepreneurs engaged in small-scale sales or activities such as tailoring, food processing, and small-scale farming. The average loan size for this sample is US$116), not an insignificant amount when compared against the Philippines GDP per capita of $3,300.
Description of Intervention:
Researchers examined two trials conducted by the Green Bank of Caraga to evaluate the effects of group liability relative to individual liability on monitoring and enforcing loans.
In the first trial, a randomly selected half of the bank’s 169 existing group-lending centers on the island of Leyte were converted to the individual liability model, phased in over time.Researchers could then isolate the impact of group liability on behavior through peer pressure by comparing the repayment behavior of existing clients in group-liability centers and converted individual liability centers. Centers were then assigned to comparison, individual liability or staggered individual liability (the first loan for each member is covered by group liability, but subsequent loans have individual liability). Critical to the design is the fact that individual-liability centers were converted from existing centers, and not newly created. By comparing the repayment behavior of existing clients in group-liability centers and converted centers, researchers were able to isolate the impact of group liability on employing peer pressure to mitigate moral hazard.
In the second trial, the sample consisted of 124 randomized communities in areas where the bank was not yet operating. Once feasible villages were identified, an independent survey team conducted a business census, a household roster, and a social network survey. Each of these villages was randomly assigned into one of three treatment groups before the bank established lending centers: liability program, individual-liability program, and group-liability program converted to individual-liability after the first cycle.
After three years, researchers found that individual liability compared to group liability leads to no change in repayment rates (clients in individual liability centers were no more likely to default than their peers in group liability centers) in the short as well as the long term. The removal of joint liability resulted in larger lending groups, hence further outreach and use of credit but the average loan size was smaller, leading to no change in overall group profitability. Loan sizes in converted groups were lower because members were more likely to withdraw savings, lowering their capacity to borrow. Under individual liability, members were also less likely to be forced out of their center, because they could only be removed by credit officers—not peers. Thus, individual liability made existing centers 13.7 percentage points less likely to be dissolved.
Bank officers in new areas were lesswilling to open groups despite the fact that there had been no increase in defaults. This constrained the growth of the lending program.
One of the most famous innovations of microfinance was the idea of “social collateral” – a way to guarantee the loans of people who have limited physical assets. However, it’s not clear that requiring group liability is actually a good thing. For instance, it can drastically raise the cost of a loan for a good client if she is forced to cover for other loans. Furthermore, it can force someone to guarantee people who take out much larger loans, which may prove to be impossible. It’s possible that, at least for some clients, individual liability loans may be better if the other mechanisms of microfinance (such as social embarrassment of being a debtor) ensure high repayment rates.
IPA ran a study in the Philippines testing this question, and found that repayment rate under individual liability did not go down, while growth increased. We are replicating the study in Peru.
The first phase of the study, in 2010, is to convert pre-existing communal banks (depending on if the group is in a rural area, the associations range from around 8-20 clients who all guarantee each other) to individual liability products, maintaining the rest of the group structure. Depending on the results, it’s possible that as Pro Mujer expands to new regions we’ll test impact with new associations.
We hope to implement financial diaries in the field in order to see, among other things, if clients under different liability structures have different approaches towards repaying their debts.