How Can I Invest in Microfinance? Part 2: My Zidisha Experience

I first came across Zidisha on a radio program with Rose Aguilar in San Francisco. Kiva had refused to participate, so Rose arranged for Zidisha to participate by phone. Knowing very little about them I was a little nervous. However, as we discussed matters, live on-air, I found myself provisionally impressed with their model. So, some months later I decided to analyse them in the best way I know how – I put some money on the platform. There is no substitute for decent analysis than having skin in the game!

Recently there has been some debate over the effectiveness of Zidisha. I can neither confirm nor refute the statistics claimed, or the conclusion the (anonymous) author arrives at. What I shall do here is simply explain why I have found this to be an intriguing model so far.

My bottom line on Zidisha

I uploaded $1.173 in total. This was actually in two chunks a few months apart, but for all practical purposes let’s assume this was one transfer, about 18 months ago. This number consisted of a $35 transaction fee paid to PayPal, and a voluntary $138 donation to Zidisha (I was feeling generous). Anyway, this resulted in $1.000 to lend on the platform.

I downloaded my entire transaction history from the website on April 6th 2014.

I bid a total of $2.019 over the entire period, of which $201 were not successful. Another Zidisha lender basically offered a lower interest rate than me, or the loan was not made for some reason and the funds returned to me. So, the total I actually lent over this period was $1.818. This is more than the initial funds available because some loans were lent, repaid and re-lent.

I have received a total of $829 over the period. This includes capital repayments, interest repayments, occasional defaults, and foreign exchange losses. I do not know the breakdown of these, not does it interest me much at this point. Now, if I lent a total of $1.818 and have been repaid $829 over the same period, my current outstanding should be the difference between these two: $989.

My actual current outstanding portfolio is $966, plus I have $30 in bids outstanding, and $11 in cash. Thus the current value of my “assets” on Zidisha is $1.007. This is $7 more than the initial money I uploaded. In short, I have made a profit. This profit does not cover the PayPal fee I was charged, so overall I have made a minor loss, but I’ll focus only on the transactions done on the platform.

I made a modest 0.7% over 18 months, or approximately 0.4% APR. For all practical purposes I broke-even. What is interesting is that this is net of all foreign exchange losses, late or missed payments, outright defaults etc.

Am I typical Zidisha lender?

Probably not. The total lending by Zidisha’s 7800 clients is about $2m, so the average lender has done about $250, suggesting I have lent about 4x more than the typical Zidisha lender. Also, I have worked in microfinance for a little over a decade, including in the P2P space, and spent much of this time in the field with banks and clients, so I may have a better idea of clients more likely to repay a loan. Plus many of the accumulated defaults at Zidisha appear a historic legacy from prior periods, so I may have benefitted from the tightened policies of Zidisha over this period. But I am not presenting a generalised opinion here, but simply stating my personal experience.

I have made 40 loans on Zidisha: 10 have been fully repaid, 1 outright defaulted, and 29 are underway. The weighted average interest rate which I charged was 4.4% flat, equivalent to about 8.8% in APR terms. This ranged from a few 0% loans to one at 20%. I forget why I charged Hellen Festo so much – sorry Hellen!

If I look at the average actual final interest rate charged on these 40 loans, it is 9.2% flat. However, this includes the 5% flat fee that Zidisha charge. I can confirm this is the case because the four loans I did at 0% were because the client refused to pay any interest to the lenders, and the interest rate on these loans is precisely 5% flat – the Zidisha fee alone. So, this suggests the average other lenders on these 40 loans charged an average rate of 4.2% flat (9.2% total interest less 5% Zidisha fee), or 8.4% APR – slightly less than the rate I charged (I shouldn’t have charged Hellen so much – I feel bad as she’s 100% on schedule). And of course, Zidisha’s 5% is flat, so equivalent to roughly 10% APR.

However, at the end of the day a total interest rate of 9.2% flat (about 18.4% APR) is an extremely reasonable interest rate in the microfinance sector. The cheapest loans that I have co-financed cost 5% flat (10% APR), the most expensive was 19.66% flat to Hellen, or nearly 40% APR (partly because of me charging such a high rate).

But, the key consideration here is that with this overall interest rate, I lost no money. Nor did I make any. I basically broke-even (excluding the PayPal fee). Were I to increase my average interest rate only a small amount I could probably cover the PayPal fee also.

Zidisha recently announced they would cap lender interest rates at 5% flat (roughly 10% APR). Frankly, this wouldn’t really effect my lending, as my average rate is below this anyway, but it will impact a few Zidisha lenders. And with the Zidisha fee fixed (at least currently) at 5% flat, this equates to a maximum possible interest rate of 10% flat, or 20% APR. Reasonable by any standards. Which MFIs, particularly in Africa, are charging such rates? Which of Kiva’s African partners offer loans at such rates.?

One blogger has suggested that this would be insufficient to cover the default and forex losses of lenders. I have no reason to dispute his/her statistics, but all I can say is that this is not my experience on Zidisha. The blogger makes a fuss over the one-off credit rating fee that the clients have to cover (about $12), suggesting this should be included in the APR calculation. What about the bus fare to get to the internet café? No, I consider this a reasonable additional one-off fee that is not only entirely justified for this lending model, but might also dissuade outright fraudsters from trying to manipulate the model. I am in favour of transparent pricing, but if this blogger finds Zidisha to be non-transparent – check out Kiva – they don’t even make an effort to mention an interest rate, and eventually conceded that in fact they have no idea what they are! The blogger criticises Zidisha for citing flat interest rates instead of APRs, a point I agree with, and Zidisha seem to be considering this. Great. Zidisha could be even more transparent, and I hope they are, but I am a transparency fanatic: my website is (unrelated to the excellent website, and I do not find Zidisha deceptive, particularly when compared to the likes of Kiva. I pointed this out to the (anonymous) blogger in his/her comments section, but received no response. However, for true transparency, see MyC4.

Admittedly I am basing this entire analysis on a number of large assumptions. Firstly, that my current outstanding loans will be repaid with the same reliability as my completed loans. I cannot prove this, nor can anyone else – that would require a crystal ball. Perhaps I have simply been lucky? Perhaps I am particularly skilful in selecting clients to lend to! But this is my data, on my loans, at my interest rates, with my forex and default rates. The bottom line is simple: I have basically made no money, my nominal rental income offset my losses. I made the same amount of money as I would have done on Kiva ($0) but the client paid a substantially lower PAR for the loans. In my opinion that is impressive. It is also disruptive. And it is no surprise that Kiva are furiously trying to copy this model: the genuine P2P model, where funds do not go via a third party.

Another huge assumption I implicitly make here is that Zidisha is scalable. Perhaps they can pull off this feat on low volumes, but when their outstanding portfolio reaches 8-digits their default rates may increase. Or perhaps they will constantly refine their model in the process and defaults will decline. Again, no one knows. Indeed, we do not know the number of borrowers that are suitable for the Zidisha model. Perhaps the supply is very finite? I think the fairest thing we can conclude at this stage is that these are valid questions, the answers to which are pure speculation.


I like Zidisha. I’ve never actually met them face-to-face, but I like their attitude. They are more transparent than most P2Ps (with the exception of MyC4, whom I will discuss in the next post, who define transparency in the P2P space but are fundamentally distinct to Zidisha in that they use the traditional P-2-MFI-P model).

When Kiva panicked at the prospect of engaging with me in a radio debate, Zidisha embraced the dreaded heretic! And they impressed me. I have no axe to grind against the P2P sector, or the microfinance sector in general. I like things that work, I dislike things that don’t work, are fraudulent, deceptive, ineffective or non-transparent. I cannot respond to the critics of Zidisha in any other manner than “this is my experience”. I do not refute their findings. I am not even claiming my experience is typical. If anyone would like my complete transaction history to confirm the calculations I will send it to them (in Excel, no one is getting my Zidisha password!). I might conclude in 6 months that Zidisha is a disaster, particularly if none of my outstanding loans are repaid. I reserve that right. But this is the story to date (data accurate to April 6th 2014), and 18 months is a decent enough trial period.

Zidisha doesn’t merely challenge the P2P sector. It challenges the entire microfinance sector. Intermediating MFIs may not be as useful as we all once thought. Poor Africans might be more trustworthy than we once thought. Perhaps they don’t need (often aggressive) loan officers hassling them to make a repayment, or threats of having their cattle confiscated and being black-listed if they default on a loan. Zidisha provides decent enough data to be able to analyse a portfolio, and even manages to publish the actual interest rates on a loan – a feat that has evaded Kiva to date. Could the data be better? Yes. But let’s be pragmatic – Zidisha depends on a modest donor income and revenue stream from lending traffic. Do we really want them spending millions on hugely detailed data and a rocket-science website? Frankly they exceed the minimum standard I would demand, and are improving weekly. This is not a serious complaint in my opinion.

Obviously I risk falling into one fatal trap here that has plagued the microfinance sector. Repaying a loan does not imply that the loan helped the recipient. I have no idea if my money actually helped these people. Some of the repeat clients claim a previous loan helped them, but I have no way of verifying if this is true. Neither have I any means of verifying that the stated and actual purpose of the loan coincided. But nor do I claim to have “catapulted 40 people out of poverty with $25 a pop”. And nor do Zidisha make such claims.

Versus the traditional P2P model, whereby funds are channelled from lender to platform to MFI to borrower, and back, Zidisha demonstrates an entire link in the chain may be unnecessary – the MFI. This may expose the lender to additional risk (debatably), but it certainly reduces the extraction of wealth from the poor via higher interest rates to finance the intermediating MFIs. MFIs that are often privately-held, shareholder-driven, for-profit institutions. They receive funding from specialised microfinance investment funds, whose own profits depend on passing funds via MFIs – that is their core function. Expect little sympathy for the Zidisha model from either group of players.

In theory Zidisha should not work. But isn’t that what everyone says about disruptive business models? Does Zidisha work? From what I have seen to date, it does a pretty good job, and better than any other platform I know. I also lend on MyC4, and while I can make a few additional percentage points in interest on their platform if I want, the poor pay through the nose as a result of going via an MFI. That’s a topic for another day, but I would advise anyone looking at the P2P space to seriously investigate Zidisha. And the moment I change this advice in this rapidly evolving market, I will post an update accordingly.

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16 Responses to How Can I Invest in Microfinance? Part 2: My Zidisha Experience

  1. russell says:

    The articles from hugh assume all his outstanding capital will be repaid which will not happen in his lifetime due to defaults and loan reschedules that go on forever.He will learn this for himself over the long term.He talks of one critical member but this shows he has not read the whole forum as there are many critical members.He does not know that julia closes the accounts of critical members,without any warning in order to silence them.Julia kurnia and zidisha do not have a mechanism for handling complaints and when asked for the name and address for the regulator for usa not for profits to enable a complaint to be made julis’s response was to make no response and close the members account again with no warning.

    • Russell,

      You are entirely correct that I did not address every criticism in the various posts on Zidisha (there are more than one!). I tried as best I could to base this on demonstrable data, and I clearly state a major caveat in my analysis – the assumption of future repayments. You are entirely correct again to suggest this might be a bold assumption – it is. And I clearly warn the reader of this assumption. I am not sure what alternative assumption I could have made though.

      I posted this in April, using data from April 6th. 10 weeks later my outstanding balance has declined from $966 to $952, I have no loans pending, and $10 in cash, for a total of $962. This is $45 less than 10 weeks ago, which is NOT a good sign. I am now showing a net loss, and this reversal has taken place quite rapidly. As you warn, I will learn for myself in the long-term. Er, it appears I might be learning for myself in the short-term! I have no axe to grind with Zidisha, I find the model interesting – sufficiently so to risk $1000 on it. But I will periodically report on how my loans go – I have nothing to hide and $1000 to lose!

      However, your comments about the CEO, Julia Kurnia (whom I have never actually met) are serious and worrying. I can neither confirm nor refute these, but I have no reason to suppose you are lying. What I would propose is that I shall write to her and ask her to post a response to these claims.

      Russell, I think it is great that as many people as possible are looking at the P2P sector. I appologise if I did not digest every single criticism posted. Rather than delve into each one, I tried to explain why I think this is a novel idea in general, and share my own experience with them in objective, clear terms. I have no idea how Zidisha will be doing in 1, 5, 10 years from now, nor whether I will ever get my money back. This is an experiment. It is only fair to not form a conclusion prior to the end of the experiment, but I will keep an eye on this. Your observations are worrying and I do not disregard them. Let’s see what the CEO says, if anything, about this. And please feel free to post thoughts here if you so wish.

  2. Doug Grant says:

    Hugh,I really appreciate all the work you have done in the microfinance sector. I read your book and started following your blog regularly. I am in the process of a microfinance startup and would love to ask you some questions and get your insights, particularly about Latin American MFIs. My email is attached.

  3. Julia Kurnia says:

    I’m Julia Kurnia, the director of Zidisha. I would like to respond to the allegations made by Russell.

    First, we do not and have never closed the accounts of critics in order to silence them. Anyone who doubts this need only spend some time browsing our forum; there are plenty of critical comments, and their authors are very much still active as lenders at Zidisha.

    We have issued courtesy refunds (i.e. a full return of all amounts ever paid including lending credit, donations and transaction fees) to a small number of lenders who have expressed dissatisfaction with their lending experience. The lending accounts of members who receive refunds are closed so that repayments for the loans they funded can reimburse the organization.

    We have also closed the accounts of forum users who have violated our terms of use by posting spam or harassing other forum users. We have never and will never close anyone’s forum account for criticizing Zidisha.

    I do not recall our receiving any requests for the contacts of a regulator. We are a non-profit organization, regulated by the US Internal Revenue Service. We’re happy to provide further information about that to anyone who asks.

    • sputnik says:

      I can’t say what the situation was in June, but I know for sure that you have closed quite a larger number of accounts to silence critics since then. You also did so with mine and didn’t even find it necessary to inform me about it. One day it just said “You do not have permission to view this page or perform this action”. No notice whatsoever that I had been banned! When I click on my old account page (which I can do though you banned all of my IPs you could possibly lay hands on) it says “This member limits who may view their full profile”. I have seen this in a number of other cases whose profiles I could once access. This is not true, and I request you to change the text accordingly. You have no right to make statements on my behalf.

      You banned all of my IPs after closing my second account. You would not even have noticed I HAD a second account had I not told you myself – which I did to ask what had REALLY happened to my first account. You then tried to get rid of me under the pretext of me having two accounts (which I did not, since you disabled one), even though there was no rule forbidding this.

      The present situation is that you still have my money, but do everything you can to prevent me from obtaining information related to my “investment”. You do not answer my e-mails related to the working of the website and to my loans. You stubbornly refuse to repay me, claiming that you have not refunded amounts still outstanding with borrowers, with the exception of “some of our earliest lenders who joined when a refund guarantee was in effect”. However, I know that you did exactly that with someone who joined a mere three months earlier than me.

      I want everyone who reads this to know that I have repeatedly expressed extreme dissatisfaction with my Zidisha lending experience. I insist on being treated the same as other lenders in my situation.

      Hugh, I will send Julia the link to this site so she can answer if she feels like it.

      • Julia Kurnia says:

        I’m Julia, the director of Zidisha. I’d like to respond to the allegations made by Sputnik.

        To clarify, we did not close Sputnik’s Zidisha lending account. We closed Sputnik’s forum account due to repeated violations of the forum’s content guidelines.

        Sputnik has full access to withdraw repaid loan funds, and access all the information regarding repayments, updates from the borrowers, etc., that is available to other Zidisha lenders.

        We did, however, decline Sputnik’s request for an early refund of the loan amounts that are still outstanding with borrowers. It is true that we have granted such refunds to other lenders who joined at a time soon after Zidisha’s founding when we offered early refunds upon request. That offer was no longer in effect by the time Sputnik joined. We continue to honor it for the lenders who joined when it was in effect, but we lack the cash reserves to extend it to all of the lenders who joined since then.

        Zidisha is staffed mostly by volunteers. We did our best to provide fair and courteous service to Sputnik, but when Sputnik began inundating our team with threats and diatribes, we declined to respond to further emails.

  4. ale says:

    Hi Hugo, any update now a few months later as to who you Zidisha experience is developing?Net-loss, broke-even or net-gain?Moreover, I don\’t understand your reasoning behind comparing the one-off credit rating fee (about ) to a bus fare and why you don\’t think it should be somehow/somewhere included in the calculation of the costs of the loans.I thought that one criticism toward credit institutions (MFIs and/or others) is that they lure clients with apparently low(er) rates but then have hidden charges (fees, e.g. for application, regsitration, etc.) that raise the cost of the loan considerably. So this Zidisha fee is a charge/cost to get the loan that in some way must be accounted for, ortherwise they are just playing the same old game.Second you write that this fee might be justified or used to \”dissuade outright fraudsters from trying to manipulate the model\”. I\’m not really sure that this is the case. Are you aware that this fee is detracted from the loan – i.e is not an upfront payment in advance of getting the loan? So fraudsters have nothing to lose: they, like all other first-time borrowers, will be disbursed the loan amount minus the fee. Practically this fee is paid upfront by lenders – if the loan defaults Zidisha will have (and keep) the 12$Third, I must admit that I don\’t understand what this fee is used for (what additional costs should it cover on top of the 5% \”service fee\”). In the past Zidisha used to verify applicants\’ credit histories with local lenders. Yet they don\’t do that any longer. As stated in Zidisha\’s own FQA \”Zidisha is not a bank or credit bureau, does not offer any guarantee of the accuracy of information presented by borrowers, and does not conduct any assessment of the incomes, debt levels, or credit-worthiness of borrowers.\” So this fee that in your article you call a \”one-off credit rating fee\” does not have nothing to do with credit rating, or similar. It is simply a registration fee (that\’s the name on Zidisha\’s webpage).

  5. Hi Ale, sorry for delay in responding, and for prompting me to update this. Things have deteriorated on Zidisha, but not catastrophically. Without uploading any more funds or making any donations, we can use my $1007 “total asset” level as of April this year as a benchmark. the value now stands at $791 in outstanding portfolio and $51 in cash, for a total of $842. So, basically, something like 15% has been wiped off in under six months. I haven’t had time to analyse where this has gone, but I assume mainly to write-offs. Of the 33 projects I am currently funding 6 are repaying ahead of schedule, 14 on shedule, and 13 behind schedule. Not great. Not catastrophic. Obviously the optimal would be to earn as much in interest to cover occasional defaults and forex losses. This does not seem to be the case. So, I either increase the interest rate, or take the hit.

  6. maxh says:

    I began with Zidish in 2012. I was hopeful about the prospects of this funding platform, but the losses to the lender are too great. Out of $825 I have uploaded over several years, I only hope to get back about 55% or even far less of the principal. Also there are some unscrupulous practices at Zidisha occurring now where they switch your account to “auto-lending” thereby draining your account every 24 hours according to some default preferences that I had not selected or authorized. I was never notified of a change in their terms although Julia says she provided this. I always retain all my Zidisha emails and there is no such notification that I can find. Therefore, this new feature was activated without my knowledge and money started leaving my account. This has happened to at least one other member that I know of. Julia refuses to correct the situation and removed my post about this problem saying it violated “Forum Rules.” Now others cannot be warned about these auto-lend settings. I would not recommend this micro finance platform to anyone.

  7. Zidisha Lender Laurie 30131 says:

    Since January 2015, I have made 11 loans on Zidisha. Each and every lender is either repaying early or on time. I also can attest to the fact that Julia Kurnia did *not* close my account when I raised suspicions about three different potential borrowers. I noticed in their loan applications that they had copied verbatim or almost verbatim someone else’s loan application. I brought it to the attention of the appropriate mentor, asking them to please look into it and to counsel the potential borrowers to do their own typing (or dictating) for their loan applications because, otherwise, of course, it seems to potential lenders that they may be trying to scam us. I was promptly told that they would look into it, which they promptly did do, and they took swift and appropriate action (those loan applications were terminated). I have been nothing but impressed with the consistent integrity I have found in Zidisha staff, the borrowers with whom I have become acquainted, and the majority of the potential borrowers whose profiles and loan histories I have reviewed. So far, I have not lost one penny. And some of the above-mentioned loans were able to be made precisely because borrowers have made installment payments so quickly. Repayments on all of the loans I have made began the very next month after the loans were extended. Two of the loans already are almost paid back in full. I do not make money on micro-finance loans because I chose from the beginning to lend at 0% interest, which is what my husband and I believe is one of the best ways to help others. That apparently also is the best way to help ensure repayment of lender funds; see this recent forum posting informing that *all* Zidisha loans now are being made at 0% interest (no more interest-rate choices), and that there is a system in place designed to reimburse lenders (up to ,000) in case any 0% loan defaults: – once again, I am impressed by Zidisha. I like it even better than Kiva-Zip which also extends loans at 0% interest (repayments are faster on Zidisha).

  8. Zidisha Lender Laurie 30131 says:

    …there is a system in place designed to reimburse lenders (up to one thousand dollars)… [the dollar sign and the number one did not show up in the post above, for some unknown reason]

  9. ale says:

    “*all* Zidisha loans now are being made at 0% interest” ?!?
    that I don’t laugh – better said: I laugh, borrowers probably cry.

    The registration fee for new borrowers has increased from the 12$ mentioned in Hugh Sinclair’s post to – in the case of Kenya – 4000 KES ( 4000 KES are whopping 42$!!
    On top of that Zidisha charges a 5% (flat) service fee, i.e. 5% of the loan amount.

    Just imagine a new member applying for an initial 50$ loan s/he will get 50-42-5=3$
    Yes you read correctly: 3 whole dollars!!
    Not really sure what one can do businesswise with 3$ – my guess not much!

    And the “system in place designed to reimburse lenders (up to one thousand dollars)” applies ONLY to loans disbursed after March 1st (and the system is financed by part of this outrageous fee new-borrowers have to pay)

    By the way, I cannot post this on the Zidisha forum because I, too, like so many lenders was banned by Zidisha/Julia Kurnia from both the forum as well as my lending account months ago. No reason provided, no violation notice received!

    The only lenders allowed there are either unaware lenders (that probably one day will be shocked to find out that all their money is gone) or lenders that feel so good because they are not on Kiva where the evil MFI charge on average interest of about 35%.

    Obviously these I-feel-good lenders don’t know math very well…Would they take out a calculator they would know how much 47$ for a 50$ loan or even a 100$ loan amount to in terms of interest rate, better said APR. Would they do that, I’m not so sure they would feel so good…

    But Julia Kurnia/Zidisha counts on unawere lenders or lenders who don’t like and/or know simple math. So she can present ever changing cherry-picked statistics that match her story/policy change of the day. Unfortunately, her statistics only rarely match the reality!

    my guess the real reason I was banned is not so much my participation in discussions that pointed out some serious problems in Zidisha policies (like allowing reckless rescheduling), but that in my short time there I pointed out over and over again an incredible number of mistakes in her statistics!

    • Thanks for this post. Appologies for not approving sooner. I will forward this to Zidisha and ask them to comment. If they decline, I will mention that here. Also, in the name of transparency, I hereby update my own account at Zidisha:

      From an original $1.000 uploaded, my current cash balance is $5, and my portfolio principal is $544. So, although not catastrophic, I am certainly losing capital. Obviously the burning question is whether this loss is compensated for by a larger gain to the borrowers? To be continued.

    • Julia Kurnia says:

      I’m Julia Kurnia, director of Zidisha. I’d like to provide some clarification on our fee structure.

      In February of this year, we replaced interest for lenders with a reserve fund that reimburses loan losses. Thus, all new loans are issued at zero interest. If a loan falls into arrears (by ten days or more), lenders can opt to be refunded in full by the reserve fund.

      To enable the refund service, borrowers must now make a one-time deposit into the reserve fund when they first join Zidisha. The deposit amount varies from about $10 to about $30, depending on the country. This deposit does not go to Zidisha, but rather is used to reimburse lenders in the event of default.

      In addition to the deposit into the reserve fund, borrowers in most countries continue to make a one-time registration fee payment to Zidisha when they first join. The registration fee varies from about $5 to about $12 depending on the country. It goes to Zidisha to help cover the costs of developing and maintaining the website.

      Finally, borrowers pay a service fee of 5% of the loan amount for each loan they fund through our platform. The 5% fee covers the marginal cost of processing the loan (mostly money transfer charges).

      Both the registration fee and the reserve fund deposit are paid only once, and entitle the borrower to raise unlimited successive loans at a cost of 5% per loan. The precise dollar amount of all three of these fees is disclosed to lenders in each loan profile page.

      I do not know the identity of this author, so cannot comment on the allegation regarding his / her forum account.

  10. ale says:

    correction: The “registration fee” is deducted from the loan, the service fee added to it
    A new member applying for an initial 50$ loan will therefore get 50-42=7$
    The borrower is, however, expected to repay 55$

    • An entirely valid point, but pragmatically perhaps it is fairer to compare the total APR over a typical period, which may include various loans. Many services require an up-front fee. Schools, gym membership, etc. But, I totally hear your point, this absolutely has to be included in the total cost to the client. However, rather than focussing on a one-off, short-term, small loan, perhaps it is fairer to look at a more representative loan, or series of loans, of a more “typical” client. I have been criticised, with some validity, for picking on people like Finca Zambia for their extortionate MAXIMUM interest rates (previously 347%, reduced recently) – this is deliberately sensationalist to make a point, and I accept that the “typical” client pays closer to “only” 100% or so. I think we have to distinguish between selecting specific cases to highlight exploitation, which is fair in certain circumstances, and generalising about an overall cost.

      Of course this whole topic has been re-ignited after the sad closure of MFT, who had the courage to publish the actual rates of MFIs. And the lamentable state of quasi self-regulatory bodies such as Smart. Transparency and regulation are the ONLY ways to clean up this sector, blind faith in the invisible hand of neo-liberal free-market economics is simply stupidity. Look no further than Mexico for a clear example of this. Or Peru. But the sector naturally resists both efforts. I would highly recommend reading Soederberg’s book reviewed below:

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