Promotion of the microfinance sector

Project description

Title: Promotion of the microfinance sector
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Country: Tunisia
Lead executing agency: Tunisian Ministry of Finance, Autorité de Contrôle de la Microfinance
Overall term: 2012 to 2015

Context

Only around one third of people living in Tunisia have their own bank account. Most of the population has no access to services from registered financial institutions. Informal sources of financing accessible to everybody, and especially to low-income earners and households, are typically expensive, not subject to controls and thus inherently risky.

This situation limits business opportunities, especially for small businesses. In addition to lacking access to credit, above all in rural areas, methods of building up savings or accessing insurance benefits in case of emergency are not available.

The social and economic exclusion of broad sections of the population, especially young people, played a key role in the political and social unrest in Tunisia, and continues to jeopardise social peace.

The promotion of the microfinance sector serves to counteract this economic exclusion. Microfinance services offer low-income people, families and small businesses ways of improving their economic position and prepare them better to deal with fluctuations in income or financial emergencies.

Tunisia's Ministry of Finance adopted a national strategy to develop the microfinance sector in 2011. This strategy aims to create a socially responsible, sustainable microfinance system. Better access to financial services throughout the country should help to combat financial exclusion, improve regional development and stimulate the economy. Since a new microfinance law took effect in November 2011, Tunisian and foreign microfinance providers have for the first time been able to apply for a licence to offer microfinance services in Tunisia; initially only micro loans.

The new law lays the legal foundation for a sustainable, needs-oriented microfinance sector. However, further actions are needed to implement the national microfinance strategy to support the sector’s development.

Objective

Regulatory and institutional frameworks have been created to enable stable and sustainable development of the microfinance sector. A supervisory board that licences and oversees microfinance institutions has been established. Customers are protected in line with international standards.

Approach

The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH is working on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) to advise the Ministry of Finance as it implements the microfinance strategy. The project focuses on the following areas:

Establishing a supervisory authority to oversee the microfinance sector. The main focus of the project is establishing and supporting a public body that will be responsible for licensing and supervising microfinance institutions.

Implementing and refining the national microfinance strategy. The project is supporting the Tunisian Ministry of Finance as it implements, monitors and refines the national microfinance strategy. Consideration is to be given above all to providing access to financial services for women and the rural population.

Fostering and improving the legal and institutional framework and sector infrastructure. Developing a stable, sustainable microfinance sector requires supporting institutions. This includes a credit information system for sharing customer data, thereby preventing borrowers from taking on too much debt. There are also plans for the Tunisian side to set up a market observation institution.

Results achieved so far

The supervisory authority for the microfinance sector started operating at the end of 2012 and has since been handling enquiries from microfinance providers, most of them active on the international stage, that wish to acquire a licence for Tunisia. The project has supported developments to date with technical, logistic and financial measures and is continuing to help train the Tunisian professionals and manage the supervisory authority as well as to build up networks and cooperative relationships at Tunisian and international level.

The microfinance supervisory authority has received a number of applications for licences for new microfinance institutions, some of them financed by international investors. In line with the times, these institutions see themselves as professional banks for microfinance customers. Their establishment is backed by globally operating specialist organisations that combine their international expertise with the local know-how of young Tunisian professionals.

Even though under the current legislation the newly emerging institutions will not yet be licensed to also invest the savings of their clients, the sector already needs an effective and forward-looking microfinance bank supervisory authority that can be developed further. This authority should not only supervise the classic credit risks and the safety of subsequent customer deposits, but also keep an eye on responsible lending, customer protection and the development impacts of the microfinance sector in Tunisia.

In cooperation with international central bank advisors, GIZ is developing a modern bank supervision procedure for the newly emerging microfinance sector.

A large part of the work consists of training the Tunisian professionals at the supervisory authority and at management level. The close cooperation with the supervisory authority and the Ministry of Finance, as well as with the Central Bank in future, holds potential for German international cooperation to play an active role in further strategic development of the sector and in the future range of financial services provided, as well as in further expansion of the financial infrastructure.

Since March 2014 the Tunisian microfinance supervisory authority has been a member of the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI), a global network of financial policy-makers from developing countries and emerging economies. The Tunisian partners of the project, such as the Ministry of Finance and the microfinance supervisory authority, also feel committed to the goal of financial inclusion, i.e. improved access for the low-income population to financial services.

This situation limits business opportunities, especially for small businesses. In addition to lacking access to credit, above all in rural areas, methods of building up savings or accessing insurance benefits in case of emergency are not available.