A regulatory backlash against Indian microlenders is complicating the exit strategies of private equity and venture capital investors.The practice of focusing on loans in poor areas largely shut out from traditional banking services gained prominence globally when Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his role in founding Bangladesh's Grameen Bank.
Microlending in India has expanded at an average annual rate of 62 percent over the past five years in terms of number of customers and 88 percent in loan volume, according to Micro-Credit Ratings International, a rating firm in Gurgaon, India.
The tougher regulations in Andhra Pradesh, a southern state that accounts for 30 percent of India's microlending market, arose from concerns about overlending to low-income borrowers, interest rates as high as 50 percent, and coercive debt-collection techniques that the state government claims have led to impoverishment and suicides by borrowers. There were 9.6 loan accounts for every poor household in the state, according to a report released on Nov. 15 by the nonprofit group Access Development Services. The upshot? "I don't think private equity investors will recover their money at the rates they thought they would," says Sanjay Sinha, managing director of Micro-Credit Ratings International.