Anyway, back to the Businessweek article. According to the article mainstream banks like ICICI, HDFC, HSBC etc. have started concentrating on this sector as the urban markets are getting saturated. The good news is that this push is not being driven by lofty ambitions but rather by pure financial needs. This is good because if banks can indeed profit from microfinancing, then it will spread way more rapidly than if it were a social service initiative.
The scale of the microfinance market is so big that banks, even big ones like ICICI cannot possibly handle it on their own.
"Since 2003, ICICI has doubled the size of its rural banking activities to about $3.44 billion and has outstanding microloans of some $538 million.
FIVEFOLD GROWTH. It has set up more than 100 tie-ups with small-town lending specialists and has about 3.2 million low-income customers. HDFC hopes to follow suit. Earlier this year, it created a microfinance unit with more than 100 employees and aims to double its lending levels in rural India to $22 million."
Therein lies the potential problem. As the article states, banks are relying on 3rd party agencies to reach out to people because they simply don't have the infrastructure to do it themselves. Whether or not microfinancing will be able to make a positive difference will depend to a large extent on how closely these small agencies are monitored by the banks. Because it would be very easy for local money lenders to form an agency, keep charging exorbitant rates and maintain the depressing status quo. This is one of those places where access to information is so vital. That way the end consumer can shop around for rates and not be beholden to the local agency.