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RBI proposes to cap borrowers’ repayment outgo, scrap lending rate ceiling in uniform microfinance regulations


The Reserve Bank of India has suggested capping the total repayment outflow from a household to half of the annual income of the economically weaker households, which form the target segment for microfinance lenders, as part of a slew of proposals to revamp the regulations on microfinance. RBI said the guidelines will be lender agnostic while it proposed to do away with interest rate cap on microloans, which has so far been applicable only to pure-play microfinance institutions.

The suggestions put forward by a central bank consultative paper, have come over a decade after the Malegam Committee report, which had laid down the platform for microfinance regulation in the country. The proposals include a collateral free loans system for micro borrowers and a complete waiver of pre-payments penalties.

“The primary objective is to address the concerns related to the over-indebtedness of microfinance borrowers and to enable the market mechanism to bring the interest rates downwards in the microfinance sector,” RBI said.

At present, the microfinance regulatory framework is applicable only to NBFC-MFIs, controlling about 30% of the Rs 2.47 lakh crore market while the rest which control 70% are not subjected to similar regulatory conditions.

As a result, small borrowers are increasingly able to get multiple loans from several lenders, contributing to their over-indebtedness which, then, can potentially get manifested into coercive recovery practices, RBI said. “This compromises the essential objective of protection of small borrowers enshrined in the NBFC-MFI regulations which do not permit more than two NBFC-MFIs to lend to the same borrower,” said the regulator.

“RBI has proposed to resolve issues of regulatory arbitrage based on legal form and bring in parity within all microfinance lenders. It is a momentous occasion, and we expect the Microfinance sector to witness a paradigm shift, triggering a huge fillip to the cause of Financial Inclusion,” said Microfinance Institutions Network chief executive Alok Misra.

This is one step forward in opening the consultative process, this is how the industry leaders viewed the consultative document. “The consultative document has put the onus on institutions and their boards to act responsibly to address the issues such as over-indebtedness,” said P Satish, executive director of Sa-Dhan, one of the industry associations for MFIs.

Considering the low savings of these households, at least half of their income should be available to meet their other expenses, RBI believes. Accordingly, it suggested the payment of interest and repayment of principal for all outstanding loans of the household at any point in time shall be capped at 50% of the household income.

At present, under extant rules for NBFC-MFIs, a microfinance borrower is identified by annual household income not exceeding Rs 1.25 lakh in rural areas and Rs 2 lakh for urban and semi-urban areas. The same criteria may be extended to all lenders.

The linking of borrowing to household income may reduce the flow of credit to an individual borrower, people familiar with the matter said. As of now, micro borrowers are allowed to borrow up to Rs 1.25 lakh from NBFC-MFIs while there was no limit on borrowing from universal banks and small finance banks.

RBI expects that removing the cap for NBFC-MFIs would eventually bring down lending rates. RBI has reposed faith in the maturity of the microfinance lenders by removing the interest rate, said Sa-Dhan’s Satish.

The regulator also suggested some rules only for MFIs keeping the financial health of borrowers in mind. For example, RBI suggested that loans given by MFIs for income generation should not be less than 50% of the total loans given. MFIs provide loans for meeting expenses on health and education, besides income-generating loans.

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