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Microloans are small loans from one monetary unit up to a few thousand monetary units to small businesses, mainly in developing countries . They are in addition to micro-insurance and micro savings an essential microfinance - service . The loans are usually granted by specialized financial service providers and non-governmental organizations, mostly to promote development. From the point of view of investors, the provision of financial resources for microloans is a special form of investment.


Microloans are an instrument of development policy and are often cited as successful examples within the framework of the “ Base of the Pyramid ” management concept . However, they are not a new invention. Even the 150 years ago by Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen developed cooperative model is based on the self-help and solidarity principle, today many micro-lenders operate on the developing countries. As early as 1971, Elmar Pieroth initiated the granting of small loans in Togo . Later in 1976 there was also a similar program in Bangladesh , initiated by Muhammad Yunus and from which the Grameen Bank emerged in 1983 . In 2006, Yunus and the Grameen Bank received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to promote “economic and social development from below” .

This idea returned to Europe at the beginning of the 1990s, when there was a growing funding gap for the steadily increasing number of people starting up a business out of unemployment. The Tante Agathe model for activating private capital for business start-ups was created in the Netherlands . In France, the non-profit Adie was founded in 1989, which now (March 2007) has around 100 branches and annually grants over 10,000 microcredits to the unemployed and welfare recipients. In Germany, at the beginning of 2010, the federal government commissioned the GLS Community Bank to set up the German microcredit fund . GRENKE BANK AG has been taking on this task since 2015 .

In 1995 the World Bank founded the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) with the aim of mobilizing US $ 200 million for the granting of microcredit. A first high point of development was the Microcredit Summit in 1997.

The United Nations sees microfinance as an important instrument for achieving the Millennium Development Goals for the reduction of poverty. The year 2005 has been declared the Year of Microcredit by the United Nations .

Since 2006, the non-profit company Kiva has offered the option of granting microcredits directly to a self-selected borrower in a developing country via the internet. Other organizations now also offer this option.


The number of microcredit recipients is estimated at 150 to 200 million worldwide. The global funding volume is estimated at around 70 billion US dollars.

The number of microlenders worldwide is estimated at over 70,000. Two organizations that focus on microcredit are the German Microfinance Institute and FINCA International (USA). Recently, more and more private, increasingly commercially oriented providers like Smava have opened up the field.

The centers of microfinance are in India and Bangladesh. In India, the world's largest market, the number of microloans is currently around 75 million, taking into account that many borrowers take out several loans at the same time.

Working method

Microcredit follows certain economic principles, whereby repayments should be made possible in a socially acceptable manner. Micro-lending organizations were originally created as an alternative to loan sharks , who were known to take advantage of their clients. Many companies started out as non-profit organizations and worked with government funds or private subsidies. From the 1980s, however, this changed under the influence of neoliberalism and the "Financial System Approach" advocated by the Harvard Institute for International Development . The commercialization of microcredit began with the establishment of the Desa unit within Bank Rakyat Indonesia , which offered microcredit based on current interest rates.

Many of these organizations are now ironically functioning as stand-alone banks, which has resulted in a sharp rise in interest rates on average microcredit and a shift in focus to austerity programs. As an example, Unit Desa charged up to 20% interest on microloans. These developments sparked discussions about the usefulness of microloans and accusations by development experts that bank directors were adopting the practice of loan sharks through microloans.

In developing countries, the granting of microloans follows certain economic principles:

  • Group formation: Although the original idea of ​​microcredit was principally to be granted to individuals, lending to groups is one of the core principles. The "solidarity circles" used by Grameen Bank and other early microcredit institutions did not establish themselves until later. A solidarity circle in this context is a group of borrowers who support each other, although the responsibility for repaying the loans remains with the individual. The use of solidarity circles was motivated by the principle of economies of scale , since the costs caused by lending and repayment appear significantly lower when the loan is given to a group than to a person. Often times, the granting of a loan to one member of the group depends on the successful repayment of another member in the solidarity circle, creating a form of guarantee.
  • Focus on women: Lending to women has become an important principle in the field of microcredit and many banks and NGOs even grant this exclusively to women. Pro Mujer , a non-profit organization providing development aid to women in Latin America , combines lending with health care, as the health of borrowers is considered one of the most important requirements for the success of microcredit. Although Grameen Bank originally lent money to both sexes on the same terms, women represented 95% of its clients and today women are over-represented with 75% of all micro-borrowers worldwide.
  • Customer contact : The micro bank thoroughly examines the borrower's business model and adapts the repayment intervals and rates to the company's cash flow (weekly or monthly repayment).

Interest rate

The effective annual interest rate for microloans is well above that of classic loans, often over 20% p. a. This is justified by the higher costs and the necessary intensive advice that microcredit causes. A study by the Asian Development Bank indicates interest rates between 30 and 70% p. a. as usual. However, the credit conditions and interest rates of development policy micro-lenders are usually much cheaper and more predictable than those of conventional moneylenders.

One of the initiators of the microloans, Grameen Bank , has started to grant three types of loans: corporate loans at an interest rate of 20%, building loans at 8% interest, and educational loans for the higher education of the children of Grameen families (interest rate: 5 percent). In many microcredit programs, interest is simple interest (residual value depreciation) and not compound interest.

Repayment rate

By adhering to the rules mentioned above - group formation, customer contact and focusing on women - as well as increasing professionalism , many microlenders often achieve repayment rates of 95 to 100 percent. However, the repayment rate at the Grameen Bank only relates to initial loans. According to the Bangladeshi economist Anu Muhammad, the repayment rate for microloans in Bangladesh is only 65% ​​despite peer pressure. The high repayment rates would come about through rescheduling.

Refinancing and Subsidies

The funds for microloans come from international banks, from grants and low-interest loans in the context of government development aid, from ethical investments, from private donations and from savings deposits of the local population (in which case it is real microlenders). Banks securitize receivables from microloans in the form of securities that are placed on the capital markets. For example, in 2006 Citibank and the German Reconstruction Loan Corporation securitized claims from the non-governmental organization BRAC from Bangladesh. This securitization has a total volume of 150 million euros.

In 1983 the Grameen-Bank was still fully debt-financed and is still dependent on development aid today. State subsidization of microfinance service providers has meanwhile also become common in other countries. Conversely, however, many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Bangladesh have started to finance themselves through the granting of microcredits instead of donations. These microcredit NGOs have grown so large that they have to be seen as one more than the traditional financial market.

International investors for microloans are z. B .:

Poverty reduction

Financially weak small businesses generally have no access to standard bank loans, as they cannot provide any collateral and the expense per loan appears to be too high for traditional banks. As a result, they often remain in the informal sector and dependent on credit intermediaries or even “ loan sharks ” with mostly extremely high interest rates.

Microcredits are intended to give poor sections of the population in developing and emerging countries the opportunity to take out loans at economically viable conditions. In the case of small businesses, who are the main target groups of microfinance, the aim is to improve or even create the possibility of investing in the business. This in turn is intended to increase the economic activity of the customers and thus indirectly also the standard of living . Microcredit, on the other hand, is not a miracle cure because it requires a certain degree of independence and therefore usually cannot reach the poorest of the poor. Therefore, a skeptical approach is advisable when researching the effectiveness of microfinance initiatives. Many outdated or purely quantitative studies are based on an isolated view of microfinance initiatives and ignore competition from informal lenders. Microfinance initiatives can have completely unintended consequences. Badly managed, they offer entrepreneurs the opportunity to become "middlemen" by lending formal microcredit obtained through proven creditworthiness to poorer borrowers. As a result of this informal intermediation, the poorest of the poor micro-entrepreneurs benefit less than the comparatively fewer poor.

In most cases, even after years, microcredit customers are unable to open regular savings accounts at commercial banks and thus secure what they have achieved economically through microcredit. Institutions that also offer micro savings and other financial services as part of a more comprehensive microfinance approach go one step further. Another alternative is financing that is secured through productive goods (including microleasing ), and which is mainly used in East Africa and Asia. Instead of taking out a loan, customers lease a productive asset from a microfinance institution. The productive good, e.g. B. a cow, enables them to earn a higher income and thus pay the leasing fees. Until the lease is paid off, the asset belongs to the microfinance institution. An additional security as with a loan is therefore not necessary. When the lease is paid off, the asset belongs to the customer. He or she can then dispose of the additional income himself.

The concept of microcredit is increasingly being transferred to industrialized countries. At the Microcredit Summit in 1997 , Hillary Clinton suggested using microcredit to fight poverty in the slums of large US cities.


Contrary to the assumption that microcredits serve to reduce poverty, Thomas Gebauer argues that microloans increase the isolation of people. According to Gebauer, they privatize socially caused hardship, contribute to the privatization of public goods and thereby undermine forms of joint efforts to exert political influence on poverty. The principle of solidarity will be replaced by the principle of competition. Daniel Mertens examined microfinance as part of financial market-driven capitalism and points out that since the 1980s, loans have been used to scale back social programs and privatize the public sector. Microcredit advocates often see microcredit as a break with the development policy of the structural programs of the Washington Consensus, which is often viewed as a failure . Gerhard Klas and Philip Mader, however, represent u. a. Based on the analyzes by Gebauer and Mertens, the criticism that microloans are not a departure from this development strategy, but part of it.

Gerhard Klas calculates that the 10,000 microfinance institutions in existence worldwide charge an average interest rate of 38% per year from their 100 million customers. This is justified with high transaction costs, long journeys, etc. In agriculture in particular, repayment (which often has to be done weekly, which further increases the high transaction costs) is hardly affordable for borrowers - mostly women.

The poorest of the poor would no longer be eligible for microcredit borrowing because they lack opportunities to generate income and repay loans. The focus on pure lending without supplementing a savings option often leads to a debt trap from which the main female target group in particular finds it difficult to get out. Moreover, the granting of microloans does not change the macro-economic structures and does not promote transformative framework conditions. Often the microcredit would be used as a consumer loan, e.g. B. To finance weddings.

In autumn 2010, at least 54 micro-borrowers committed suicide in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh within two months. In this context, it has been reported that the microcredit sector there is more and more like the loan sharks from whom it once wanted to redeem the poor. Mohamed Yunus himself, the founder of the Grameen Bank, fears increasing impoverishment and indebtedness of borrowers, as some lenders focus much more on their own profit than development aid. He therefore calls for a standardization of interest rates. Otherwise there is a risk of a new financial bubble .

Another point of criticism is that in many countries there is still a funding gap between microcredit of up to approx. US $ 1,000 and bank loans of approx. US $ 10,000–15,000. According to the central bank, there are around 1 million members of mostly informally operating credit unions in Senegal , but the average loan amount is only up to US $ 400.

Microcredit in Germany

Microcredit from the Microcredit Fund Germany

In Germany, the Federal Government set up the Microcredit Fund Germany at the beginning of 2010 to expand the microfinance offer. On this basis, GRENKE BANK AG, in cooperation with the German Microfinance Institute , grants loans to small businesses and start- ups . The microloans of the Microcredit Fund Germany are granted exclusively by microfinance providers who have to pass a complex accreditation and examination process before being recognized as a microfinance institution . After the accreditation, the MFIs conclude a cooperation agreement for the granting of microfinance with GRENKE BANK AG and the German Microfinance Institute before they are allowed to take action.

These microfinance providers (MFIs) operate in different organizational forms and also differ in terms of the regional or national orientation of the offer. Each MFI can develop its own loan programs, target groups, allocation processes and support services and offer them on the market, as long as the core specifications of the Microcredit Fund Germany such as target groups, interest rate, maximum limits, terms and purpose of the loan and the framework conditions of the cooperation agreement are adhered to.

The MFIs accept credit inquiries from their customers independently. You check and decide at your own discretion about lending. If the decision is positive, they forward the loan request to the cooperation bank, which in turn draws up the loan agreement and has the customer signed via the MFIs. The MFI is responsible for the entire processing and support, which also assumes the risk for the loan repayment within the framework of a priority first-loss liability. During the entire term of the loan, the MFIs remain the point of contact for looking after microcredit customers.

First-loss liability of the micro-credit fund Germany

The term first-loss liability is used in the cooperation agreement between the Microcredit Fund Germany, GRENKE BANK AG and the microfinance providers (MFI) who offer microcredits to existing small businesses or for start-ups.

When granting microloans from the Microcredit Fund Germany, the microfinance providers primarily assume liability to the bank and funds. This type of liability is known as first loss liability (the MFI “loses first”). The microfinance provider assumes losses from the granting of microloans primarily with a contractually agreed percentage, e.g. z. 18%. The assessment limit is based on the highest loan amount of all microloans granted by the respective MFI in the respective year as the basis for calculation. Only when this threshold is exceeded does the microcredit fund become liable to the bank.

So far, this threshold (calculated across all MFIs) has not been exceeded, as the default rate for microloans is between 4% and 5%.

Third-party microcredit

In some federal states, the Landesbanken also offer micro-credit programs or programs similar to micro-credit. For the Berlin region, Investitionsbank Berlin offers a "microcredit" component within a normal start-up support program. In Bremen, the Bremer Aufbaubank GmbH offers a corresponding micro-credit program, in Saxony the Sächsische Aufbaubank , in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania the Society for Structural and Labor Market Development , in North Rhine-Westphalia the NRW.Bank . In Thuringia, micro-loans are granted through the Thuringian Aufbaubank. A positive vote by the advice center for microfinance in the Free State of Thuringia, the ThEx microfinance agency, is decisive for a payout.

The programs differ particularly in the hurdles in accessing these micro-credit programs, but also in the loan amount, terms, grace periods, interest rates and the necessary collateral for the applicant. In these programs, standard bank decision-making and allocation procedures are applied to customers who are already bankable and who have a corresponding credit history.

Since 2017, microcredits have also been granted in combination with alternative financing solutions such as crowdfunding. Several state development banks (L-Bank, Investitionsbank Berlin etc.) now offer the so-called microcrowd through Startnext Crowdfunding GmbH. The MicroCrowd model was published as a model sketch by the ThEx Microfinance Agency in early 2016.


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Web links

Individual evidence

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    “For the Frankfurt economist Harry Schmidt, an expert in microfinance, the Grameen Bank is unsuitable as a model for another reason: It depends on development aid and is not designed to grant loans entirely from its own resources. [...] The good idea can only work in the long run if the projects are self-sustaining. "
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    “Whether in Asia or Africa. Eastern Europe or South America - corresponding projects were started everywhere. They have long been considered essential elements of development aid and are supported by international organizations. "
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