Thursday, March 20, 2008

5 Steps to Managing Risk as a Microfinancier

It might surprise some of you that lending money to middle-class American home owners to buy houses may be much riskier than lending money to Bangladeshi farmers to buy their first cellphones. (The beauty of diversification at work here?)

I have invited guest blogger Heather Johnson to explain microfinancing, and the quantitative risk management tools available if you want to do it yourself.


5 Steps to Managing Risk as a Microfinancier

By Heather Johnson

Microfinancing is a growing trend among investors, as it offers low-risk money opportunities and a way to bring social change to poverty-stricken communities. "Low-risk" doesn't equal "no risk," of course, so many potential microlenders are keen to learn the ins and outs of credit risk management in this arena. After all, most microborrowers have poor credit or no credit at all. A villager who needs $200 for starting a third-world chicken farm isn't going to fare well in that department, as you can imagine.

The good news is, even in the event of a loan delinquency, you won't be losing a substantial amount of money. Most microloans range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Any losses are unfortunate, though, so you will want to manage your microlending risks and keep loan delinquencies to a minimum.

Here are five steps to managing your risk as a microfinancier:

  1. Research Your Borrower – If you're lending through a site, such as Prosper, then you will have access to your borrower's profile and credit reports. However, don’t be afraid to ask more questions if you have any doubts about this person's ability to repay the loan. If you are lending the money through other channels, definitely start with the credit reports and interview the borrower.
  2. Lend With a Group – Though this won't make your borrower any more likely to repay a loan, lending with a group will help to spread out the cost and share responsibility. In other words, you will be risking less money and will have other people with the same interests to consult with.
  3. Use Analytical Tools – Third-party applications can help you determine what is working best with your microlending. Both seasoned microlenders and newcomers are highly encouraged to use such tools. Microfinance sites that come with excellent built-in tools include Trickle Up, Opportunity International and Heifer International.
  4. Provide Incentives – Consider an incentive program for those who pay on time. A small, inexpensive gift will be very appreciated by those living in third-world countries. Lenders have used food, such as rice or corn meal, as a bonus.
  5. Be Proactive in Collecting – This doesn't mean you should harass your borrowers. However, you should research your delinquent accounts as soon as payments are late, rather than letting them go into default. There could be a simple breakdown in communication or an emergency on the borrower's end.

One of the biggest draws of microfinancing is the relatively low risk involved. However, that doesn't mean that you will have a 100% success rate. The best way to get your feet wet is to start with a small loan. Something as low as $100 will let you learn the process and allow you to become more comfortable with the system. Microfinancing isn't for everyone, but you may just find your niche with this kind of investment.


Heather Johnson is a freelance finance and economics writer, as well as a regular contributor for, a site for currency trading and forex trading information. Heather welcomes comments and freelancing job inquiries at her email address .

Monday, March 03, 2008

Upcoming seminar on subprime mortgage crisis

For readers who live in the New York area, here is an interesting upcoming seminar at Columbia University:

The subprime mortgage crisis of 2007: Anatomy of a market failure

Date: 03-10-2008
Start Time: 6:00pm
End Time: 7:30pm
Speaker: Kenneth A. Posner, Morgan Stanley
Location: 412 Schapiro CEPSR, Davis Auditorium


As home prices soared in 2004-5, consumers, realtors, mortgage lenders,
homebuilders, and investment banks all benefited. But few thought the good
times would last -- after all, everyone had learned to recognize a bubble
when they saw one. If that's the case, how did mortgage losses turn out so
large, and why do we find ourselves today confronting a major financial
crisis? This presentation will survey the damage resulting from the
subprime mortgage crash and provide a possible explanation for the magnitude
of the surprise which may be relevant to investors and risk managers in
other markets.


Kenneth Posner is a managing director and head of the mortgage finance and
specialty finance equity research team. Prior to joining the Equity Research
department in 1995, Ken worked in Morgan Stanley's investment banking group,
where he focused on commercial real estate transactions. He previously
served as a captain of infantry in the US Army, and was airborne and ranger
qualified. Ken earned a B.A. from Yale University in 1985 and an M.B.A. with
honors from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business in 1991.
He is a Certified Public Accountant and holds the Chartered Financial
Analyst and Financial Risk Manager designations