Microfinance and the Corporate Governance Conundrum

52 Pages Posted: 17 Jan 2012 Last revised: 28 Jan 2014

See all articles by Umakanth Varottil

Umakanth Varottil

National University of Singapore (NUS) - Faculty of Law; European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)

Date Written: January 16, 2012


Microfinance evolved as an instrument to reduce poverty and bring about sustainable development. As an alternative to traditional means of finance such as banking and insurance (which failed to meet the needs of poorer sections of society), microfinance was pioneered by self-help groups, non-governmental organizations and other non-profit institutions. However, with a view to building a scalable model that engenders overall sustainable development, the microfinance sector has witnessed the emergence of for-profit institutions that are structured along the lines of the modern business corporation. These microfinance companies adopt market-based mechanisms to raise capital that is employed in financing the poor and less-privileged.

From a corporate governance perspective, microfinance companies and their boards of directors are faced with the classic dilemma. On the one hand, it is recognized that the principal goal of microfinance is to reduce poverty; to that extent the interests of borrowers (or customers) as principal stakeholders becomes paramount. On the other hand, a shareholder-centric approach operates as a major countervailing factor by compelling microfinance companies to generate profits to service investors and maintain stock price. The current discourse in corporate governance does not appear to satisfactorily address the predicament of boards of microfinance companies. This is due to the fact that investors and stock markets judge them against standards imposed by corporate governance norms and practices that are generally applicable in the corporate sector.

This article argues that the employment of conventional concepts and doctrines in corporate governance to for-profit microfinance companies does not adequately address the issues specific to such companies. It calls for a paradigm-shift that necessitates examination of corporate governance in microfinance companies through an altogether different lens. After considering the available empirical evidence and analyzing qualitative data generated from case studies and field interviews, it seeks to develop separate parameters for measuring the correlation between corporate governance and performance of microfinance companies, such that the overarching goals of reducing poverty are not diluted.

Keywords: microfinance, corporate governance

Suggested Citation

Varottil, Umakanth, Microfinance and the Corporate Governance Conundrum (January 16, 2012). Berkeley Business Law Journal, Vol. 9, No. 1, 2014, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1986493 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1986493

Umakanth Varottil (Contact Author)

National University of Singapore (NUS) - Faculty of Law ( email )

469G Bukit Timah Road
Eu Tong Sen Building
Singapore, 259776

European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI) ( email )

c/o the Royal Academies of Belgium
Rue Ducale 1 Hertogsstraat
1000 Brussels

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