What's Working and What's Not?
An Honest Conversation about SPM in Latin America
The meeting kicked off with a plenary session on the status of SPM in Latin America. Panelists, who came from Brazil, Mexico, and Nicaragua, discussed SPM advances across the region.
In Latin America, the average SPM implementation (as measured by the SPI4 audit) is close to 70%, compared with the global average of 60%. Iván Gutiérrez of REDCAMIF noted that SPM is strongest in the organizations that are convinced balancing social and financial performance is good for business. The challenge, he noted, is often “how” to implement SPM, not so much “why.” He
said the Universal Standards and the SPI4 help guide organizations in the “how.” Additionally, regulators in several countries, such as Mexico, have been working to enact policies that empower clients and improve transparency in the region.
Panelists noted that networks and regulators in several countries are increasingly encouraging or requiring the use of SPM audits to assess the level of SPM implementation. As Guillermo Colín García of AMSOFIPO in Mexico noted, “What cannot be measured cannot be controlled. What cannot be controlled cannot be improved.”
Another recurring theme in the discussion was how financial crises in the region have shown that SPM can bolster an institution’s sustainability. As Gutiérrez noted, “The ones who have come the best out of crises are the ones that have balanced financial and social, because they have practices in place that focus on institutional sustainability and increase client loyalty.”
Panelists noted that there are still several challenges to continue implementing SPM, including:
- Addressing insufficient financial infrastructure, particularly in rural areas
- Ensuring that provision of savings and credit is only done by regulated institutions
- Providing financial education that promotes the responsible use of financial services
- Generating data and monitoring results of policies and programs
- Promoting peer-sharing between smaller FSPs and larger ones
Make or Break: A Conversation between Regulators and the Regulated
This plenary session convened stakeholders from Mexico, Nicaragua, and Bolivia to discuss how regulators in Latin America have incorporated SPM into their policies to regulate and promote the microfinance sector.
All panelists discussed ways that client protection has been – and should continue to be – emphasized in their countries’ regulation. For example, clients can go to CONAMI, the Nicaraguan regulator, if they feel they do not have adequate recourse via their financial service provider. All panelists stressed the importance of keeping clients at the center of policies, and many have incorporated financial education to help empower clients.
Two countries’ regulators – Nicaragua and Bolivia – have moved beyond client protection and have integrated the full set of Universal Standards for SPM into their regulation. This includes issues such as improving corporate governance and having a strategy to reach social goals (e.g., having to offer services in areas that remain unserved). In Nicaragua, institutions that become certified in SPM are able to gain access to a promotion fund, which aims to help FSPs access excluded sectors, such as rural areas.
Panelists generally agreed that regulation should be developed with “a bottom-up” approach that starts from understanding the needs of end clients and FSPs so that it regulates in ways that are feasible for the institutions to implement. Rudy Araujo Medinacelli of ASBA said, “The industry is not understanding that the client is the main asset. Those that do not take care of the client will not be in the market later.” Jose Auad Lema of CRECER in Bolivia
added that while regulators must define policies that are feasible for FSPs to implement, they also have a fundamental role in pushing FSPs “out of their comfort zones” to better serve clients.
The group also identified various challenges for regulators. All emphasized the importance of continuing to improve financial education to empower clients, enabling FSPs to achieve reasonable financial returns, and working toward increased transparency. Panelists also noted that regulation could play a role in protecting clients amid technology advances and agreed on the critical need for regulators to understand and incorporate SPM into their polices.