Getting to Scale with Housing Finance Innovation in Cambodia

> Posted by Habitat for Humanity International

Microfinance in Cambodia has seen tremendous growth throughout the past two decades. The first microfinance institutions were initially established by relief organizations to provide cash transfers to poor families, to build incomes and reduce poverty. Fast forward to 2015, and the financial landscape is thriving with over 45 regulated microfinance institutions (MFIs) operating in the country. Improved financial access is contributing to 7.3 percent GDP growth and reducing poverty rates for those living under $2 per day.

Despite impressive economic growth, housing quality for many Cambodians remains below standards. A 2014 study conducted by the Ministry of Planning in Cambodia revealed that nearly 27 percent of homes in rural areas still use temporary materials for walls and roughly 83 percent have temporary floors.

As migration brings more people to urban and peri-urban areas, and as a young population seeks to build new housing, there is a growing need for financial products that match the term and usage that housing requires. Recently, housing microfinance (usually characterized by larger loan amounts and longer terms than traditional microfinance) has gained traction in Cambodia as a funding source for home construction and home improvements for low income families.

In 2011 MFIs started to look seriously into housing microfinance as a separate product line – previously the common practice was for some MFIs to offer housing as part of a personal use or general purpose loan.

In 2012, the MicroBuild Fund, an investment vehicle initiated by Habitat for Humanity International with support from Omidyar Network and managed by Triple Jump, entered into Cambodia. This funding focused on MFIs with scalable housing portfolios, based on the hypothesis that to catalyze the growth of home improvement loan products, funds would be required that matched the longer loan terms paired with advisory services to build MFI capacity. MicroBuild has invested USD 39 million in 27 MFIs in 18 countries around the globe, bundled with USD 2 million worth of technical assistance. These investments have assisted partner financial institutions to maintain housing microfinance portfolios worth USD 238 million spread among 136,000 active clients.

Today MFIs offering individual home improvement loan products in Cambodia include LOLC (formerly TPC), First Finance, Hattha Kaksekar Limited, and Amret, among others.

The progress of housing microfinance in Cambodia is well-aligned with global trends. A recent survey conducted by Habitat for Humanity’s Center for Innovation in Shelter and Finance (CISF) revealed that 73 percent of MFIs worldwide enter into housing microfinance to diversify their portfolios and to respond to client demand, keeping customers satisfied and loyal with appropriate products and services. In an increasingly competitive MFI sector, MFIs recognize that offering housing products with lending terms matched to use of the loan can assist with client satisfaction and loyalty, as well as reduce the risk of the loan.

MFIs seem to not be stopping there. Promising trends reveal innovations ranging from water, sanitation, solar installation, home improvement, repairs and extensions, as well as micro-mortgage products.

Additionally, innovation is being initiated in service delivery. For example, LOLC has embedded an engineer in their head office in order to initiate technical tie-ups with suppliers of solar panels, to improve the quality of improvements and service delivery. These MFIs are not just making housing loans available to clients, but doing so in a way that improves home quality in a country without a formal building code or training minimums in the construction sector.

Still there is a tremendous amount to learn and key questions to answer. First, housing microfinance provides a small sliver of the capital required to create a thriving housing finance environment. Two key questions remain. First, what other types of support to the sector are required to incentivize lenders to increase the availability of housing finance products, notably micro-mortgages? Second, in the face of increasing risks for disasters such as floods, how can investors help to ensure that disaster resilience in housing is addressed?

Ultimately, housing provides an opportunity for MFIs, housing finance companies, and commercial banks and developers alike to respond to the housing demand with new and unique product offerings including housing microfinance, relocation housing, micro-mortgages, and rental housing. Additional investors will be needed to provide capital and fuel the growth, and we hope other investors will join MicroBuild in providing capital and support in this burgeoning sector.

Habitat has supported an estimated 2 million individuals in the Asia-Pacific region, where it has been active since 1983. For more on Habitat’s Center for Innovation in Shelter and Finance, click here, and on Habitat’s other work and guiding vision, click here

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