Risky Business: Evaluating Kiva Field Partner Ratings
Lauren Barra, KF16, Kenya
News of hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires bringing you down? Tired of hearing about how the world economy is in the toilet and the U.S. outlook is grimmer than ever? Want to explore a corner of the world where risk profiles are actually improving? Welcome to Yehu Microfinance Trust in Mombasa, Kenya.
Starting today, Yehu will now proudly display a three star Field Partner risk rating on Kiva. In their communication with Yehu, Kiva highlighted its main justifications for the change:
Reasons for the upgrade include continued maintenance of portfolio quality, strong growth, excellent management team hires, and strong competitive positioning.
I sat down with Esther Mutuma, the newly appointed COO of Yehu, to discuss her thoughts on the upgrade:
It’s really exciting. The most obvious outcome is people will take the time to look at us now because of the rating. We appreciate the model Kiva uses. Having lived in the U.K., I know the first thing I did before purchasing an item was check the rating. I know the mindset people in the U.S. have. Ratings are everything.
As Casey explained, the cost for an MFI to participate in Kiva isn’t cheap. It takes time, energy, and resources to collect borrower stories and pictures from the field. Morale can plummet when loan officers put forth all of this effort and their loans repeatedly go unfunded on Kiva. By displaying a strong Field Partner rating, Yehu can increase its visibility and instill confidence in the lender community. In the future, Yehu hopes that no loan will expire due to its Field Partner rating.
So how does Kiva decide to upgrade a Field Partner? We’ve seen from the recent S&P downgrade of U.S. debt that rating the inherent “risk” of a country or institution can be a controversial business. Kiva has developed its own methodology for evaluating the creditworthiness of each Field Partner. This risk model is based on Kiva’s accumulated experience with Field Partners and it evaluates a number of different dimensions, including:
- Governance, management, and staff
- Planning, audit, and earnings
- Liquidity and capital
- Management information system and internal controls
Each of these categories is evaluated during an on-site visit by a Kiva analyst and scored on a scale of 1 to 5. An overall Field Partner risk rating is then calculated, with five stars indicating lower risk of institutional default and one star indicating higher risk of institutional default.
Rural borrowers account for a significant portion of Yehu’s customer base. As Esther explained, this equates to a higher than average cost operation ratio as loan officers often spend an enormous amount of time and money connecting with borrowers in remote villages. While operating cost is an essential component of the risk model, incorporating a variety of other factors such as management and growth potential, Kiva has enabled Yehu to distinguish itself beyond the balance sheet. Kiva’s risk model isn’t perfect, but judging from Yehu’s experience it’s getting a lot of things right.