Managing credit risk in rural financial institutions: what seems to work
Rural areas are largely unbanked due in part to perceptions of high credit risk. Agriculture remains the main livelihood activity for many but it is inherently more risky than other sectors due to vulnerability to climatic shocks and commodity price volatility. Accordingly, many financial
institutions do not see an attractive risk-return ratio and shy away from rural areas in general and from agricultural lending in particular. This article examines how a sample of rural financial institutions in Latin America views credit risk, how they manage it, and how well they fare in
the process as measured by key financial performance indicators. It concludes that there are a set of common principles that can be applied in credit evaluation processes to select low-risk borrowers and that through portfolio diversification strategies and the establishment of portfolio exposure
limits to agriculture, acquired risk can be managed and coped with at the institutional level. Unfortunately, risk transfer instruments are little used and generally unavailable. Much can be done to improve the situation. None- theless, nearly all institutions in the survey saw market opportunities,
and the most successful institutions were growing fast and generating profits.