Iranian Savings Funds to Tackle Loan Drought

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

For entrepreneurs around the world, acquiring finance to start or expand a small business has become harder and harder as the global financial crisis has bitten hard. Across the globe, people with good ideas or successful businesses that need funds to expand are finding the door closed by traditional banks.

As banks and governments have focused on reducing debt and building up cash reserves, it is small businesses and small-scale entrepreneurs – often without business or family connections – who suffer the most. Opportunities are being missed to create new jobs and enterprises and lift poor communities out of poverty.

In that climate, the search is on for alternative ways to build up wealth. In Iran, a new phenomenon has arisen to address the lack of bank loans for small businesses brought about by the economic crisis. Iran is suffering under international sanctions as well as outstanding bank loans exceeding US $45 billion, according to the Financial Times.

The domestic banking crisis this has provoked has resulted in a tightening of credit for loans.

But in response, middle class Iranians are forming their own savings clubs to help each other with loans.

The savings clubs work like this: each member buys a share in the club costing around US $2 per day (around US $620 over 10 months). Each share makes the saver eligible for one loan during the year. For example in a club of 30 Tehran taxi drivers, every month four members of the club receive US $600 each in loans. The fund lasts 10 months and each member is guaranteed one loan per share.

“It is a savings fund and doesn’t have the uncertainty of the banking system, which might or might not give you a loan,” club member Ahmad told the Financial Times newspaper. As one of the drivers, he has four shares and is eligible for four loans.

“My mother is also saving money in a fund of housewives among our female relatives.”

The fund is managed by the head of the taxi agency and a driver who is a retired teacher. Both are trusted. “The retired teacher receives the money every day and puts a check mark by the names of those who pay. He is trusted by the head of the taxi agency, while other drivers respect him as an educated, honest man.”

Savings clubs are also good for the local economy, helping people to be able to buy goods on loans they would never be able to purchase otherwise. Another driver used the fund to “buy the things we cannot afford under normal conditions, like a washing machine, for instance, for which we have zero chance to get bank loans.”

Overdue loans by Iran’s banks grew by 66 percent from last year according to Asghar Abolhassani, the deputy economy minister.

The Financial Times reported that an estimated 25 percent of bank loans are outstanding, making Iran’s banking system technically bankrupt. International sanctions are also blocking the country’s banks from accessing global financial markets for support.

“Stagnation has gripped many parts of the economy,” said Hamid Tehranfar, the central bank’s director-general for banking supervision.

Turning to savings clubs can be an excellent alternative saving and loans model, but it requires very specific trust guarantees in place to ensure the holder of the funds doesn’t just take the money. For those who can’t find somebody local they trust, there are a number of online social lending and fundraising alternatives for raising funds and borrowing money. These include Kiva (www.kiva.org), which connects poor people looking for loans with people around the world willing to lend.

As the crisis continues and banks and governments hoard wealth for their own needs to pay down debt, alternative sources of loans will become ever more important for the poor.

Resources

1) Zopa: “Where people meet to lend and borrow money.” Website: www.zopa.com

2) Kiva: Kiva’s mission is to connect people, through lending, for the sake of alleviating poverty. Website: www.kiva.org

3) Betterplace: Started in 2007, Betterplace is an online marketplace for projects to raise funds. It is free, and it passes on 100 percent of the money raised on the platform to the projects. Website: www.betterplace.org

4) Kickstarter: Kickstarter is a funding platform for artists, designers, filmmakers, musicians, journalists, inventors, and explorers. Website: http://www.kickstarter.com/

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