The role of microfinance in post-conflict Colombia

Mª Mercedes Gómez Restrepo, Executive Chairwoman of Bancamía

María Mercedes Gómez

For the microfinance industry, the opportunities arising from the post-conflict scenario are linked to the possibility of achieving greater scale and scope, which must be leveraged to achieve higher numbers of entrepreneurial customers who have microenterprises or are self-employed

The history of Colombia over the last 52 years has been disfigured by the scar of a war that has cut down more than 8 million lives directly as a result of armed conflict, kidnapping, terrorist attacks, forced displacement, anti-personnel mines, sexual crimes, disappearances and murders. Fighting was the cause of death for just over 218,000 people, of whom 81% were civilians and 19% combatants*. In amongst these appalling figures, the number of the displaced is shocking; with most of them coming from the rural areas, more than 5 million two hundred thousand people who worked on the land** were forced to flee. That is why the first clause in the Peace Agreement shaping the post-conflict era focuses on the countryside.

Since the peace agreement negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC started to show signs of reaching a successful end, important steps have been taken towards consolidating a post-conflict scenario, and the rural environment plays a leading role. The 2014 National Farming census, updated after 40 years, shows that 69.9% of rural productive units have less than 5 hectares of land, which is used for subsistence farming.

To give a dimension to the number of people affected by this post-conflict scenario, we need to take the existing rural population suffering from economic poverty, ie, 4.3 million people***, and add the people displaced by the armed conflict, a further 5.2 million, plus those reinserted between 2003 and 2016: 58 thousand****. The total comes to about 9.6 million, all in critical need of social, productive and financial inclusion.

The natural purpose of microfinance is to contribute to reducing poverty in the world, through financial inclusion models that range from straightforward access to financial transactions at the base of the economic pyramid, to offering sophisticated value proposals that fully support productive development and improved standards of living for those on very low incomes.

This purpose faces tremendous challenges in the post-conflict scenario and, in consequence, huge opportunities too. One of the greatest hurdles is the time it takes to reintegrate populations that have been displaced and demobilised: 6.5 years on average*****, after which opportunities for economic insertion must be secured, whether by making people employable or facilitating entrepreneurial initiatives. Another challenge that is extremely important here is the creation of self-supporting enterprise models and the development of current models for reinforcing microenterprises that we have been nurturing in the BBVA Microfinance Foundation (BBVAMF) group of institutions, adapting these models to our particular needs, those of dealing with the realities and overcoming the obstacles peculiar to farming in Colombia.

For the microfinance industry, the opportunities arising from the post-conflict scenario are linked to the possibility of achieving greater scale and scope, which must be leveraged to achieve higher numbers of entrepreneurial customers who have microenterprises or are self-employed. In order to capitalise on this opportunity, the value proposition needs to be adapted to the new needs that arise as a product of the dynamics of building a stable, long-lasting peace.

This is why microfinance institutions’ capacity to innovate will be the critical factor in differentiating themselves from the competition, innovation that is centred on satisfying human needs, underpinned by technical and financial viability. This anthropological approach requires no less of an internal transformation: to leave behind the supply-side design of products and services and embrace the roll-out of integrated business solutions from the demand perspective. This involves a change of approach, in which in-depth knowledge of the rural population and its inclusion needs, as well as of the post-conflict scenario, lies at the heart, with digital technology its greatest ally in achieving transformation and efficiency. Digital technology is also a prerequisite if we are to gain capillarity, with denser coverage in the rural environment.  

If these populations are really to become leading post-conflict players the age-old barriers to rural development must be overcome: land ownership; lack of technical resources in farming activity; limitations in terms of infrastructure and public resources; lack of protection from agro-climatic risks; price volatility; absence of collateral; near non-existent financial literacy; the informal economy and environmental impact, to name some on the long list. The basis for progress and for surmounting these obstacles is the people, working in teams that use well-developed emotional intelligence: individuals with a spirit of service and cooperation. Their training in Responsible Productive Finance must be comprehensive and continuous.

An essential addition to the above is the roll out of a specialised customer service model for the farming segment, one that gets fully involved in communities’ natural economic circles, with value propositions adapted to the different players, digital channels and alliances with third parties; one that leverages cooperative behaviour so that credit can be effectively distributed and risks mitigated.

Over the last five years, Banco de las Microfinanzas  Bancamía S.A. has been preparing for this moment, establishing its principal strategy of deeper and wider reach over rural Colombia, with key tools such as the Farmworkers’ & Indigenous Peoples’ Mission Map [Mapa Misional Campesino e Indígena]. This sets priorities by area and activity, as well as the model of intervention, and lays out the lines of action for consolidating a value proposition that suits the farm labourer’s situation and way of thinking. All this, together with the use of mobile banking, which has made great progress among rural customers, has allowed the bank to define a road map that contributes to consolidating peace in Colombia.

With the support of the BBVAMF and with hope for the future that we have been building with passion and commitment, Bancamía is working towards integrated financial inclusion to ensure access, usage, quality and welfare. It aspires to being the leading financial intermediary in the post-conflict scenario, backed by its in-depth knowledge of this population group, loyal to the mission and the higher purpose that inspire and motivate us.


Sources used:

*        National Historical Memory Centre [Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica]

**      UNHCR (Colombia)

***    National Statistics Department - DANE

****  Reinsertion Information System [Sistema de Información para la Reintegración], 2nd October 2016

***** Colombian Reinsertion Agency [Agencia Colombiana para la Reintegración]