Saturday, October 3, 2009

Gold as "rural credit card" in India

Read Vikas Bajaj's report in the New York Times business section here. The story presents those who lend money on the basis of gold jewelry as collateral as the equivalent of pay day lenders or pawn shops in the United States. One difference more recently is that banks in India are now making these loans; unlike pawn shops, they are regulated. This makes for lower interest rates--but by no means low ones--of 14 to 30%. Here's an excerpt from Bajaj's story:
“This is the rural credit card,” said V. P. Nandakumar, chairman of the Manappuram Group, one of the country’s biggest gold loan companies. “This is the only way really that someone gets an instant loan within three minutes.”
But loans against gold are also a measure of how immature — and restricted — India’s credit markets are.
Most Indians, especially those working in the informal economy, which accounts for 92 percent of the country’s 400 million workers, have few choices when they need to borrow money: they lack other collateral or have no documents to prove their incomes.
In spite of the catchy "rural credit card" phrase, it is not at all clear that this is a strictly or even largely rural phenomenon. After all, many Indians who work in the informal economy are also urban, and rural-to-urban migration and remittances are significant demographic and economic forces in the country. Perhaps the industry official who made the comment is using "rural" as synonymous (at least roughly so) with the informal economy, and not necessarily reflective of its other connotations.

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