Bangladesh's best bank for microfinance 2020: ASA
The Association for Social Advancement has come a long, long way since its humble beginnings in the remote village of Tapra 42 years ago.
Founder and president Shafiqual Haque Choudhury isn’t coy about recounting how ASA was born of stark necessity after the bloody, post-independence days of the mid 1970s. The economy was in ruins, with widespread famine, and government institutions were incapable of stabilizing the nation. Non-government organizations stepped in to save the day.
Some key domestic ones were created – and microfinance pioneer ASA was arguably the most important of the lot. Grameen Bank may have come first, and founder Muhammad Yunus may have won a Nobel Peace Prize, but ASA’s exponential growth, pioneering spirit and promotion of microfinance wins our top honour once again.
In the last year, its network of branches grew to 3,065 from 3,045 in 2018, covering almost 90% of the nation’s communities.
The mission, as Choudhury puts it, is to “improve the life quality of the people living at the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid and establish a society free from poverty and economic disparity.”
This means that, for all ASA’s success and innovation, there is still much work to be done.
Like most of its peers in south Asia, Bangladesh is a decidedly overbanked place. Yet the vast majority of the population lives in far-off rural and nominally urban areas with limited access to traditional bank accounts and lines of credit.
ASA is a vital bridge between its seven million clients and the fast-globalizing economy with which they are keen to interact.
In our latest review period, ASA disbursed some Tk310 billion ($3.6 billion) in loans, up from Tk284 billion a year earlier, and maintained double-digit returns on equity once again. ASA’s solid financials owe much to steady loan growth and a 99% recovery rate on outstanding IOUs.
ASA’s dogged promotion of microfinance increasingly takes its executives to far-flung places. At present, Choudhury says, ASA is offering technical assistance in Ghana, India, Kenya, Myanmar, Nigeria, the Philippines, Pakistan, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. That’s quite a global multiplier effect for an institution that started 80 kilometres from Dhaka.
Along with financing, ASA runs a growing roster of non-financial technical assistance programmes as varied as agriculture, education, healthcare, hygiene, physiotherapy and sanitation. Naturally, micro loans related to these and other areas are readily available.
Women entrepreneurs are a particular focus in lending programmes, of course. So are, increasingly, small companies in one of the developing world’s most promising but liquidity-starved economies.