Good Customer Service versus Bad Regulation
An earlier version of this essay was presented to the European Microfinance Research Conference at the University of Portsmouth, in June 2017. This version was completed in October 2017. Recent research suggests a positive connection between the quality of service provided by microfinance institutions (MFIs) and the propensity of borrowers to repay the loan. Good customer service improves borrower repayment behaviour, thereby increasing the likelihood of greater financial inclusion. However, good customer service also tends to increase the lender's costs. In many cases the regulation of MFIs focuses on the price of credit, without attending to the way in which the credit is provided to the borrower. Regulation tends to increase the lender's costs and where there is a cap on the cost of credit it also reduces the lender's ability to increase income. Better regulation would attend to the quality of customer service rather than the price of the loan. This essay is also available on SSRN.
Learning from Gandhi: Addressing the Current Dilemmas in Microfinance
This essay, jointly written with Arvind Ashta, considers the teaching of Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948) and suggests the relevance of his thought to the current dilemmas facing MFIs. Gandhi was an inspirational political leader and India, the country of his birth, is also home to the largest and fastest growing MFI sector. Gandhi thought and wrote a great deal about the ethics of economic activity and acknowledged the influence of a number of other important moral thinkers on the development of his ideas. While we consider the study of Gandhi's life and thought to be of great pedagogical value for microfinance practitioners, we also caution of the need to be selective. This essay is also available at SSRN. A shorter version was published by Business Compliance 03-04/2015 in June 2015.
Hinduism and Microfinance
This essay was jointly written with Arvind Ashta. In it we argue that microfinance industry practices can benefit from the culture and spiritual traditions of a country. We use the Bhagavad Gita and the codes of Manu and Kautilya to describe the background of Hindu teaching and practical wisdom and we provide a case study of a Hindu microfinance institution. The paper was published in 2014 by The Journal of Management Development, volume 33, issue 8/9 and paper is also available at
The Financial Crisis of 2007-2009: A Sketch of a Credible Explanation
This essay sets out the range of issues that any serious explanation for the financial crisis would need to address: these include the role of high credit-quality assets in the financial system, the regulatory bias in favour of assets secured on property, the mis-management by central banks of interest and exchange rates, and the the failure of Western political leaders to resist popular pressures that favoured immediate consumption over deferred consumption (savings). You can also download this paper from SSRN: here
Money Market Funds, Bank Runs and the First-Mover Advantage
This essay was written in December 2012 (and revised in January 2013) for the Institutional Money Market Fund Association, where I am currently the Independent Director. It makes the case that, in the absence of a government sponsored deposit insurance facility that would cover money market funds (including institutional investors), the best way to prevent a bank-style run in the money market fund sector is through the temporary or partial suspension of the standard terms of convertability, that is by the use of a liquidity gate or a liquidity fee.
The Morality of Money Lending
This essay is based upon a paper I gave at the Second European Research Conference on Microfinance, held at the University of Groningen in June 2011. Since that Conference the paper has been revised somewhat, although the central argument remains the same. The essay sets out a brief history of three different approaches to money lending at interest, and tries to draw conclusions about the successes and failures of each approach. In addition I try to identify some lessons for microfinance companies, which need to consider how to set prices for the loans they make.
The Case for Central Bank Liquidity Facilities for Institutional Money Market Funds in the Offshore Market
This essay was written in November 2008, a few weeks after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and during the middle of the financial markets crisis, at the request of the Institutional Money Market Fund Association. The paper was circulated to Central Banks and other market regulatory bodies at the time, but its main proposal was rejected by them. The regulation of money market funds is now back on the agenda of international financial regulators, so this seems an apposite time to re-publish the paper, whose central arguments remain valid in my opinion.
Creating Sustainable Micro-lending in London
A substantially revised version of this paper, called Financing Sustainable Micro-Lending in London, has been published in the online journal Strategic Change (vol. 21, November 2012).
This essay was jointly written with Paul Cheng, who is an investment manager at Venturesome. We presented the paper at a Conference on "Partnerships in Microfinance", at the University of Greenwich, London on 7 September 2010. The paper is also available online here, together with other presentations from the Conference. Our paper describes the partnership between Fair Finance and Venturesome, in particular our attempt to develop a business model for micro-lending in London that will be scalable and sustainable.
Darwin and Philosophy
I presented this essay to students from the Faculty of Law at the University of Namibia in August 2009.
On the bicenterary of Dawin's birth we are still not yet able to give a proper account of his influence across the whole of philosophy, because the mechanisms by which processes of natural selection might work in society - for example, as a force for change in the economy and in social morality - are not yet fully understood.
Darwin's importance for the biological sciences in not in serious dispute; his importance for philosophy is not yet able to be determined.
Financial Inclusion and Equality
I presented this essay at a conference organized by the Runnymede Trust in October 2009.
The essay argues that current government policy to tackle the problem of financial exclusion, specifically with regard to the provision of affordable credit, is misguided. Areas with the presumed highest demand for affordable credit have been identified in a way that excludes the needs of the Black and Minority Ethnic communities. Further the central role assigned to credit unions in the provision of affordable credit ignores a number of problems with quality in service delivery.
Readers in search of a better solution might care to read my article,
Private Banking for the Poor.
David Hume's "Of Suicide"
I wrote this essay in February 1989 while I was working on my PhD at University College London and presented it at a seminar in the Philosophy Department, as part of a series of papers on "Hume's Essays". Although I share Hume's view that neither the church nor the state has the right to deny a person the freedom to kill themselves if they so choose, I am not wholly convinced by his claim that "no man ever threw away life, while it was worth keeping".
Is God a democrat?
I presented this essay at a meeting of the Windhoek Socratic Society, at the University of Namibia, in August 2008.
The essay begins by considering the influence of Lutheranism on the emergence of democracy in the modern world. It then considers, first, whether democratic politics is compatible with other, non-Lutheran religious beliefs; and, second, some examples of cases when the actions (rather than the beliefs) of religious people pose a threat to democratic politics.
The Risk Premium for Commodities
I wrote this essay with Jason Lejonvarn in 2005. At that time we were both working for Barclays Global Investors (BGI). This essay has not been published elsewhere and it represents only the views of the authors. It does not represent the views of BGI.
The essay makes the case for commodities as an investible asset class, offering benefits through enhanced returns and portfolio risk diversification. Whether a risk premium exists for commodity investment and, if so, what the size of this premium is, remain topics of debate within investment management community. Some people have suggested (wrongly, in our opinion) that the entry of a number of large institutional investors into the commodity markets in recent years was responsible for the surge in many commodity prices during 2007 and early 2008.