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June 2018

To Cap or not to cap? What does Kenya’s experience tell us about the impact of interest rate caps on the financial sector?

Bilal Zia's picture

Interest rate caps can have far-reaching consequences on the composition and maturity of commercial bank loans and deposits. From both a policy and research standpoint, it is important to understand the mechanisms behind such impacts and the channels through which they affect various players in the financial sector.

While cross-country evidence suggests that interest rate caps can reduce credit availability and increase costs for low-income borrowers1, rigorous micro-evidence on the channels of impact within an economy is missing.

In a new working paper that uses bank-level panel data from Kenya, Mehnaz Safavian and I carefully examine the impact of the recently imposed interest rate caps on the country’s formal financial sector.2

In September 2016, the Kenyan Parliament passed a bill that effectively imposed a cap on interest rates charged on loans and a corresponding floor on the interest rates offered for deposit accounts by commercial banks. This new legislation was in response to the public view that lending rates in Kenya were too high, and that banks were engaging in predatory lending behavior. The interest rate caps were therefore intended to alleviate the repayment burden on borrowers and improve financial inclusion as more individuals and firms would be able to borrow at the lower repayment rates.

Financial repression and bank lending: Evidence from a natural experiment in an emerging market

Tomás Williams's picture

Since the early 2000s, local-currency debt (mostly traded in domestic markets) became a growing and important source of funding for several governments in emerging market economies. Despite their impressive growth, many domestic sovereign debt markets maintain a captive domestic audience that facilitates direct credit to government. This represents a form of financial repression 1, which can lead to a crowding out of private credit.

The degree of this form of financial repression depends crucially on government access to foreign credit. If there is a low presence of foreign investors in domestic sovereign debt markets, governments have to rely heavily on domestic financial institutions potentially worsening the crowding out of private credit. In turn, an increased presence of foreign investors might reduce financial repression, and free resources for the private sector. As a result local firms may be able to finance more investment projects and boost economic activity. Although intuitive, there is little evidence on this topic because of identification challenges.2 In a recent study (Williams, 2018), I use a quasi-natural experiment in Colombia and provide evidence on how the entrance of foreign investors into domestic sovereign debt markets reduces financial repression and increases domestic credit growth, boosting economic activity.

Can psychometrics help bridge the gap?

Claudia Ruiz's picture
Traditional credit scores are fairly accurate in predicting future loan performance, which is why lenders have tended to concentrate on clients with already a solid credit history, as screening them is less costly. However, interest in alternative ways to identify potential good borrowers that lack credit history is growing, particularly in countries where a non-trivial fraction of the population remains unbanked.