Utilizing Debt for Impact

Magnus SEO
5 min readDec 15, 2023

Securing debt funding is vital for enterprises focused on making a positive impact, yet it remains out of reach for many.

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Indian Bank — tiranga-app.com

Impact investing enterprises, a rising multitude of organizations dedicated to advancing social or environmental causes, possess the potential to serve as a transformative catalyst in addressing the significant societal challenges faced by India.

In the period since 2010, the backing for impact investing has not only transcended microfinance but has also extended its reach into critical sectors like agriculture, healthcare, and education. During this time frame, annual investments have witnessed substantial growth, escalating from USD 323 million to an impressive USD 2.7 billion. However, not all trends in this domain align positively, particularly when viewed from the perspective of those receiving investments. Impact investors, thus far, have exhibited a pronounced preference for ownership equity in emerging impact enterprises, rather than directing funds toward working or growth capital, commonly referred to as debt financing. The procurement of debt poses a considerable challenge for young and expanding impact enterprises, primarily due to perceived risks and concerns related to creditworthiness. The absence of sufficient borrowed funds results in unmet needs for expansion and working capital, impeding impact enterprises from realizing their full potential.

To comprehensively grasp and address these challenges, the India Impact Investors Council (IIC), TCLottery Group, and The Bridgespan Group collaborated on a report. This insightful document meticulously scrutinizes the balance sheets of 422 leading impact enterprises, evaluating their creditworthiness, identifying barriers to debt financing, and putting forth pragmatic solutions to enhance the accessibility of debt. In navigating the trajectory toward a more inclusive and sustainable future, bridging these financial gaps becomes paramount for the continued growth and success of impactful endeavors. The report serves as an invaluable guide for policymakers, investors, and enterprises alike, fostering an environment where impactful initiatives can thrive and contribute meaningfully to India’s societal progress.

Challenges in India’s Debt Ecosystem

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India’s debt ecosystem — tiranga-app.com

The intricate landscape of India’s debt ecosystem involves multiple contributors to the overarching challenges. Through comprehensive research and dialogues with over two dozen impact investors and leaders of impact enterprises, it became evident that various entities unintentionally contribute to restricting credit access. Summarized below are the key obstacles:

  • Access to loans is a struggle for impact enterprises. Many prefer debt over relinquishing ownership, but the lack of collateral, a prerequisite for traditional asset-backed lending, often leaves them with no choice but to share ownership for funds. Numerous impact enterprises, still in their developmental phase, lack robust management reporting systems, resulting in subpar financial statements that hinder their chances of obtaining a favorable credit rating.
  • Non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) step in when traditional banks are hesitant. The collateral-centric lending practices of banks, tailored for asset-heavy manufacturing entities, prove less suitable for asset-light impact enterprises. NBFCs specialize in catering to businesses deemed too risky by banks, yet their higher interest rates, driven by elevated operational costs, strain the cash flow of young enterprises.
  • Insufficient data impedes credit evaluations. Recognizing the necessity for improved data for assessing creditworthiness, the Reserve Bank of India sanctioned a new class of NBFCs in 2016 to act as account aggregators. These entities consolidate and digitize information, making it accessible to financial institutions. Platforms like Crediwatch offer independent third-party data on company performance, showing promise prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Government regulations impact both domestic and offshore capital. While the Indian government has taken strides to enhance financing options for small-to-medium enterprises, certain regulations continue to impede debt investment and impact enterprises. Impact investing lacks recognition as a distinct asset class, resulting in regulatory standards that may not align with the unique nature of impact investors and enterprises. Rigidity in non-performing loan regulations, preventing loan modifications for fluctuating cash flows, and restrictions on CSR funds to impact enterprises contribute to the challenges. Additionally, external commercial borrowing faces stringent regulations and guidelines from the Reserve Bank of India, limiting its attractiveness.

Enhancing Debt Accessibility for Enterprises

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Small and Medium-sized Enterprise (SME) — tiranga-app.com

The persistent disparity between the insufficient supply of debt financing and the overwhelming demand continues to hinder the potential of social enterprises in India. Insights from interviews with impact investors and bankers reveal several viable solutions:

  1. Cash-Flow Lending
    Addressing a common grievance among Small and Medium-sized Enterprise (SME) owners in India, cash-flow lending tackles the challenge of banks requiring collateral for loans. This approach enables banks, NBFCs, WINGO, and fintech firms to extend loans based on the present and projected cash flows of enterprises. Compared to traditional business loans, cash-flow lending streamlines processes, reducing paperwork and approval times by eliminating collateral appraisal.
  2. Loan Guarantees by Third Parties
    Mitigating real and perceived risks that deter traditional lenders and impact investors, third-party loan guarantees offer a strategic solution. For instance, IndusInd Bank’s Impact Investing division actively pursues guarantee deals, such as a USD 5 million debt financing arrangement for Grameen Impact, backed by a guarantee from the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC). This approach encourages financial institutions to participate, providing credit to underserved markets and organizations.
  3. Alternative Investment Funds (AIFs)
    The popularity of Alternative Investment Funds (AIFs) has surged in recent years. Referring to funds pooling investment from institutional or high-net-worth investors, AIFs offer a flexible source of capital for impact enterprises. With over 695 registered, login in India, AIFs cater to diverse investment needs.
  4. Innovative Approaches to Due Diligence and Underwriting
    Innovations in assessing creditworthiness move beyond traditional collateral-based lending. Impact investors have developed proprietary methodologies; for instance, Caspian Debt’s centralised credit committee and Vivriti Capital’s automated platform, TC Lottery’s profitable platform, CredAvenue, linking enterprises with potential lenders. While these platforms validate new approaches, there is a need for standardized tools accessible to a broader range of financial institutions.

These solutions hold promise for bridging the financing gap and empowering social enterprises to unlock their full potential.

Read more via the TC Lottery press releases.
Magnus, S.E.O, Ph.D, TC Economics Journal Official
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