Last updated: 18:55 / Tuesday, 27 August 2013
Azure Partners

The Investment Case for Microfinance

The Investment Case for Microfinance

Azure Partners’ team offers one of the longest track record investing in microfinance and combines a total of  24 years of direct microfinance field experience combined with solid entrepreneurial background. For the co-founders of Azure Partners, Jack Lowe and Vincent Oswald, launching funds of funds was a natural step after managing the largest microfinance debt fund at BlueOrchard Finance from 2004 to 2008.

As explained by Oswald, in an interview with Funds Society, microfinance provide an excellent investment case:

  •  De-correlated investment
  •  Stable returns and low volatility
  •  Fast growing markets
  •  Access to the real and informal economy
  • Vast social impact

Azure Partners, a swiss based investment advisor specialized in microfinance, advises two microfinance funds of funds:

- Azure Global Microfinance Fund (AGMF) is the first fund of funds managed by professional from the microfinance investment industry. It offers a diversified exposure to different investment funds with specific microfinance strategies, from traditional debt funds, to balanced debt and private equity funds, to Private Equity funds.

- Azure Microfinance Private Equity Fund (AMPEF) which aims to focus on investing in strong locally managed microfinance Private Equity funds focused on specific countries or regions with a hands on approach. The fund will combine 20% co-investments with 30% secondary purchases and 50% primary funds to deliver strong returns to our investors.

Respect to its investment process, Oswald said that they have a 5 steps investment process. "In comparison to more traditional fund of funds, we also conduct Due Diligence of underlying Microfinance Institutions in our portfolio, especially for Private Equity funds. This is a key part of our analysis and a clear added value to the decision process".

Asked if the fund has a charitable side, the co-founder of Azure reply that investing in microfinance has a vast impact. "By its activity and type of clients, Microfinance generates an impact for millions of micro-entrepreneurs in the countries where we invest in".

"We do not see the fund as charitable, as it delivers a credible financial return to its investors. However, we pay high attention to our investments social impact. Therefore, we developed our own Social Performance rating to analyze the funds we invest in and include it in our investment decision process".

He also explained that they have atop-down / bottom-up approach in selecting their investment opportunities. "Usually, debt funds offer a worldwide exposure to microfinance markets and we focus in choosing the best one for the fund".

He added that regarding the regional and private equity funds, they perform region and country analysis in order to chose the country, which will fit the investment allocation and diversification requirement of the funds. "We will then look for opportunities in these regions/countries. The fund managers looking for investors in their funds also directly contact us".

Oswald explained that their fund is focus on microfinance activity only and in that sense, is very sector focus. Each product they advise has its own specific regional, country and single fund exposure limits.

At the end of June, AGMF had 6 investments positions, presenting indirect access to 169 Microfinance Institutions in 48 countries, providing financial services to more than 670.000 micro-entrepreneurs in the world. "For AMPEF, we are in fund raising mode and we plan to make 10 to 15 investments".

In terms of sales policy, "for AGMF we use a combination of banking platforms (large banks promoting our fund to their clientele) and fundraising companies with a geographic focus. For AMPEF, we have signed a number of fundraising agreements also with geographical focus. We obviously also use our personal networks acquired through our years of activity in the investment world but we do not internalize investor relations or fundraising".

AGMF has currently more than $6M of AuM and is expected to reach over $20 million by the end of the year. For AMPEF they are looking to raise $100 million in the course of two years.

Oswald believes that compared to other similar funds, "the funds of funds in microfinance offers a differentiated investment strategy to deliver attractive returns while managing the risk efficiently. It provides an active regional and country allocation, an exclusive access to secondary opportunities, access to smaller more innovative funds, access to regional funds, access to opportunities dedicated only to microfinance investors. In that sense, it’s an ideal product for an investor seeking a global exposure to the microfinance investment universe".

They invest only in funds, holdings or SPVs. They do not do direct investments into Microfinance Institutions except co-investments. The YTD performance of AGMF is 0.92%, which represents 2.21% annualized. The back tested performance presents a 5% - 6% net return in USD once the fund will reach its target size. For AMPEF they are targeting a relatively net return to investors.