A decade into the operations of credit reference bureaus in Ghana

Ghana Cedi Notes Fresh File photo

Tue, 19 May 2020 Source: Daniel Taylor & Bernard Sarpong

… Financial market reflection

Financial markets are very fundamental to the economic development of every nation. Through the financial intermediation process, scarce financial resources are efficiently allocated to productive sectors of the economy. Surplus funds are channelled from surplus-spending units to deficit-spending units.

For the financial market to be efficient in performing its role in the economy, it must have the appropriate depth and breadth both on the supply side and the demand side; there must be a broad range of financial products and services to satisfy the diverse needs of various customers.

Large businesses, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), retail businesses as well as individual economic units need access to varying forms of both short term and long term financing to expand their businesses. Also, efficient and proper functioning financial markets imply operational, informational and allocation efficiencies. Operational efficiency exists when financial transactions or service costs are reduced to the barest minimum.

Thus, investors are able to pay the lowest fees to earn a descent profit. Informational efficiency implies that, the prices of financial market instruments properly reflect all available information. Allocation efficiency is when capital is channelled and distributed to its very best use. Financial market participants are able to use accurate and available market information to make informed decision about how to allocate financial resources. Therefore, financial institutions thrive on the existence of reliable information to channel capital to the sectors of the economy where they can be put to best use.

Financial and economic literature contends that an important source of market failure is information asymmetry—when parties of an economic relationship have unequal level of information. In markets where one party has superior knowledge of a relationship than others, it may lead to adverse selection and moral hazard problems.

This could result in mistrust and eventual discontinuity of vital financial services. Thus, to curb these problems, certain institutions have sprung up to facilitate financial transactions by providing reliable information in the financial markets. One key institution of this sort is credit rating or credit referencing agency. Their existence is very critical for financial market development in any economy. Credit reference agencies provide avenue for the independent assessment of firms’ or individuals’ credit quality.

Credit reference bureaus (CRBs) facilitate credit information sharing among financial institutions. Such agencies are able to use verifiable information to thoroughly assess a unit’s borrowing history, repayment characteristics, cash flow position among others. This vital information are able to assist them to form an opinion or predict the current and future creditworthiness of individuals and entities. It is very obvious that the free flow of reliable and credible information ensures transparency and fairness which are very critical for the development of financial markets.

In line with this, the Bank of Ghana enacted the Credit Reporting Act, 2007 (Act 726) in the latter part of 2007 which eventually paved way for the operation of credit reference bureaus in Ghana. Consequently, XDS Data credit referencing bureau fully commenced operation in 2010 as Ghana’s first credit referencing bureau. .Along the line, two others, Hudson Price Credit Bureau and Dun and Bradstreet Credit Bureau limited also began operations in Ghana.

Have they lived up to expectation?

Given that the presence of well-functioning credit referencing bureaus reduces asymmetric information and its associated problems in financial markets, we expect an improvement in the credit delivery, easy access to credit and reduction in bank’s non-performing loans following the advent of CRBs in Ghana. The presence of CRBs in the financial market presents a win-win situation for financial institutions on one hand and borrowers on the other hand. Financial institutions get credit information on prospective borrowers that can facilitate processing of credit requests to reduce the risks of bad debts.

On the borrower’s side, a good credit record provides an incentive for competitive pricing of loan facilities. Several studies have shown that credit reference bureaus reduce borrowing cost and bad loans to some extent.

In the Ghanaian context, several concerns need to be addressed after years into their operations. Questions pertaining to visibility of their operations, how efficient they have been, the extent to which their services are used by the banks and how their activities are reducing credit risks are yet to be answered.

It is very surprising to know that majority of financial institution’s relationship managers are oblivious of the existence of such institutions, and the few ones that are aware have deficient information on the activities of these reference bureaus.

Regarding the number of financial institutions that are subscribing to their services, studies have shown that some of the financial institutions are very reluctant to engage in information sharing with the credit referencing bureaus for fear of their major customers being poached by other financial institutions.

Not only does this development affect the operations of the credit reference bureaus, it also reduces the pool of credible information at their disposal from which other financial institutions can tap. Thus, this lackadaisical attitude of some financial institutions to share information with the credit referencing agencies may deepen the already existing information asymmetry problem.

Access to credit facility remains a major problem especially among the small and medium enterprises (SMEs), retail businesses and individuals despite the operation of credit reference bureaus. This contradicts the general notion that the existence of credit referencing bureaus improves access to credit. Over 80% of Ghanaian businesses are in the informal sector where poor business record keeping is prevalent.

This to some extent explains why access to credit by SMEs and retail businesses are very difficult. Besides they are also not aware of the activities of these credit reference bureaus which they can utilize to improve their access to credit and reduce their borrowing cost.

Non-performing loans in the banking sector has witnessed some interesting trends following the commencement of the activities of credit reference bureaus in Ghana. It can be observed form the graph that prior to the activities of credit reference bureaus in Ghana in 2010, non-performing loans were increasing unabatedly. Following the commencement of their operations, non-performing loans decreased yearly till 2014.

These initial gains were reversed from 2015 to 2017 before falling in 2018. Though the rise in non-performing loans in 2017 can be partly ascribed to the banking sector cleansing which led to the revocation of the operating licences of some banks, it can be inferred that the activities of the credit reference bureaus are having a significant positive impact on the non-performing loans in the financial sector.

About the Authors: Daniel Taylor & Bernard Sarpong

Daniel Taylor is a Chartered Accountant with years of treasury experience in the banking sector. He holds certification from The Financial Markets Association (ACI) and Bachelor of Commerce Degree from University of Cape Coast. He is currently a final year Master student in International Audit, Economics and Finance at UCA in France.

Bernard Sarpong is young Economist with research focus on Development, Financial and Monetary policies for inclusive growth in Emerging and Frontier Economies. He holds both Master of Philosophy and Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Ghana. He is currently a Fixed Income and Money Market Dealer at Republic Bank Ghana Ltd.

Columnist: Daniel Taylor & Bernard Sarpong