Crystal, Leader of the Georgian Microfinance Market, Welcomes Growing Competition

Crystal, Leader of the Georgian Microfinance Market, Welcomes Growing Competition

Crystal, Leader of the Georgian Microfinance Market, Welcomes Growing Competition

The FINANCIAL -- Crystal has become a dominant microfinance organization on the Georgian market. With all of the polarized opinions surrounding the microfinance business, one thing remains definite - microfinance organizations help remote regions gain access to financial services. The opportunities they provide for small businesses is something to be celebrated; refreshing for regional entrepreneurs who want to start from scratch.

“We serve micro and small entrepreneurs as well as farmers across Georgia. We are proud of and grateful to our entrepreneurial, hard-working and loyal customers, who are the future of Georgia’s economy. The success and well-being of micro and small enterprises is a pre-condition for Georgia becoming a successful economy and European democracy,” explained Mr. Archil Bakuradze, Executive Chairman of Crystal.

“Crystal is a customer-centric company. We believe that by serving our customers well, we are enabling them to be more productive economically, and stable financially. We do our business in a way to maximize a social and environmental impact,” Mr. Bakuradze stated.

“We are active in almost all regions of Georgia, including those bordering conflict zones and high mountainous ones. For example, our branch office in Mestia serves customers in Ushguli, the highest village in Europe. That’s why we sometime say Crystal is the ‘top microfinance institution’ in Europe.”

Mr. Bakuradze shed light on how Crystal approaches the issue of responsible business conduct. “We chase social and environmental impact through our core, mainstream activities. We measure the impact of Crystal’s loans on customers and households. The way we treat our people is another substantial part of Crystal’s corporate social responsibility. We believe by empowering our employees we can empower our customers. Finally, Crystal conducts a range of structured CSR programmes, including our flagship initiative, which is co-funded by USAID, supporting youth entrepreneurship. The project will be underway for 3 years and we’re currently in the third year. In the first and second rounds, we financed 26 young entrepreneurs, out of which 4 are from Abkhazia, a breakaway region of Georgia. The third round is still underway and we will have data on it on March 2nd, following the council meeting of the investment committee.”

On the prospect of becoming a bank in the future, Mr. Bakuradze stated that Crystal is happy to be an alternative finance provider and to be occupying a different niche from commercial banks. “This diversity of choice is something which the financial market really needs. However, in the future we shall expand into the areas which enable us to offer a better value proposition to the growing number of customers,” he stated.

“We are happy to be the top microfinance organization in Georgia, but at the same time we need and therefore only welcome healthy competition. As the ‘rules of the game’ evolve, thanks to a tremendous and consistent effort of the National Bank of Georgia towards bolstering consumer protection, it is becoming a tougher environment to compete in. But there are a number of transparent, well-governed and well-managed players which we think shall make their way to become important contributors towards Georgia’s microfinance sector.”

About CRYSTAL MFO

JSC MFO Crystal is a dynamically growing local microfinance organization, supporting development of micro and small business sectors in Georgia.

Crystal offers a wide range of high quality financial services to the customers including: micro, SME and agro loans for start-ups and operating businesses; housing and consumption loans; currency exchange services; remittances; utility payment service etc.

Headquartered in Kutaisi (West Georgia), Crystal is mainly focused on micro entrepreneurs and farmers living and working in regions and remote areas. For 2017 almost 29% of the company’s loan portfolio is concentrated in non-urban areas.

Corporate Values

The mission of JSC MFO Crystal is to support micro and small entrepreneurs and farmers in realizing their business potential, reaching financial stability and elevating their living standards. Crystal is seeking for long- term partnerships by offering transparent, innovative and fast financial solutions, tailored to the needs of customers, providing them with knowledge critical to their economic success.

- Responsibility – responsible lending focused on avoiding over – indebtedness; overall social responsibility towards clients, staff, business partners, local community and the environment

- Transparency – clients can compare costs, terms and conditions of the loan and understand consequences of a default. Crystal’s relationship with clients, staff, funders and a wider society is based on transparency, frankness and fairness.

- Partnership – a long –term and equitable relationship with clients and funders. The cornerstone of Crystal’s approach is care towards partners and consideration of their interests.

- Access -our product design, lending standards, distribution channels and customer interfaces are all about access. We are always accessible to our clients, business partners and each other.

- Innovation - innovation and constant improvement is the way Crystal and its people work. We love technology and encourage creativity. Innovation is life!

Organizational History

In 1995, internally displaced persons from Abkhazia teamed up to set up a local non-profit organization – a charity humanitarian center “Abkhazeti”, which launched a pilot micro lending program in August 1998 with starting debt capital of just $10, 000.

Following recommendations by donors and international rating agencies, in 2004 center “Abkhazeti” made spin-off of micro lending programs from other charity and social projects to set up a separate, independent entity. That marks inception of Crystal Fund in April 2004. In line with requirements of the Georgian “Law on Microfinance Organizations”, Crystal Fund was transformed into and registered with the National Bank of Georgia as JSC Microfinance Organization “Crystal” in 2007.

In October 2011, a US investment bank “Developing World Markets” (DWM) became the first institutional investor and shareholder of “Crystal”.

Key Achievements

The activity launched by “Crystal” in 1998 with just USD 10,000 debt equity has evolved to serve more than 60,000 customers and successfully manage loan portfolio of around GEL 205 million in 2017; The Company operates through a network of 57 regional branches and is represented in 8 regions of Georgia.

Crystal is the first Georgian microfinance organization, which managed to raise bank funding (2003).

Crystal is also the first microfinance institution in Georgia to be awarded an international credit (2003) and social (2010) ratings.

Robust institutional standards, commitment to social responsibility and transparency principles served Crystal to earn international recognition: platinum award (the highest prize) from MIX for social reporting (2012); CGAP award for financial transparency (2006); in 2011, Crystal was announced a winner in the call of Smart Campaign for “plain language loan contract”.

Partners and Investors:

Financial partners:

Financial partners of Crystal include well-known and reputable international institutions, such as: EBRD, KfW, Commerzbank, IFAD, ResponsAbility SICAV, Developing World Markets, MicroVest, Oikocredit, Incofin, GLS , Rural Impulse Fund, Credit Suisse Microfinance Fund, Symbiotics, Micro Credit Enterprises and other financial companies.

From October 2011 “Developing World Markets” (DWM), a US-based investment bank has become the first institutional investor and shareholder of the company.

Written By David Aleksidze, The FINANCIAL