Mumbai: SKS Microfinance Ltd on Thursday said it may downsize operations and even “shut shop" in Andhra Pradesh, which accounts for a quarter of its business, if the southern state retains its recent Act governing microcredit operations.

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“If the state Act is not repealed, we wouldn’t have a choice but to shut shop in Andhra and leave," founder and chairman Vikram Akula said.

India’s largest and only listed microfinance institution (MFI) would not, however, quit the state before leaving the last stone unturned to ensure the state withdraws its Act, Akula indicated. “We will stick around and make our voice heard," he said.

Amid growing concerns over high interest rates charged to borrowers by MFIs, strong-arm tactics used to secure repayment and cases of multiple lending, the Andhra Pradesh government passed a legislation in October governing microcredit operations in the state.

The concerns were a result of a spate of suicides in the state, a fallout of some MFIs allegedly resorting to coercive methods to collect repayments from poor borrowers.

The law mandated MFIs to specify their areas of operation, interest rate, recovery methods and operational practices.

Andhra Pradesh accounts for more than a quarter of the 20,000 crore microlending industry in the country and has 9.7 million microfinance borrowers.

According to Akula, diversifying its portfolio across regions was an ongoing process at SKS, but with stagnation in Andhra Pardesh with almost no new disbursements there, the process would have to be “accelerated".

Since the microfinance crisis broke out in Andhra Pradesh, fresh disbursements and repayments of existing loans have been negligible in the state. For the quarter ended 31 December, SKS saw a repayment rate of 42% in Andhra. In the rest of the country, it was 98%.

Consequently, SKS had to provide and write-off bad loans to the tune of 100.75 crore at the December quarter, an almost 10-fold increase from the corresponding quarter of the last fiscal.

Net profit for the quarter declined 38.41% to 34.15 crore from the year-ago period.

SKS’ shares gained 8.46% to close at 722.15 apiece on the Bombay Stock Exchange on Thursday. The bourse’s benchmark equity index, Sensex, gained 1.98%.

“SKS has a significant exposure in Andhra and downsizing operations in the state could really dampen their growth story. As far as the 50,000 family income cap is concerned, SKS could face serious erosion in terms of business as majority of their clients fall above this bracket," Abhishek Kothari, research analyst at Way2wealth Brokers Pvt. Ltd, said.

Akula hoped that the banking regulator would be able to convince the state government to withdraw its act. “The RBI (Reserve Bank of India) has written to the Andhra government outlining seven independent reasons to revoke the Act along with a request to do so," said Akula.

“We have a strong enough balance sheet to write-off the entire Andhra portfolio and still survive. We are well-capitalized, thanks to the public issue," Akula said.

SKS raised 1,654 crore through an initial public offering in August.

Commenting on the recommendations of the Malegam committee, constituted by RBI to chalk out a framework for MFIs in India to operate within, Akula said the outcome was a “welcome boost" to the sector and removed regulatory ambiguity. However, he noted that some of the recommendations of the committee needed clarity.

For instance, the committee suggests microcredit lenders can only lend to members of families that have an annual income not exceeding Rs50,000.

Akula said that if RBI made this recommendation a regulation as “defined at present", SKS would lose out on half of its customers, as while they may have had an annual income less than the threshold when they became borrowers, a lot of them have crossed it with time.

It would make more sense if the income threshold pertained to the time of borrowers joining, Akula said.

Both SKS in its individual capacity and microfinance industry lobby,

Microfinance India Network (Mfin) would be writing to RBI with these observations by 15 February, Akula said.

He acknowledged that a rate cap at 24% proposed by the Malegam committee would slow down the growth of microfinance in the country and stated that he was “philosophically against" such a move.

However, in the absence of the requisite infrastructure to let market forces determine interest rate for loans to the poor, MFIs had no choice but to accept the “political reality" and be regulated by RBI, he was quick to add.

Were the recommendations of the Malegam committee to become regulations, it would be beneficial for large MFIs as it would force consolidation in the industry, Akula said.

Suggestions such as not having more than two MFIs lending to a single borrowers, combined with a capped interest rate environment that might make smaller MFIs unviable, could lead to large players like SKS taking over their outstanding loan portfolio. SKS, however, ruled out acquiring any smaller MFIs.

The average size of SKS’s outstanding loans per borrower at present is Rs7,000.