Microfinance institutions (MFIs) are key providers of financial services for low-income and marginalized populations around the world. From the origins of the microcredit movement in the 1970s to today’s digital world, MFIs have served millions of customers in developing countries, providing financing for microenterprises, supporting women’s empowerment and building low-income households’ resilience. 

But the world is changing and MFIs need to adapt their ways of working to become more resilient and keep up with the times. The spread of digital technologies is one of the biggest shifts, requiring MFIs to come up with digital transformation strategies in order to remain competitive and grow. The COVID-19 pandemic forced MFIs to make major adjustments to how they operate in order to survive, and climate change is another force pushing institutions to evolve and build their resilience.

Through these shifts, MFIs cannot lose sight of their reason for being - their clients. A focus on their customers - on making sure that products are designed with client-centric and gender-intelligent approaches, and that services are provided responsibly with proper consumer protection measures - will help ensure their ability to withstand the impacts of climate change and other crises.

This FinDev Editor's Collection provides you with a guide to navigating the wide range of knowledge resources available for microfinance institutions looking to adapt and build resilience to a rapidly evolving world.

View a list of all our resources on these topics related to microfinance operations:

Audit and Accounting | Financial Performance | Governance | Human Resources | Interest Rates and Pricing | Management Information Systems | Risk Management
View a list of all our resources on these topics related to financial products:

Credit | Housing Finance | Insurance | Islamic Finance | Payments | Remittances | Rural and Agricultural Finance | Savings

Adapting Microfinance to a Digital World

Microfinance began in a world of low tech and high touch, with business models based on manual processes and personal interactions of MFI staff with solidarity groups. As the world goes digital, MFIs must adapt in order to survive in a much more competitive landscape that includes fintechs, mobile network operators and other players outside of the traditional financial sector who can offer faster, more convenient and more affordable access to financial services. Digital transformation can help MFIs compete with newer entrants to the market, but it can also do much more than that, helping MFIs improve how they work, use data more effectively, design better products and make processes more efficient. Ultimately, digital transformation offers a great opportunity for MFIs to reach even more low-income customers and significantly advance financial inclusion.

However, digital transformation is not easy. It requires serious investments in upgrading older management systems and rethinking ways of doing business. These changes can be expensive and complicated, making them easy to put off. The COVID-19 pandemic ended up playing a pivotal role in accelerating the digital transformation of MFIs. Faced with unprecedented challenges and disruptions, many institutions had no choice but to fast-track their digitalization efforts to survive. For some, the pandemic served as a compelling case study, demonstrating the immense benefits and efficiencies that digitalization could bring and ultimately leading to a more widespread acceptance and adoption of digital solutions.


Microfinance institutions that successfully generate value for their business and customers through digitization anchor these efforts in business intelligence. This Technical Note outlines an approach for improving business intelligence with interventions that require minimum or no investment in technology.

FinDev Blog

The role of executive leadership is key for microfinance institutions to move successfully towards the digital future.

Guide / Toolkit

Through real examples of implementation experiences across FSP partners, this guide unpacks six key strategies that financial inclusion-focused institutions need to keep in mind as they progress down the path of digital transformation.

Designing Products with Clients, Especially Women, at the Center

Understanding what clients want and need in any specific market segment is essential for successful product development. It is also key for MFIs’ continued relevance as economies shift and customers’ needs evolve. To adapt to these changes and remain resilient, MFIs must keep their focus centered on the client - their reason for being. 

A customer-centric approach helps microfinance institutions ensure that their products and services offer value to their clients, giving them control over their financial lives and contributing to their empowerment. Product design must give special attention to considering women’s realities, as research has shown that “gender-blind” financial services are often unintentionally biased towards men. Customer-centric and gender-intelligent product design approaches are not only good for customers, but also for the financial institutions who gain competitive advantage with increased customer loyalty and product usage.

Woman in straw hat picking red chilis.

CGAP Customer-Centric Guide

The CGAP Customer-Centric Guide is a collection of hands-on toolkits and experiments that help you design and deliver effective financial services for low-income customers.

Artistic rendering of 5 women holding money, phones, calculating.
Paper | Women’s World Banking | Jun 2023

Revolutionizing Product Design in Financial Services

This publication shares the Women’s World Banking women-centered design methodology, providing financial services providers with the knowledge and confidence to use women-centered design to develop financial products and services that truly work for women.

Mother with smiling child wearing graduation cap
FinDev Blog | Feb 2022

From Ideation to Iteration: Human-Centered Design of Micro-Savings in Nigeria

LAPO Microfinance Bank learned five important lessons from their experience using a human-centered design process to revamp their child savings account product.

Providing Financial Services Responsibly

Most microfinance institutions have some kind of social mission, with a focus on low-income and vulnerable customers. However, we know that financial services, especially loans, can carry risks for clients, and those risks can be particularly severe for people who live at poverty’s edge. With the advance of digital finance, financial consumer risks are growing and evolving. MFIs must adapt by ensuring that they have systems in place to protect their clients and ultimately, help their clients to thrive.

Infographic displaying the 8 Client Protection Standards

Client Protection Pathway

The Client Protection Pathway describes the steps that a financial service provider can take to implement the client protection practices necessary to avoid harming clients and communicate this progress to investors. The Pathway gives providers a roadmap for implementing the Client Protection Standards and helps them stay on track.

Infographic showing the 7 Universal Standards for Social and Environmental Performance Management

The Universal Standards for Social and Environmental Performance Management

A comprehensive manual of best practices, the Universal Standards help financial service providers put clients and the environment at the center of all strategic and operational decisions, and they show financial service providers how to align their policies and procedures with responsible business practices.

Streetside market with three people at a bottled juice and water seller
CGAP Collection

An Ecosystem Approach to Consumer Protection: What, Why and How?

CGAP believes that a responsible digital finance ecosystem approach is the way forward to deal with evolving and growing financial consumer risks. Its success rests on involving key ecosystem actors, building up capacities, and fostering collaboration to identify consumer risks and develop customer-centric solutions, policies and services that result in financial services that generate good customer outcomes.

Building Institutional Resilience to Respond to Crises

Climate change, natural disasters, pandemic, war. The world is in flux and microfinance institutions need to be agile and resilient in order to survive and help their clients thrive. With their direct link to low-income populations, MFIs are in a good position to help build individual and collective resilience for managing the impacts of climate change and other challenges. But the institutions must first be resilient themselves in order to help their clients build their own resilience. The pandemic taught us many lessons on the importance of institutional adaptation and flexibility that can help MFIs as they navigate the environmental and economic changes from climate change and other crises.


This publication shares lessons learned from 16 institutions that dealt with crises, framed by a four-part hierarchy of needs: liquidity, confidence, portfolio, and capital.

Guide / Toolkit

Steps microfinance institutions can take to navigate the pandemic and prepare for future crises

Guide / Toolkit

Curriculum with flexible, ready-to-use guide, instructional materials and key learnings

View a list of all our resources on these topics related to microfinance operations:

View a list of all our resources on these topics related to financial products: