Research / BFI Working PaperSep 29, 2021

Community Membership and Reciprocity in Lending: Evidence from Informal Markets

Rimmy Tomy, Regina Wittenberg-Moerman

We study how wholesalers assess borrower credit risk and extend trade credit to retailers in economies where formal market institutions, such as financial reporting systems, auditing, and courts, are nonexistent or function poorly. Using the setting of a large market in India, we find that community membership plays a strong role in the access to credit. Wholesalers are more likely to provide trade credit and to offer less restrictive credit terms to within-community retailers, are more lenient when these retailers default, and are less likely to experience defaults from them. Our analyses suggest that this cooperation between same-community wholesalers and retailers is achieved through an indirect reciprocity mechanism, which is sustained by within-community information flows and provides insurance against income shocks.