As I walked out of the conference room with a handful of annual reports from some of the largest Latin American-based microfinance institutions, I muttered to my partners in disbelief, “These numbers can’t be real.” It was the fall of 2004. I had spent 20 years traveling the globe with investors, had sat in hundreds of meetings with management from leading international banks, and was pretty sure that there was no such thing as a financial institution with these types of ratios.

I was...

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