Manila, Philippines (BBN)– The Asian Development Bank (ADB) will provide up to $10 million for a private equity fund that aims to expand microfinance and small bank lending to poor, underserved groups across the region.

ADB’s Board of Directors has approved the equity stake in the ShoreCap II Fund. It will invest in microfinance institutions and small business banks in both Asia and Africa, with ADB’s contribution solely for use in its developing member countries, an ADB announcement said on Friday.

Small lending institutions have been expanding rapidly across Asia but not enough to accommodate the huge demand for capital and banking products.

In Bangladesh for example, 65 percent of the poor population do not have access to microfinance services, while the rate is 75 percent in Sri Lanka and Viet Nam, with even worse coverage rates in Afghanistan, India and the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Likewise, small business banks, which are a key source of loans for small-and medium-sized businesses, the lifeblood of economic activity in the developing world, struggle to find the necessary capital to meet customer needs.

The fund – which will be managed by Equator Capital Partners, an independent fund management company registered in the US – will take equity stakes in regulated, small lenders with high growth potential who can reach neglected groups such as women entrepreneurs and rural micro-enterprises.

Key target markets will include Bangladesh, the People’s Republic of China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam.

The goal is to take minority stakes in companies with investments of $2 million to $10 million each, and to exit holdings over an average of five years, with Asian investments making up about half the fund’s total portfolio.

ADB’s participation will allow the fund to reach its target size of $75 million, help leverage more investment from the commercial market, and provide a model for other private equity funds to follow in the small lenders market.

It also continues ADB’s push to scale up investments in the microfinance sector, in order to spur private sector-led economic growth and reduce poverty.

BBN/SI/AD-10Dec10-10:14 pm (BST)