The IMF Working Papers series is designed to make IMF staff research available to a wide audience. Almost 300 Working Papers are released each year, covering a wide range of theoretical and analytical topics, including balance of payments, monetary and fiscal issues, global liquidity, and national and international economic developments.
We analyze factors driving persistently higher financial intermediation costs in low-income countries (LICs) relative to emerging market (EMs) country comparators. Using the net interest margin as a proxy for financial intermediation costs at the bank level, we find that within LICs a substantial part of the variation in interest margins can be explained by bank-specific factors: margins tend to increase with higher riskiness of credit portfolio, lower bank capitalization, and smaller bank size. Overall, we find that concentrated market structures and lack of competition in LICs banking systems and institutional weaknesses constitute the key impediments preventing financial intermediation costs from declining. Our results provide strong evidence that policies aimed at fostering banking competition and strengthening institutional frameworks can reduce intermediation costs in LICs.