How to Save the World Bank

OXFORD – The World Bank is quietly sliding into insignificance, as its core fee-paying clients increasingly seek other lenders. If it is to survive, its management will need to streamline its loan approval processes and leverage the unique assets that distinguish it from its competitors.

The Bank once comfortably earned enough to be self-sustaining. Today, it is rapidly becoming welfare-dependent. Periodic contributions from wealthy governments have propped up lending to poor countries, but these are unlikely to be increased, and some may be discontinued as donors redeploy aid budgets to refugee programs.

The problem is not that emerging economies have no desire to borrow; they desperately need funds for infrastructure and other investments. The problem is that the Bank is too slow to process loans, which has increasingly made it the last choice for many of its potential clients.

Whereas a commercial lender might take three months to prepare and disburse a loan, the Bank takes more than two years. And its efforts to speed up the process, which began in 2013, have reduced the average time only slightly, from 28 months to 25.2 months; in some regions (accounting for a third of the Bank’s lending), the wait has actually increased.