KARACHI - The , State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Deputy Governor Kazi Abdul Muktadir disclosed that International Strengthening Fund (ISF) has so far approved Rs. 632 million for 13 microfinance providers including top and middle tier Micro Finance Banks (MFBs) and Micro Finance Institutions (MFIs). Inaugurating the 6th Pakistan Micro Finance Conference at a local hotel in Karachi, he said that under the ISF arrangements (a UK grant of 10 million British pounds facility), ISF has  supported 20 projects for investments in key areas such as human resources (HR), information technology (IT), product development, risk management systems, business plans and branchless banking development. ‘The Pakistan Microfinance Network (PMN) was also provided funding support under ISF to conduct research and develop the industry’s infrastructure such as the testing of microfinance Credit Information Bureau (CIB) in Lahore and its expansion to the national level,’ he added. He said the Financial Innovation Challenge Fund (FICF), which is also a 10 million British pound facility, will provide new ways of meeting the larger demand for financial services. He said that the first round of the Fund which was held to promote the “Government to Persons (G2P) Payments” has now been successfully completed by deciding to award Rs. 505 million to six projects being undertaken by the applicant institutions. ‘The second FICF Round would be held on rural financial services including agricultural finance and broad based financial services projects using telecommunication infrastructure to promote micro payments for people who are not part of financial services’, he added. SBP Deputy Governor observed that it is encouraging that the investors’ enthusiasm in microfinance has been on the rise especially in the last couple of years, and one of the major drivers for investors is the opportunity to enter the branchless banking space. SBP Deputy Governor said that mobile phone banking has emerged as new market niche for both banks and mobile network operators and added that the existing growing agent network will rapidly expand to reach all rural and remote geographic locations across the country.