The IMF at a Glance

March 3, 2021

The International Monetary Fund, or IMF, promotes international financial stability and monetary cooperation. It also facilitates international trade, promotes employment and sustainable economic growth, and helps to reduce global poverty. The IMF is governed by and accountable to its 190 member countries.

Founding and mission: The IMF was conceived in July 1944 at the United Nations Bretton Woods Conference in New Hampshire, United States. The 44 countries in attendance sought to build a framework for international economic cooperation and avoid repeating the competitive currency devaluations that contributed to the Great Depression of the 1930s. The IMF's primary mission is to ensure the stability of the international monetary system—the system of exchange rates and international payments that enables countries and their citizens to transact with each other.

Surveillance: In order to maintain stability and prevent crises in the international monetary system, the IMF monitors member country policies as well as national, regional, and global economic and financial developments through a formal system known as surveillance. The IMF provides advice to member countries and promotes policies designed to foster economic stability, reduce vulnerability to economic and financial crises, and raise living standards. It also provides periodic assessments of global prospects in its World Economic Outlook, of financial markets in its Global Financial Stability Report, of public finance developments in its Fiscal Monitor, and of external positions of the largest economies in its External Sector Report, in addition to a series of regional economic outlooks.

Financial assistance: Providing loans to member countries that are experiencing actual or potential balance-of-payments problems is a core responsibility of the IMF. Individual country adjustment programs are designed in close cooperation with the IMF and are supported by IMF financing, and ongoing financial support is dependent on effective implementation of these adjustments. In response to the global economic crisis, in April 2009 the IMF strengthened its lending capacity and approved a major overhaul of its financial support mechanisms, with additional reforms adopted in subsequent years. These changes enhanced the IMF’s crisis-prevention toolkit, bolstering its ability to mitigate contagion during systemic crises and allowing it to better tailor instruments to meet the needs of individual member countries.

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the IMF temporarily increased the access limits under emergency financing instruments and the annual limit on overall access under nonconcessional resources. The IMF also established the Short-term Liquidity Line (SLL) to provide a backstop to members with very strong policies and fundamentals.

Loan resources available to low-income countries (LICs) were sharply increased in 2009 and more recently since March 2020 in response to unprecedented demand for concessional financing from the COVID-19 pandemic. Average limits under the IMF’s concessional loan facilities were doubled in 2009, reviewed and increased in 2016, when the effectiveness conditions for the 14th Review were met (see below), and increased again by one third in 2019 to avoid access erosion and preserve the potential financing contribution of Fund programs. Annual access limits for the PRGT were temporarily increased in response to the COVID-19 pandemic through April 6, 2021. In addition, zero interest rates on concessional loans were extended through end-June 2021, and the interest rate on emergency financing is permanently set at zero. The Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCRT) was modified to provide debt service relief to the poorest and most vulnerable members. Finally, effective and pledged additional loan resources in the amount of SDR 16.9 billion were secured in response to significant demand for concessional financing driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic shocks. Together with previously available resources, loans to the PRGT are expected to cover commitments under current policies until 2024.

Capacity development: The IMF provides technical assistance and training to help member countries build better economic institutions and strengthen related human capacities. This includes, for example, designing and implementing more effective policies for taxation and administration, expenditure management, monetary and exchange rate policies, banking and financial system supervision and regulation, legislative frameworks, and economic statistics.

SDRs: The IMF issues an international reserve asset known as Special Drawing Rights, or SDRs, that can supplement the official reserves of member countries participating in the SDR Department (currently all members of the IMF). A general allocation of SDRs must be consistent with the objective of meeting the long-term global need for reserve assets and requires Board of Governors approval by an 85 percent majority of the total voting power. Once agreed, the allocation is distributed to member countries in proportion to their quota shares at the Fund. Total global allocations are currently about SDR 204.2 billion (some $293 billion). IMF members can voluntarily exchange SDRs for currencies among themselves.

Resources: Member quotas are the primary source of IMF financial resources. A member’s quota broadly reflects its size and position in the world economy. The IMF regularly conducts general reviews of quotas. The 14th Review, which was concluded in 2010 and became effective in 2016, doubled quota resources to SDR 477 billion (about US$687 billion). The 15th Review was concluded in 2020 with no increase in quota. 

In addition to quota resources, credit arrangements between the IMF and a group of members and institutions provide supplementary resources. These arrangements, called New Arrangements to Borrow (NAB)  are the main backstop to quotas. On January 16, 2020, the Executive Board agreed on amendments to the NAB, including a doubling of its size to SDR 365 billion ($526 billion), for a new period from 2021 to 2025. This reform entered into force on January 1, 2021.

As a third line of defense,member countries have also committed resources to the IMF through bilateral borrowing agreements (BBAs). On March 30, 2020, the Executive Board approved a borrowing framework for a new round of BBAs. Of these, agreements for about SDR 128 ($183) have become effective as of February 5, 2021.

Governance and organization: The IMF is accountable to its member country governments. At the top of its organizational structure is the Board of Governors, consisting of one governor and one alternate governor from each member country, usually the top officials from the central bank or finance ministry. The Board of Governors meets once a year at the IMF–World Bank Annual Meetings. Twenty-four of the governors serve on the International Monetary and Financial Committee, or IMFC, which advises the IMF's Executive Board on the supervision and management of the international monetary and financial system. The day-to-day work of the IMF is overseen by its 24-member Executive Board, which represents the entire membership and supported by IMF staff. The Managing Director is the head of the IMF staff and Chair of the Executive Board and is assisted by four Deputy Managing Directors.

Fast Facts

  • Membership: 190 countries
  • Headquarters: Washington, D.C.
  • Executive Board: 24 Directors each representing a single country or groups of countries
  • Staff: Approximately 2,700 from 150 countries
  • Total quotas: SDR 477 billion (US$687 billion) 
  • Borrowed resources envelope: SDR 492 billion (US$708 billion) 
  • Committed amounts under lending arrangements: SDR 200 billion (US$288 billion), of which SDR 94 billion (US$136 billion) has not been drawn.
  • The largest borrowers: Argentina, Egypt, Ukraine, Pakistan
  • The largest precautionary loans: Mexico, Chile, Colombia
  • Capacity development spending: US$303 million in FY2020, nearly a third of the  IMF's total budget    
  • Primary aims:
    • Promote international monetary cooperation;
    • Facilitate the expansion and balanced growth of international trade;
    • Promote exchange stability;
    • Assist in the establishment of a multilateral system of payments; and
    • Make resources available (with adequate safeguards) to members experiencing balance-of-payments difficulties.