In the past, we've talked about peer effects and low adoption rates of mobile money banking accounts in Bangladesh. Our research exploring these issues (as well benefits for migrant workers) is in full swing! It is a randomized evaluation, which means that half of the sample is randomly assigned to a control group, while half of the sample is randomly assigned to the treatment group, which receives training and assistance with signing up for mobile money accounts. Read More
In this video, co-investigator Dr. Abu Shonchoy audits the training by re-interviewing a woman who was part of the treatment group to make sure that the training was thorough and made the service understandable to the participant . . .
This post written by Shamsin Ahmed and Kazi Amit Imran
Bill and Melinda Gates’ 2015 annual letter bets that over the next 15 years mobile banking will have a transformational effect on the lives of the poor. In Bangladesh, about 70% of the population is unbanked, yet an equivalent percentage of the population—not necessarily the same people though—has access to mobile phones. Put two and two together and mobile money is a no-brainer from our perspective.
Since the launch of the first mobile money product in 2011, mobile banking has been made possible in part by the efforts of the government’s mandate to create a ‘Digital Bangladesh’, and the subsequent policy support from the Central Bank to promote the growth of the mobile finance industry . . . Read More
The past few weeks have seen plenty of ruminations about Uber’s potential invasions of privacy and the amount of data Google collects from its users. The concern is that these companies could use this data for nefarious purposes (although your definition of nefarious may vary). An Uber executive, for instance, suggested that the company could “dig up dirt” on journalists who wrote negative stories and hinted that they’ve already tracked the movements of at least a few reporters to date.
Felix Salmon writes that this is only the beginning of a wave of privacy scandals. What I found most remarkable in the various columns, threads, and postings is that I didn’t see a single mention of credit card companies or other financial institutions . . . Read More
Recent work from CGAP and Continuum Innovation in Pakistan calls extreme illiteracy a “hidden hurdle” to financial inclusion. When people are unable to read or understand digital transactions they are less likely to trust digital products, constraining a viable avenue for access to financial products. In many cases illiterate people have to rely on an agent to complete their transaction and many remain wary of such services. The scale of this challenge is immense: UNESCO estimates the worldwide illiterate population at almost 800 million.
Many researchers have proposed ways to make financial services, and digital financial services in particular, more accessible to illiterate people. One idea comes from Woldmariam et al., who propose a new user interface that allows mobile money users in Ethiopia to identify currency notes on screen . . . Read More
On a recent trip to Bangladesh, one question kept pestering me: if mobile bank accounts are so good for the poor, why haven’t they adopted them already? After all, financial products and services for the poor have the potential to improve lives, but only if they are actually adopted and used.
I traveled to Bangladesh to set up a randomized controlled trial to test for the impacts of mobile banking on financial management, food security, health and self-reported well-being for poor households . . . Read More
Mobile money supporters often tout the benefits of using transfer services to facilitate remittances. Many users are migrants who made the financial investment to live in a Western country and send financial resources back home. But that is only part of the story. According to a 2010 UN report , the number of South-to-South migrants (73 million) in 2010 was only slightly less than South-to-North migrants (74 million) worldwide. In Africa, one-tenth of remittances come from within the continent, and South Africa (a destination country) sees most of its remittances flow to neighboring countries. Where the people go, the money follows. The World Bank estimates the value of South-to-South remittances between $17.5 billion and $55.4 billion, or in other terms, 9 to 30% of all remittance traffic to developing countries.
Sending these payments is not cheap – the average global money transfer fee is 9% while the average fee to send funds within South-South corridors is 12% . . . Read More
In Kenya, 70 percent of long distance payments from one individual to another are made electronically. Seventy percent of payments from governments and businesses to individuals are also made electronically. From 2006 to 2009 when M-Pesa—the Kenyan mobile instrument for all these payments—was expanding, the total number of person-to-person electronic transactions shot up rapidly, by 215 percent.
What would happen if the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa looked like Kenya? A just out from McKinsey, based on Gallup data funded by the Gates Foundation, looks into that future scenario.
The focus of the report is the opportunity for potential payment providers to earn more revenue (estimated at 2 percent of transaction volume). Projections show revenues from electronic payments across the continent would grow 50 percent, to $15-$16 billion a year. This news comes with something of a puzzle. With the opportunity so large, why have most other countries not followed in Kenya’s footsteps? Read More
How would you describe a savings account where your money is occasionally stolen, eaten by mice, or washed away by floods? Merchants in Dharavi, the largest slum in Asia, describe it as “safe.”
That’s what Deepti KC and Mudita Tiwari found when they interviewed sellers, suppliers and buyers in Dharavi, home to 5,000 informal businesses that create goods worth more than 600 million dollars a year, in the heart of Mumbai.
Far from being poor peddlers of trinkets, the sellers of Dharavi—particularly those who make relatively expensive leather goods—routinely move thousands of dollars in a single day. They have sophisticated financial lives, often including formal bank accounts, and many have smart phones. KC and Tiwari—like many researchers studying financial inclusion in the developing world—posit that increasing take up of digital transactions “is essential to achieving inclusive financial growth in India” . . . Read More
One of the issues we follow closely at FAI is the rapidly expanding use of mobile money in the developing world. As Jean Lee recently noted, a growing body of research on mobile money has a lot to say about its potential to smooth risks and facilitate transfer programs.
In the interest of keeping a finger on the pulse of the latest results from the field, FAI's Managing Director Timothy Ogden and Deputy Managing Director Laura Freschi recently attended IMTFI's Fifth Annual Conference for Funded Researchers . . . Read More
In the past few weeks, the local government of West Bengal has been embroiled in a financial and political crisis that has potentially large impacts on the state’s poor and its MFIs. After discovering that the commercial entity the Saradha Group had duped thousands of investors through a real estate Ponzi scheme, the state minister launched a full investigation of over 70 other deposit-taking entities which are grouped under the category of “chit funds.”
A chit fund is a ROSCA-meets-the-auction block style of Indian savings scheme in which subscribers pool money every month and then try to outbid each other to get the entire pot. The difference between the lowest bid and what is left in the pool is distributed among members. In West Bengal, chit funds are particularly important due to the high demand for products that accommodate small savings. According to Abhijit Banerjee and Maitreesh Ghatak, West Bengal’s share of population was approximately 7.5% in 2011, its state domestic product was 6.7% of India’s GDP, but its share of bank deposits was 22%. Many of the state’s poor cannot afford to open a bank account and those who can face plummeting interest rates. Chit funds can offer an alternative to traditional savings and credit lines for the unbanked . . . Read More
The mobile money revolution has been greeted with great excitement in some circles for the potential it holds to increase financial access for the world’s poorest. Women may especially benefit from expanding financial inclusion through mobile financial services (MFS). Women not only handle a lot of cash to provide for household needs in many societies, but they may be explicitly or implicitly discouraged from using bank branches. A new report (sponsored by Visa and the GSMA mWomenProgramme) by FAI affiliate Daryl Collins explores just this theme. In “Unlocking the Potential: Women and Mobile Financial Services in Emerging Markets,” Collins and her coauthors explore the untapped potential of woman as a strategic consumer base for MFS providers.
A summary of the report’s conclusions . . . Read More
One way to cope with an emergency is to borrow money from family and friends. But that typically doesn’t work when a disaster strikes a whole area. Sending and receiving money over larger distances, when transferring cash from person-to-person is impractical or impossible, can be very expensive. There are a litany of costs, from communications, to finding and traveling to agents, to the actual financial cost of the transfer. And don’t forget the cost of delay—in an emergency, delays in receiving needed funds can have big consequences.
One way mobile payments could have substantial short-term benefits for poor households is by speeding up and lowering the cost of emergency transfers and remittances. A new paper by William Jack and Tavneet Suri provides evidence that mobile payments are doing just that . . . Read More
What’s next? Jamie Zimmerman says it's the opportunity to make government-to-person payments a major vehicle of financial inclusion.
Mobile money and electronic payments have leaped to the fore of many financial access conversations. Take the launch of the Better Than Cash Alliance (BTCA) and the recently released latest Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) strategy as prime examples. Some (Tim Ogden of FAI, Jesse Fripp of SBI and I for instance), have suggested tingeing the optimism over payments with caution, citing several hurdles that we must still overcome, and questions we must answer, before payments can become a financial access success story . . . Read More
One of the many important questions in the transition to mobile and/or electronic money is who will bear the costs associated with using the system. This question is particularly salient since the Kenyan government announced it was planning to begin taxing mobile money transfers, adding to the cost of the system. The Kenyan government seems to believe that operators will absorb the cost of the tax, but others suggest that it will be passed on to consumers, "picking the pocket of the poor."
Who will bear the cost of the tax and the other costs of operating mobile money systems? On a theoretical basis, this is an easy question to answer: the people who benefit will bear the costs—if those costs are lower than the benefits. In economic theory, it is even irrelevant who is initially charged for the costs, as costs will be passed on to those willing to pay to receive the benefits (known as tax incidence).
Practically, it’s a hard question to answer because we have very little information on the true costs and benefits of any money system . . . Read More
A few weeks ago I wrote that a transition to electronic payments will not be a boon to poor households unless the financial systems that undergird payments become more focused on serving poor households. It’s vitally important to think of the value and benefits of electronic payments within a system.
A couple of recent news stories highlight what a financial system enabled by electronic payments can do, even without the active cooperation of traditional banks.
In the last two months, both Amazon and Google have launched programs to extend credit to small business customers. Amazon is making loans available to people who sell through the company’s website to finance larger inventories heading in to the Christmas shopping season. . . . Read More
A very interesting microfinance experiment is in the new issue of the American Economic Review, one of the premier journals in the field (Published, but gated, version here. Ungated version here). The paper is by FAI Affiliate Xavi Giné, Jessica Goldberg (see her recommended reading on savings here), and Dean Yang. It's not often that microfinance makes the pages of AER; it's a testament to the work that Xavi, Jessica and Dean did to set up this experiment and their careful analysis of the data.
In brief, the experiment tested the effects of fingerprinting borrowers from a microcredit program in rural Malawi. I had the opportunity to interview Xavi and Dean (separately) for my upcoming book on economic field experiments and we talked about this work. I’ll let them explain the project and its implications in their own words . . . Read More
The notion that we cannot count on brick-and-mortar investments to massively expand access to finance in developing countries is now widely accepted. We need to go branchless, and to do so safely we have an opportunity to leverage mobile phones that are increasingly ubiquitous. That’s clear at an infrastructure level, but I don’t think there is much understanding of what that means at the service level. Let me paint the picture as I see it, at the risk of sounding all high-level and new agey.
For me the starting point is recognizing that financial services are primarily about information. Mechanically, financial services are about recording a bunch of credits and debits: how much you’d like to transfer to whom, how much you have, how much you owe, how much you’ll be owed if certain events occur. More fundamentally, financial services are about trusting or being trusted, and that’s a function of the information you have on the other party . . . Read More
What has been the biggest event in the financial inclusion space over the last year?
The shift in the field’s thinking to recognize the poor’s deep need for payments capabilities on par with other financial needs.
A year or two ago, had you polled the financial inclusion field and asked whether they thought that a person to person money transfer service (like M-PESA) would have a significant welfare benefit for poor households, on par with credit, savings or insurance, the majority would have said “no.” Most would have said that a mobile money type service is important for the potential to enable the other financial services, and may be somewhat useful to the extent it lowers the cost of moving money around, but would have said it’s not likely to be all that effective in improving household welfare in meaningful ways . . . Read More
Critics of microfinance have knocked down an army of straw men in recent years, and 2011 was no different. But it’s high time for microfinance practitioners to stop being defensive. We know enough about the perils and potentials of poverty-focused microfinance to address the real needs of the poor.
Early champions, including Sir Fazle Hasan Abed of BRAC, Mohammad Yunus of Grameen and Ela Bhatt of India’s Self-Employed Women’s Association, recognized that financial services alone would not be sufficient to break the bonds of poverty. Critics of microfinance became more shrill in 2011, but as a recent article in The New Republic points out, “the growing backlash is in danger of overcorrecting.”
Going into 2012, the microfinance field faces three key challenges . . . Read More
A lot of today’s research is focusing on tweaks to financial contracts and marketing with the aim to improve take-up and impact. The grail is big gains generated by small changes.
But big impacts often require much more than tweaks. That’s especially true for mobile money, in which scale and interconnectedness really matter.
Mobile money systems seek to create an ecosystem within which money is passed around and stored in electronic form. It’s hard to get such an ecosystem going, but M-PESA in Kenya shows us how once it gets big enough it can become a powerful snowball. Critical mass thresholds are associated with two types of transactions that are particularly problematic . . . Read More