Monday, October 12, 2020

Oct. 22 Zoom Event - Financial Legacies: Slavery and the History of Banking

A redlining map of Los Angeles in 1939.

UCI Humanities Center presents The 1619 Project in 2020
October 22, 2020 | 5:00 PM-6:30 PM PT


Moderator:
     • Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (Princeton)

Speakers: 
     • Bill Maurer (Social Sciences, IMTFI Director)
     • Peter Hudson (UCLA)
     • Mehrsa Baradaran (UCI Law)


This event is 60 minutes and will include a Q&A session. For those who are interested, please stay for a bonus 30 minute facilitated discussion.

Discussion Facilitators:
     • Tonya Bradford (Business)
     • Mrinalini Tankha (Portland State University)

Suggested Podcast/Readings:
• Matthew Desmond, “If you want to understand the brutally of American capitalism, you have to start on the plantation,” The 1619 Project And Photo essay by Dannielle Bowman; text by Anne C. Bailey
• Mehrsa Baradaran, “Mortgaging the Future,”  p. 32; “Good as Gold,” p. 35; and “Fabric of Modernity,” p. 36
• Tiya Miles, “How Slavery Made Wall Street,” p. 40
• Trymaine Lee, “A vast wealth gap, driven by segregation, redlining, evictions and exclusion, separates black and white America,” The 1619 Project
1619 Podcast 2: The Economy that Slavery Built

Access The 1619 Project Curriculum through the Pulitzer Center: (https://pulitzercenter.org/lesson-plan-grouping/1619-project-curriculum)

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The 1619 Project in 2020
#UCI1619Project

The 1619 Project, published by the New York Times, retells the history of the U.S. by foregrounding the arrival 401 years ago of enslaved Africans to Virginia. Through a series of essays, photos, and podcasts, the 1619 Project charts the impact of slavery on the country’s founding principles, economy, health care system, racial segregation of neighborhoods and schools, popular music and visual representations. Conversations around the 1619 project have served as a flashpoint for intensive ideological debates about its content and impact. It has been both widely lauded and subjected to critiques from academics, journalists, pundits and policymakers who challenge its accuracy and its interpretation of history. Conservative politicians even seek to defund schools that teach the project. What is the power of the 1619 Project to reframe our understanding of U.S. history and our contemporary society? How might we go beyond the 1619 Project to develop an even fuller understanding of the centrality of slavery and race in the U.S. and in the broader Atlantic world?  Join us for month plus exploration of The 1619 Project, which culminates in the visit of Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of the project.

The 1619 Project series is presented by UCI Humanities Center and is co-sponsored by: UCI Illuminations: The Chancellor’s Arts & Culture Initiative, UCI Black Thriving Initiative, School of Humanities, Claire Trevor School of the Arts, School of Education, School of Law, School of Social Ecology, School of Social Sciences, UCI Libraries, Academic English, Composition Program, Center for Latin American Studies, Center on Law, Equality, and Race, Center for Medical Humanities, International Center for Writing and Translation, Literary Journalism and Center for Storytelling, Office of Inclusive Excellence, Student Affairs, Staff Assembly, AAPI Womxn in Leadership and Academic and Professional Women of UCI.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Do women need their own financial services?

by Erin B. Taylor and Anette Broløs

Historically, few financial tools have been developed with women in mind or marketed to them directly[i].  Today, however, new financial services are appearing on the market that respond to practical everyday economic needs including design and marketing. Currency converters, financial management apps, investment apps, and alternative credit sources, are now being developed specifically for women, or primarily marketed to them. A plethora of websites, blogs and podcasts for women offer advice, information, and educational courses on finance. Many of these are community-based initiatives and aim to create a dialogue with women. 


But do women really need their own financial services? What can these new fintech products offer women that gender-neutral products can’t? We explore these questions in two new publications. One is a book chapter called “Financial technology and the gender gap: Designing & delivering services for women” (in Malefyt and McCabe 2020), and an industry report called Female Finance: Digital, Mobile, Networked (EWPN/Keen Innovation 2020)

The financial gender gap exists for many reasons, including income inequality, women taking time off for child-rearing or caring for a family member, fewer investment opportunities for women, and the tendency for women to manage daily budgets while men tend to take care of long-term financial management[ii].  Lower (or different) financial literacy, lack of confidence in financial knowledge, and differences in investment behavior can limit women’s ability to achieve financial security[iii].  And in some areas of the world poverty, limited access to technology and legal restrictions hinder women’s access to financial tools and confidence in using them[iv]. 

However, to our surprise, we discovered that there is neither an overview of existing financial solutions offered to women, nor an overview of research on women’s engagement with their finances. Through our work as co-organizers of research activities within the European Women Payments Network (EWPN), we also noticed that industry professionals are not very aware of what the market in fintech for women looks like. Few professionals could name any fintech products designed specifically for women. 

So we set out to discover what this market consists of, how extensive it is, what kind of women it serves (as well as where they’re located), and – most importantly – how fintech products claim to serve women. Along with the EWPN and Keen Innovation, we identified as many fintech products for women as we could. This is a very new field: most of the companies we found were founded during the last 5-10 years). The resulting report not only maps out these products, but also begins to analyse how they serve women in five areas: payments and credit, financial management, insurance, investment, and capital for entrepreneurs.

Common features in services for women 

  • Storytelling in a language that speaks to women's life contexts 
  • Accessible solutions that are digital and mobile 
  • Learning opportunities (blogs, support, "academies") 
  • Social features (mentors, events, networking, communities) 

Through our analyses of the concrete product and service offering, we realized that women tend to engage with finances differently to men. They value financial services that understand their life situation (young professionals, young families with housing and children on their minds, single parents or women establishing their own company to allow more flexibility in their daily lives). They prefer services that are readily available, uncomplicated to use, and provide a fast overview of economic transactions and decisions. Women are increasingly investing money, and their investment decisions are often based on a broader range of criteria than investment advisers usually take into account.  They look to understand how their wealth can best be invested to ensure fulfilling their wishes over time, and tend to focus on social issues such as sustainability, local development and inclusion. 


Indeed, this social aspect of finance is critical to understanding how women can differ from men. Women appreciate being able to work and learn with experts and like-minded people. We suspect that is a reason why Voleo, a new investment club app that allows users to interact, has 40% female customers while not even being directed particularly at women. Similarly, Nav.it, a money management app, tries to harness women’s preference for social proof to encourage women to engage more with their finances. The app’s founder, Erin Papworth, claims that women lack the “financial vocabulary” to talk about money in ways that are relevant to their lives and goals. The financial system is still geared towards men and tends to exclude women, who, Erin says in a Nav.it podcast,  are not confident discussing things like investing and compound interest. Thus the goal of the app is not only to help individuals manage their finances, but change the ways women engage with finances and build a system “that has the feminine experience integrated into the overall system”. Women’s socioeconomic situation is rapidly changing, she says, and women now have the “power of the purse” to effect broader change.

So, do women need their own financial services? The answer is both ‘yes’ and ‘no’. The financial gender gap is persistent across cultures and income groups. While financial services designed for women are unlikely to increase women’s incomes and close the gap, they can provide some very useful tools to help women manage their finances better and a way that suits their preferred modes of engagement. Women need their own financial services because existing solutions do not cater to their economic needs and expectations. And delivery is just as important as design: a financial tool may be theoretically perfect for women to use, but if it isn’t delivered in a way that speaks to women’s needs it will likely fail to reach its target market. 

However, we should warn that women are a very diverse group and experience both the financial gender gap and financial services themselves in diverse ways. Women’s financial practices therefore cannot be studied without taking into account the surrounding cultural, economic, legal and educational factors that make up the context of women’s lives. Moreover, what counts as “women’s lives” is in a constant state of change. For example, women’s investments are rising much faster that men’s. Women increasingly start their own companies or raise crowdfunded capital for their projects. Family patterns and job circumstances are also changing fast. When designing financial services for women we cannot treat women as a static, homogeneous group. We need nuanced research to feed into the intelligent design and delivery of financial services. 

There is plenty more to be done. We plan to develop new empirical research on women’s engagement with finances, covering issues such as how women engage with finances on the move, what services and products they use to grow their wealth, and how the digitization of ‘financial inclusion’ services such as microfinance impacts women. We particularly encourage companies and researchers to engage with women in practice by providing well-designed research that can contribute to the design of financial services that fit with women’s preferences, values and contexts. 

We also plan to update the overview of financial services for women to follow progress and changes in the market over time. A more complete analysis of financial services from different perspectives, focusing on factors such as economics, digital development, education, history, religion, consumer behavior, and more would be useful to build a more nuanced picture of women’s needs and the differences between women. 

And, most importantly, we need to be having broader conversations about these issues. Join us at the EWPN Research Network LinkedIn group to share your own ideas with industry professionals and academics who are working on these issues. You can also share your favorite books, articles, and white papers on the subject, or suggestions for companies we should look into and to include in our overview of the market. Above all, let us know if you agree with us or not. The more diverse and dynamic the conversation, the better placed we will be to understand why, and under what circumstances, diverse women may need their own financial services. 



The book chapter: Taylor, E.B. and A. Broløs. 2020. Financial technology and the gender gap: Designing & delivering services for women. In Women, Consumption and Paradox: Towards A More Humanistic Approach to Consumption, pp.103-128. Edited by Timothy de Waal  Malefyt and Maryann McCabe. Routledge.

The industry report: Broløs, A. and Taylor, E.B. 2020. Female Finance: Digital, Mobile, Networked. EWPN and Keen Innovation.


Endnotes
i Burton, Dawn. 1995. Women and financial services: Some directions for future research. International Journal of Bank Marketing 13(8): 21-28; Roderick, Leonie. 2017. Financial services brands ‘ignoring’ women in advertising. Marketing Week, 17 October, https://www.marketingweek.com/financial-brands-ignoring-women-ads/
ii E&Y. 2017: Banking on Gender Differences: Similarities and Differences in Financial Services Preferences of Women and Men in a Digital World; Hira, Tahira K. 2008. Gender differences in investment behaviour. In Handbook of Consumer Finance Research. Jing Jian Xiao, ed. 253-270. New York: Springer; Liébana-Cabanillas, Francisco José, Juan Sánchez-Fernández, and Francisco Muñoz-Leiva. 2014. Role of gender on acceptance of mobile payment. Industrial Management & Data Systems 114(2): 220-240; Morsy, Hanan, and Hoda Youssef. 2017. Access to Finance–Mind the Gender Gap. EBRD Working Paper No. 202.
 iii Almenberg, Johan and Anna Dreber. 2015. Gender, stock market participation and financial literacy. Economics Letters 137 (2015): 140-142; Bannier, Christina E. and Milena Schwarz. 2018. Gender-and education-related effects of financial literacy and confidence on financial wealth. Journal of Economic Psychology 67: 66-86; Driva, Anastasia, Melanie Lührmann, and Joachim Winter. 2016. Gender differences and stereotypes in financial literacy: Off to an early start. Economics Letters 146: 143-146.
 iv Morsy, Hanan, and Hoda Youssef. 2017. Access to Finance–Mind the Gender Gap. EBRD Working Paper No. 202; Servon, Lisa. 2017. The Unbanking of America: How the New Middle Class Survives. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.



Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Book Launch | Musaraj and Mëhilli Discuss Ponzi Schemes and Postsocialist Transformations, Oct. 1

The Center for Law, Justice & Culture hosts a book launch for Dr. Smoki Musaraj’s new book, Tales from Albarado: Ponzi Logics of Accumulation in Postsocialist Albania (Cornell UP, 2020) this Thursday, Oct. 1, at 1 p.m. PT / 4 p.m. ET.

Musaraj will be joined by Dr. Elidor Mëhilli to talk about the book’s ethnographic approach to the widespread participation in a dozen pyramid schemes that were all the rage in early 1990s Albania. The book situates the emergence of these schemes within the broader context of postsocialist transformations, neoliberal reform, and massive migration.

Musaraj is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Center for Law, Justice & Culture at Ohio University. Mëhilli is Associate Professor of History at Hunter College, CUNY and author of From Stalin to Mao: Albania and the Socialist World (Cornell 2017).

This event is co-sponsored with the Sociology & Anthropology Colloquium series.

Learn more about Tales from Albarado.

View event posting here: https://www.ohio-forum.com/2020/09/book-launch-tales-from-albarado-by-smoki-musaraj/

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~Read Smoki Musaraj's IMTFI blogpost, "Money and Speculation in Times of Crisis" where she shares about her time with IMTFI as a postdoctoral scholar~



Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The CARES Act and Credit Reporting: What Credit Unions Need to Know

by Bill Maurer and Melissa Wrapp, Center of Excellence for Emerging Technology, Filene Research Institute - creating research, innovation and connections for credit unions

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was enacted on March 27, 2020, to provide emergency relief to consumers and businesses suffering from the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. The CARES Act contains a section (Sec. 4021) specifically addressing the credit reporting consequences of the pandemic. Even with direct stimulus payments, increased unemployment benefits, and the Paycheck Protection Program, consumers are facing dire financial circumstances. The expiration of relief payments and enhanced unemployment protection on July 31 has only made their situation more precarious.

Section 4021 does not go nearly far enough. It places the entire burden on consumers. It does not include all forms of debt, including debt collection accounts (which includes 99% of medical debt on credit reports). It does not standardize credit reporting practices. And more.

Still, there are ways your credit union can help your members.

PROBLEM: Protections are not automatic.

Consumers are required to contact creditors to ask for an accommodation. They are also required to do so for all their accounts. Most don’t even know where to begin.

What your credit union can do:

  • Proactively contact your members to let them know how to ask for an accommodation from their creditors.
  • Remind them of the top five most likely creditors they should contact. You can either look for trends in your area or go for the most likely creditors that any member would have. Provide them a checklist: Mortgage; car loan; student loan; credit cards.
  • Provide phone numbers or websites to the national credit reporting agencies (NCRAs) so they can obtain their free credit reports.
  • Preserve the dignity of your members and don’t overrun your call centers! Instead, consider automatic loan deferments or online/mobile solutions for loan deferment requests.

PROBLEM: Only deals with active accounts.

The CARES Act only deals with active credit accounts, not debt collection accounts like medical debt or debt owed to collection agencies employed by former landlords.

What your credit union can do:

  • Target small-dollar lending products to utility delinquencies, medical debt, or other debt collection accounts.
  • Help members identify court records of evictions and petition the court to have them expunged or sealed. The easiest way is to look at the Public Records section of their credit reports. They can also look up records on line via the National Center on State Courts website or partner with a third-party provider like MyRentalHistoryReport.Com (which charges a $29.95 fee). Or, identify and partner with a local nonprofit legal aid foundation.
  • Provide a dated letter of reference to members with eviction records indicating they are a member in good standing of your credit union that they can share with potential landlords when filling out a rental application.

PROBLEM: Consistency using the AW code.

Furnishers are not consistently using the AW code (“natural disaster”) in providing data about COVID-related delinquencies.

What your credit union can do:

  • Demand from NCRAs that furnishers of credit data use the AW code or CP (“short term forbearance”) in any data they provide to NCRAs.
  • Lobby Congress for consistent application of Metro 2 ® codes related to natural disasters, including pandemics. Make this an immediate and high priority for our trade groups.

PROBLEM: Student loans.

75% of forbearances are for student loans.

What your credit union can do:

  • Reach out to student borrowers and others with student loans to discuss their options. Identify them through your student loan providers/servicers; or, look for student loan payments in ACH files.
  • Ask your student loan providers/services to advertise the benefits provided in the CARES Act for student borrowers.

PROBLEM: Poor understanding of credit reports.

Consumers poorly understand their credit reports. The 3 NCRAs are currently providing weekly free reports during the pandemic.

What your credit union can do:

  • Make your members aware of the NCRAs free reports.
  • Provide educational materials for members on their credit reports, how to read them, the importance of their credit score, and how to improve their credit score. Direct them to the websites of the NCRAs or the CFPB, which has a handy primer on credit scores.


For full original post, additional resources, and detailed specifications from the CARES Act, go to:



Important Note
At the time the guide was prepared (August 2020), the second major stimulus and relief act has passed the House of Representatives, but negotiations are stalled between the House, Senate, and Trump administration. The House bill, called the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES) Act, replaces section 4021 of the CARES Act and provides a couple of important additional protections. Most significantly, it bans reporting medical debt related to COVID-19 treatment. This is a step in the right direction, but many individuals will suffer medical debts unrelated to COVID-19 treatment that they will still struggle to repay given the economic fallout from the crisis. It also forbids the use of alternative credit scoring models that “would identify a significant percentage of consumers as being less creditworthy when compared to the previous credit scoring models.”


Monday, September 14, 2020

Money and Speculation in Times of Crisis

by Smoki Musaraj. Ohio University

During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy earlier this year, I frequently checked the Facebook feed of many friends and family living there. Growing up in Albania like me, many of them had migrated to Italy in the 1990s. I checked to make sure they were OK. Other friends situated in other parts of the world did the same. Facebook feeds became a space for comparing the degrees of quarantine in different countries and for providing mutual support in times of collective isolation. During these checks, I often ran into conversations by Albanian diaspora that compared the experience of the COVID-19 quarantines to that of the infamous year 1997 (or, in colloquial Albanian, nëntdhteshtata, the ninety-seven). This was a year of political anarchy, of a state of emergency, closed borders, of curfews and protests caused not by a virus but by the collapse of a dozen pyramid schemes. For many of my friends who had come of age in late-1990s Albania, the COVID times brought back the memory of social isolation and economic insecurity they experienced when the schemes collapsed.

My book, Tales from Albarado: Ponzi Logics of Accumulation in Postsocialist Albania (Cornell 2020), takes an ethnographic approach to the rise and fall of the dozen of pyramid firms (firma piramidale). The firms emerged alongside the free-market reforms and post-communist financial institutions that followed the demise of the communist regime. When the pyramid firms folded in 1997, the country unraveled into anarchy and a near civil war. Looking into newspaper archives and interviews with former investors, Tales from Albarado seeks to gain a better understanding of how people from various paths of life came to invest in the financial schemes and, in turn, how such schemes intertwined with everyday transactions, dreams, and aspirations. Through this ethnography of the Ponzi schemes in Albania, the book explores more broadly the materialities, socialities, and temporalities of financial speculation.

I served as postdoctoral fellow at IMTFI during 2012-2014. During these years, I revised the manuscript of Tales from Albarado while working alongside IMTFI fellows from different parts of the world who were also exploring questions about money and technology in the global South. My work with IMTFI and a wonderful group of fellows influenced my thinking about the various top-down and bottom-up financial repertoires mobilized by the pyramid firms in Albania. I began to think about the pyramid firms alongside many other financial enterprises that serve the unbanked and perform many of the financial functions that we associate with the formal banking sector. Given the history of a strict ban on private property during the communist period, many Albanians lacked assets and savings and they were quickly excluded from formal institutions during the 1990s, a time of free-market reforms and widespread privatization. Many of them turned to the pyramid firms as a means of saving, borrowing, and investing. I therefore situate the pyramid firms at the interstices of formal and informal economic institutions and repertoires that emerged alongside post-communist reforms. I argue that these institutions persist to this day.

"The Pyramid" by Like Rehova, Revista Klan, 2.11.1997, Vol 1 (1): 2.
Courtesy of the New York Public Library. 

Scholarly discussions of financial bubbles often focus on the abstraction and anonymity of capital as the fuel of speculation. In Tales from Albarado, by contrast, I emphasize the materialities and socialities of speculation. I do so by looking at the circulation and conversions of various things—stack of cash, privatization vouchers, remittances, housing—through the pyramid firms. These materialities, I argue, are entangled with specific economic and social histories and cultural norms. This approach resonates with the work of so many IMTFI fellows who research the old and new financial technologies and repertoires used by people living at the margins of global capital (Maurer, Musaraj, and Small 2018). Like many IMTFI projects, Tales from Albarado explores how financial activities are deeply intertwined with social ties. 

Thus, a key finding in Tales from Albarado pertains to the role of a widespread bottom-up economic repertoire: remittances. Remittances were sent to Albanian residents via transnational kinship networks. They were mostly in cash and in multiple currencies as this was a time before the euro. Drachmas, liras, marks, dollars featured prominently in recollections of former investors who often expressed pleasure in dealing in multiple currencies and in carrying stacks and sacs of cash to and from the firms. Cash enabled bundling deposits from multiple investors; multiple currencies enabled cultural cachet and opportunities for arbitrage; social ties of kin, friends, and brokers (sekserë) enabled the expansion of investments to the firms. Accounts by former investors point to the highly personalized transactions that enabled financial speculation. Further, they provide a picture of a bottom-up repertoire—an informal cash economy in multiple currencies mediated by social ties—that constitute an enduring strategy of accumulation in a context of ongoing economic uncertainty. 

In addition to seeking other means of making wealth, I explore how participation in the pyramid firms entailed a negotiation of the temporalities of life and finance. The book looks into the buying, selling, and desiring of homes in conjunction with participating at the pyramid firms. A number of investors sold their recently privatized apartments (formerly state-owned) in order to invest at the firms. At the same time, most investors I interviewed, when asked what they planned to do with their returns, expressed their desire to buy a new home. The new homes were often imagined as an accelerated path towards a capitalist and European modernity. Those who had lost their homes to the schemes lamented their “lagging behind” this imagined trajectory. Housing, thus, became a site for materializing such temporal aspirations and for witnessing their failure. 

By examining the materialities, socialities, and temporalities of the speculative schemes, Tales from Albarado identifies economic practices and institutions as well as desires and aspirations that have endured throughout the three decades of neoliberal transformations in Albania. Strategies of value conversion, a propensity for accessing multiple regimes of value, intertwining finance and social ties, desires for an accelerated European modernity—these are all well-established social and financial institutions that make up the economic and social life in Albania. They are also practices and institutions that mirror the experiences of myriads of people whose lives are shaped by similar forms of geopolitical marginality and economic instability. These intertwined economies and socialities in contemporary Albania thus speak more broadly to the making of neoliberal economies at the margins.


References

Maurer, Bill, Musaraj, Smoki and Small, Ivan V. eds., 2018. Money at the Margins: Global Perspectives on Technology, Financial Inclusion, and Design. Berghahn Books.


Smoki Musaraj is associate professor of anthropology and director of the Center for Law, Justice, and Culture at Ohio University. 


Friday, September 4, 2020

GovExec Daily: Physical Cash and the Pandemic

Dr. Bill Maurer of University of California, Irvine joins the Government Executive Daily podcast  by Adam Butler and Ross Gianfortune to discuss what cashless payments look like, in light of the pandemic.


Access GovExec Daily: Physical Cash and the Pandemic





With the COVID-19 cases spiking and online shopping following, the argument for ending physical money has come up again in the public conversation. But, a cashless existence is not our reality yet. 

Bill Maurer is dean of University of California, Irvine's School of Social Sciences, a professor of anthropology and director of the campus’s Institute for Money, Technology & Financial Inclusion (IMTFI). He joined the show to examine why the conversation about the end of physical cash is probably premature, even during the pandemic


Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Mapping the Intermediate: Lived Technologies of Money and Value

Guest editors Mrinalini Tankha, Portland State University and Ursula Dalinghaus, Ripon College of  "Mapping the Intermediate: Lived Technologies of Money and Value," Journal of Cultural Economy, Volume 13, 2020 - Issue 4


ABSTRACT
As financial transactions are increasingly digitized, old and new kinds of intermediaries are only expanding in importance. Intermediaries, mediators and brokers sit at critical junctures and operate between diverse financial arenas and pathways. We argue that mapping the intermediate entails identifying how different kinds of actors—human and non-human, objects and interfaces, institutions and practices—delimit or reify but also stitch together and overcome spatial and temporal differences in people's financial lives, while taking on varying burdens of risk. Mapping the intermediate is both an empirical and methodological exercise. Empirically, it requires following the agents and traders, brokers and material objects that facilitate transactions and add, extract, or re-work different kinds of value. Methodologically, intermediaries and the intermediate are not only the objects of analysis but act as analytical tools in their own right, making the process and politics of transactions visible and tangible. Attending to the intermediate in our inquiries around money, currency and new digital financial technologies, thereby, offers new directions for grounding finance in politics and history and better connecting micro and macro and local and global economic processes.