Monday, April 15, 2019

Duo Book Review in American Ethnologist: PAID and Money at the Margins and 4/18 Livestream Book Launch at Ohio University!

by Daivi Rodima-Taylor, Boston University

Paid: Tales of Dongles, Checks, and Other Money Stuff. Bill Maurer and Lana Swartz, eds. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2017. 320 pp. Hardcover $27.95/£22.00. Paperback $17.95/£13.99.

Money at the Margins: Global Perspectives on Technology, Financial Inclusion, and Design. Bill Maurer, Smoki Musaraj, and Ivan Small, eds. New York: Berghahn, 2018. 334 pp. Hardcover $140.00 | £100.00. Paperback $29.50/£21.00.

Paid and Money at the Margins are seminal books—the first organized efforts toward an ethnographically informed study of payment systems. Recent rapid advances in financial technology have diversified payment infrastructures with important implications for how money is valued and transformed or even replaced as a medium of exchange. Emerging payment structures also shape who has access to such forms of exchange across and within national borders, and so we can think of them in terms of inclusion, exclusion, and power. Disruptive digital innovations potentially enable vast unbanked populations to gain access to global financial systems, but the consequences of such inclusion are as yet unclear.

Meanwhile, new sharing economy platforms empower alternative spaces for value creation. Who profits and who loses in such emerging exchange networks are still open questions. These two edited collections explore these issues by focusing on everyday practices, socialities, and materialities around money movement pathways. A sequential examination of the volumes would enable the reader to gain familiarity with historical and comparative perspectives on payment systems and technologies and allow for an informed application of that knowledge to the topics of inclusion and technology design in the financial systems of the Global South.

Read and download the full review on AnthroSource:

Link to Introduction: Money and Finance at the Margins, which outlines the contributions of the book to the anthropology of money and finance as well as to studies of development and financial inclusion.

In celebration of the affordable paperback publication--Berghahn is offering a 25% discount on the through it's website, code: MAU485. Valid through May 31st:


Join us for a Livestream Book Launch this Thursday! 

Money at the Margins, April 18  

The Center for Law, Justice & Culture presents book launch panel for Money at the Margins: Global Perspectives on Technology, Financial Inclusion, and Design on Thursday, April 18, from 5 to 6:30p.m. in Bentley Hall 124.

The panelists will discuss changes in the socio-cultural meanings of money in various sites across the Global South, and the impact of new forms of money and financial services—such as mobile money and digital government grants—on development and financial inclusion. The book, published by Berghahn Books, is part of The Human Economy series.

The panel features two of the co-editors, Dr. Smoki Musaraj, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and CLJC Faculty Affiliate at Ohio University; and Dr. Ivan Small, Assistant Professor at Central Connecticut State University. Dr. Bill Maurer, Dean of the School of Social Sciences and Professor of Anthropology; Law; and Criminology, Law and Society at the University of California at Irvine, will join the conversation via Skype.

Money at the Margins considers the impact of new monetary technologies, including mobile money, e-commerce, cash cards, retail credit cards, and more. As these technologies have become increasingly available, the Global South has cautiously embraced these mediums as a potential solution to the issue of financial inclusion. How, if at all, do new forms of dematerialized money impact people’s everyday financial lives? In what way do technologies interact with financial repertoires and other socio-cultural institutions? How do these technologies of financial inclusion shape the global politics and geographies of difference and inequality?

Read full details of the event here:

Watch live or later on A&S TV:

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Fintech apps: Shaping the future of financial literacy?

UC Irvine researchers conduct study with five popular fintech apps to determine how Americans interact with financial advising apps

UCI students share their experiences with fintech apps in focus group.
Photo credit: Jenny Fan
We all know we should be saving for the future. But what does that mean? Should we be contributing to a retirement plan? And if so, what type of retirement plan?  Or should we just be putting money into a savings account? And how much should we be saving each month? What if there is nothing to save?

As Kristin Wong, personal finance journalist, wrote in the New York Times, “Many of us grow up learning that money is one of a few topics — like politics, sex and religion — that you should avoid in polite company. You don’t brag about your net worth. You don’t share your salary with colleagues. You try not to ask your friends about their rent, even if it helps put your budget in perspective.”

April is Financial Literacy Month, and it so happens researchers in the School of Social Sciences have been asking whether new smartphone apps are actually teaching people about better financial habits.


Without a trusted resource to learn about financial literacy people often feel overwhelmed by budgeting, debt management, and trying to meet savings goals. The Federal Reserve Board's 2018 Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households found that 40 percent of Americans say they cannot cover a $400 emergency expense, or would do so by borrowing or selling something.

Those who are interested in managing their personal finances often turn to apps and robo-advisors from financial technology companies, commonly called fintechs. Popular apps, such as Mint, claim to help users learn about budgeting and establishing personal financial goals. Since 2008 the number of new fintech companies in the US, and around the world, has soared.


Building on a rich portfolio of research on how people interact with money and financial technology, the Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion (IMTFI) and the Filene Center of Excellence in Emerging Technology at UC Irvine conducted a study to dig deeper into fintech apps, the experiences they offer, and how users respond to them.

“With the unbundling of banks, there are a lot of fintech companies popping up and taking on roles traditionally held by banks. Many are providing personal financial advice through these new technologies, but we know very little about actual user interactions with them,” says Melissa K. Wrapp, a graduate student in the Department of Anthropology at UC Irvine. “An app on a phone to budget or invest can be tremendously helpful, but you also have to be wary of what other information or sales motives could be imbedded within apps.”

Wrapp works as a researcher for Bill Maurer, anthropology and law professor and dean of the School of Social Sciences at UC Irvine. He’s also a Filene Fellow who performs research for the Center for Emerging Technology to look far into the future to connect credit unions with the most impactful technology and drive forward-thinking business decisions.

“It’s important to understand how people use these apps because we just don’t know if they encourage better financial behavior or lead people down the wrong path,” says Maurer. “My hypothesis going in was that these apps are almost like training wheels—and that people would graduate from them after a time and seek financial advice from more traditional sources like a bank or credit union.”


In a pilot study, twenty-seven participants used one of five fintech apps for 30 days and reported their experiences. Some apps were personal budgeting apps and others were for investment management. The group included UC Irvine undergraduates, graduate students, and staff. Several participants were completely new to financial management apps, while others had some previous experience with fintech apps.

"We started the project with preliminary interviews, then held a focus group half way through the study to see how the experience of using the app was going," Wrapp says. "During the exit interviews, many participants mentioned that the focus group conversations were as valuable to them as using the app itself because, for many, it was the first conversation they've ever had with people about how to manage their personal finances."

While many participants indicated that they are now actively seeking out more personal financial education, Maurer and Wrapp will be presenting the complete research results at the Center for Emerging Technology and Filene's Spring i3 "The Future of Trust: How Technology Will Make it or Break it for your Credit Union" meeting in Seattle, WA on May 29-30. Their discussion will examine behavior and patterns of younger consumers’ use of financial apps to manage their money, and how credit unions can identify best practices to shape their own mobile apps.

-Megan Boettcher for UCI School of Social Sciences

See original post at:

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Teaching about money’s origins—and its possible cryptographic futures—with Proto-cuneiform

Guest post on the CREWS Project by Professor and IMTFI Director Bill Maurer 
February 11, 2019

Richard Mattessich (1998) opened his paper in the Accounting Historians’ Journal on 3rd millennium BCE protocuneiform with a quotation from Leonard Bernstein: “The best way to know a thing, is in the context of another discipline” (Bernstein 1976: 3). For two weeks in January, 2019, a class of 114 undergraduate students at the University of California, Irvine, drew made-up protocuneiform tables based on Nissen et al. (1993) after reading Mattessich’s accountant’s perspective on them. They did so as part of a class on “The Future of Money.” The class is still going on, and is being conducted entirely online, except for an end-of-term in person meeting with a panel of payments industry experts and final exam.

Protocuneiform tablets were chosen as the earliest surviving examples of economic transactions utilizing a type of proto-writing that would later develop into the more abstract wedge-shapes of classic cuneiform.  The earliest examples date from the late 4th millennium BC (around 3200-3000), from the area of Uruk, and commonly include ‘pictographic’ signs denoting the goods being counted alongside numerals. (You can read more about ‘Proto-Cuneiform’ on the CDLI here and here.)

Proto-cuneiform tablet, probably from Uruk, c.3100-2900 BC. Image from HERE.

Split nearly 60%-40% between computer science majors and social science majors, the class read for two weeks on the origins of money—with video lectures in which yours truly tried to disabuse them of the received wisdom of money’s origin in barter, instead to foreground the importance of states’ administrative record keeping. The readings included some essays on tokens by Denise Schmandt-Besserat (including this interview) and parts of James Scott’s book, Against The Grain.

They started out simple….
\Then the students engaged in a collaborative exercise. Mattessich in hand, they were tasked with drawing their own protocuneiform tablet representing a grain transaction, sending it to another student who would decode it for the next student, who would make a new tablet by adding to the original tablet and sending it to another student, and so on. The online format allowed for this kind of “do something and pass it on” structure: we used an online discussion forum on the Canvas platform that displayed threaded replies so that all the students could see what the others were doing and learn along the way. To make it more manageable, the students were divided into groups of 20-25, so each initial “tablet” went through at least 10 iterations. The whole thing took two weeks, with students responding as each new tablet or new decoding was posted.

And got more and more complicated!

Errors crept in along the way. Questions arose as to the placement of symbols on the “tablets” and the difficulty of dealing with a system in which zeros were indicated by empty spaces. Some of the students got a little frustrated. For the computer science students, this was not a typical “lab.” For the social science majors, this was also outside the norm for a homework assignment. Draw an ancient protocuneiform tablet, take a picture of it and post it online for someone else to decode? Pretty weird. But after the first couple of iterations, they really got into it.

For takeaways and lessons learned, read full blogpost:

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

N.J. could soon ban stores from making you pay with a credit card or your phone by not accepting cash

By Brent Johnson, NJ Advance Media for
(Posted Feb 1)

It may soon be illegal for New Jersey stores to keep you from paying with cash and force you to pay with a credit card or your phone instead.

Both houses of the state Legislature on Thursday passed a bill that would make New Jersey only the second state in the U.S. — and the first in 40 years — to bar no-cash policies at businesses.

It’s now up to Gov. Phil Murphy to sign or veto the measure.

Experts say it’s becoming more common for businesses to require electronic payments — especially in cities — thanks to credit cards, debit cards, self-service kiosks, and mobile devices like Apple Pay being more readily available. It’s quicker and more convenient for stores.

But experts and lawmakers say cashless businesses disenfranchise people who don’t have the means to set up a bank account or can’t afford credit card debt.

Experts say it's becoming more common for businesses to accept only credit cards and
electronic payments and banning cash. (File)
 - (Dec 2 post)

Bill Maurer, a professor at the University of California-Irvine who directs the school’s Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion, said about 25 percent of the U.S. population doesn’t have access to credit cards or similar technology.

State Sen. Nellie Pou, D-Passaic, a main sponsor of this measure, cited a federal survey from 2015 that shows 7 percent of American households had no checking or savings accounts — and the number was twice as high for black and Latino households.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Academics, Innovators and Regulators at "Digital Finance in Africa’s Future"

By Sibel Kusimba, American University and Solène Morvant-Roux, University of Geneva

Sean Maliehe, Lena Gronbach  (Human Economy Program, University of Pretoria)

The international colloquium entitled “Digital Finance in Africa’s Future: Innovations and Implications” was held in Johannesburg South Africa on 22-26 Oct. 2018, organized by the Human Economy Research Programme at the University of Pretoria and the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study (JIAS), in association with Disrupting Africa.

The colloquium was unusual in bringing together and encouraging interaction amongst academics studying digital finance along with African innovators (entrepreneurs), regulators/consultants and development professionals to discuss the latest developments and their impacts. For academics it was a unique opportunity to engage more with important actors in this space especially regulators and innovators. List of presenters can be found here.

John Sharp, Director of the Human Economy Program of the University of Pretoria, put it succinctly: “You need corporations and big money if your human economy is going to work. We need to think about how to bring the people with power into the conversation.”

One distinct aspect of the colloquium was the relatively small size of the group, with less than 20 participants. The live internet feed and the large public talk that launched the colloquium on the evening of Oct 22 brought larger numbers of participants, giving the meeting both an intimate feeling as well as exposure to the public and a medium to broadcast the talks and discussions to online viewers.

Innovators and Providers’ Perspectives on Academic Knowledge

The emerging and rapidly changing field of digital finance and its entwinement with development policies is often hard for academics to study. Financial services and development interests produce large amounts of data and studies, often very detailed but with an aim to find use cases for financial products, so their claims are difficult to evaluate. Often the perspective of academia feels too critical or not relevant (too complex) to innovators or practitioners. Our discussions often tried to broach these differences.

For example, we discussed the uses of well-known financial diaries developed by scholars with a view of better capturing people’s financial behavior. The collective discussion ended up challenging the broad industry belief that these reports represent a kind of pure empirical or ethnographic view of financial behavior - partly because of their detailed recording of expenditures. These industry reports and the understandings of finance they produce often focus on inflows and outflows over relatively short periods and may assume financial explanations for peoples’ behavior without assessing alternatives. In one often-cited example from Kenya, a family cannot raise enough money for a sick person, but a few weeks later raises abundant money for her funeral after she unfortunately dies for lack of care. This story is frequently used to posit a need for different financial tools that can nudge a more rational response to illness. However, a lack of trust in medical care and many other cultural reasons, important in their own right, could also explain a lack of fundraising for a hospital stay.

At the same time, our discussion showed that the more inductive approach of anthropology seems to collect information that providers and innovators may not find clearly relevant. For instance, one professional in insurance offered that his experience with oft-touted “Human Centered Design” (which is a kind of “fast” ethnography) had led to assumptions that actual users ended up refuting once the product was rolled out. Anthropological studies presented by Kusimba and Morvant-Roux also came to a fuzzy conclusion. People want to be interconnected with others using financial technologies, but they want to be autonomous as well. More work needs to be done to further understandings that can make sense for product development.

Sibel Kusimba (American University)
The study done by Nnamdi Oranye on undocumented migrants in Nigeria also highlighted that meeting social obligations is as important as being able to fulfill personal projects and aspirations (and therefore call for specific financial services). This result was confirmed by Morvant-Roux from a study on undocumented Mexican migrants living in the USA. Financial services around international remittances would do a better job by acknowledging such a duality rather than trying to induce a rationality that doesn’t really exist.

It was humbling and also inspiring to learn more about the perspectives of innovators. For them the Silicon Valley catchwords like “disruption” have a lure and a kind of hope for African innovation that academics might take more seriously. At the same time the entrepreneurs also revealed that their pitches for funding often must refer to frameworks around charity and African development, which many felt influence the kinds of fintech that get funded in Africa. One innovator located his company in the Philippines after being frustrated by this mindset among Western venture capitalists.

The Regulatory Future of African Finance

The final area of great interest and a real opportunity for new exposure for an academic was the important talks by regulators. Dr. Steven Nduati was a Central Bank of Kenya payments regulator behind the M-Pesa legend, who felt that regulation must anticipate how financial technologies eventually work but must also be flexible and responsive to how these new technologies end up being used. The former Finance Minister of South Africa, Trevor Manuel, gave a compelling keynote. Speaking around “the intersection between finance and data," he noted that in the past politics involved land and physical assets – but in the 21st century, there will be an economy of data. How will African governments deal with privacy and security issues, and who controls and owns the data? A marked example was the case of South Africa’s innovative government cash transfer programs.  In the case of Sassa, Gronbach brought evidence that the South-African State has let a private tender taking advantage of the most vulnerable population segments through massive unauthorized deductions from the social grants and therefore undermining the social protection floor. Mesfin Fikre from University of Addis Ababa University and previous IMTFI alum added, “if the pace of M-pesa of Kenya continuous, for sure it will capture the data of almost all Kenyans, which gives it an upper hand in the future digital economy. This is because, having (owning) data means owning a weapon. So, it is high time to consider ‘who owns and control such data?’. Given the participation of foreign companies (investors) in the area, this scales up the problem. For example, in Ethiopia, mobile money related data is captured by foreign companies working in the area (BelCash and M-Birr).”

Manuel also warned that mobile money was largely becoming a solution for the poor, and expressed concern that African fintech would eventually lead to two solutions—remitting solutions for the poor, and traditional banking and investing for the affluent.

Nnanmdi Oranye (Disrupting Africa), Mario Fernandez (GoSocket), Funmi Arewa (Temple Law)

“The engagement of representatives of industry and academia offered an opportunity to engage with real world contexts within which digital finance technologies are actually used. The contributions by anthropologists (particularly Morvant-Roux and Kusimba) enabled a better understanding of varied on the ground uses and understanding about technologies,” says Olufunmilayo Arewa, Professor at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law and IMTFI Academic Advisory Board member. “Conceptions and uses of digital finance technologies in Africa and elsewhere are complex and multifaceted and constantly changing. A dialogue that includes both industry and academia offers needed insight into technology practices on the ground.”

Ideally more interaction between regulators, innovators, and academics—bringing “the people with power into the conversation”—one could imagine new futures for digital money in Africa that would prevent both the abuse of the data economy and the potential isolation of mobile money and remittance products from broader fintech innovations.

See blogpost 1 here: "Colloquium on ‘Digital Finance in Africa’s Future: Innovations and Implications’"

Photo credit: Riaan de Villiers, acumen publishing solutions

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Some businesses want to make you pay with a credit card or your phone by not accepting cash. N.J. could soon ban that

By Brent Johnson, NJ Advance Media for

Experts say it's becoming more common for businesses to accept only credit cards and
electronic payments and banning cash. (file)

No card, no phone, no problem.

A group of state lawmakers want to make New Jersey only the second U.S. state — and the first in 40 years — to ban businesses from refusing to accept cash from customers and requiring them to pay electronically.

The bill — which a state Senate committee will consider Monday — comes at a time when cities like New York and Philadelphia are weighing similar measures.

Experts say cashless businesses are becoming more common — especially in cities — thanks to a proliferation of credit and debit cards, self-serve kiosks, and mobile devices like Apple Pay that make it easier for customers to simply swipe and go.

But experts and lawmakers also warn that can disenfranchise people who don’t have the means to set up a bank account or can’t afford to be burdened by credit card debt.

“When you start going cashless, you marginalize people who are older, poorer, younger, who haven’t established credit — or people who don’t want to use credit to buy a pack of gum. Which would be me," said state Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, D-Gloucester, one of the bill’s main sponsors.

“For people that want to (use credit), that’s fine,” Moriarty added. “But stores should still accept legal tender, which is the U.S. dollar.”

Bill Maurer, a professor at the University of California-Irvine who directs the school’s Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion, said many businesses go cashless for “speed and convenience." That especially includes quick-service restaurants that are “trying to move people through quickly,” Maurer said.

It can also help prevent against robbery. Plus, Maurer said, electronic payments allow businesses to “capture data'” from customers to use for marketing and offers.

“In going cashless, you are kind of self-selecting a clientele that’s gonna be a little more higher end, spend some more money," Maurer said.

Thus, he said, these businesses are willing to overlook the added cost of devices and fees for card payments.

But Maurer said about 25 percent of the U.S. population doesn’t have access to credit cards or similar technology.

“Cash is a profoundly democratic form of payment,” Maurer said. “You just need to have it.”

For the full story, please visit:

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

More Restaurants and Cafés Refuse to Accept Cash — That’s Not a Good Thing “Just because you don’t have a piece of plastic, you can’t get a sandwich?”

By Alexa Tsoulis-Reay in New York Magazine's Grub Street

Cash-free businesses create a gulf between the people who can go there, and those who can’t.
Photo: Dirk Butenschön/EyeEm/Getty Images

I was at a health-food and coffee shop on East Houston, grabbing an $11 vegan sandwich for lunch, when I noticed the man next to me, who appeared to be homeless, trying to buy a cup of coffee. The entire exchange wasn’t going well: First, there was the absence of any traditional milk from the dairy-free café’s “vegan mylk” selection. The coffee’s price, $2.95 for a small, was also fairly steep. But just as it looked like the situation was going to resolve itself, a final, insurmountable hurdle arrived: As the would-be customer started to pay with a stack of coins and notes in his hand, an employee was forced to tell him that cash wasn’t accepted at the café. Eventually, he gave the coffee to the man, only after the three of us stared at each other uncomfortably.

Until then, I had been aware of cash-free restaurants and cafés, but had never fully grasped the effects of their growing numbers. Afterward, I realized “cashless” coffee shops, cafés, and take-out spots are everywhere. It also struck me that these businesses force people to adopt a way of shopping and living that not everyone wants, and that in doing so they create a gulf between people who can shop at these businesses and people who can’t.

The more I thought about it, the more these businesses began to infuriate me. Are these business owners trying to keep out certain customers? What about children? Or people who are paid in cash, or others who, for whatever reason, can’t or won’t open a bank account (because they are undocumented, for example, or do not have a home or a fixed address)? What about tourists who simply want to avoid bank exchange rates? What about other people who, quite reasonably, don’t love the idea of companies like Apple and Square being able to track their complete purchase histories?

And aren’t the businesses that refuse to accept cash really just sending a not-so-subtle message about the types of customers they want?

“We already have so many forms of stigma and discrimination in this country,” says Bill Maurer, a UC Irvine professor who also directs the Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion, “and now we are adding mode of payment to the list — if we start marking belonging by ‘means of payment,’ that’s a big problem.” Maurer, who coordinates research in over 40 countries about the impact of new payment technologies on people’s well-being, encourages everyone to seriously think about the long-term ramifications of a “cashless revolution” — but that doesn’t seem to bother cash-free advocates too much.

“Cash is our main competitor; I don’t envy being in cash’s position,” a Visa spokesperson told me recently. In summer of 2017, the credit-card company announced a “cashless challenge” that would award a $10,000 prize to businesses that went completely cash-free. The cashless challenge, the spokesperson explained, was designed to “make it okay to say I am cash free, and hopefully encourage others to come forward, too.”

For the full story, please visit -