Thursday, January 16, 2020

Emotional Currency: How Money Shapes Human Relationships

IMTFI Director Bill Maurer interviewed on NPR's Hidden Brain, with Shankar Vedantam, Parth Shah, Tara Boyle, Jennifer Schmidt.

There's a story you may have heard before about what the world look like before money was invented. It's a story built on the idea of barter.

"It goes something like this: in the beginning, before there was money, if I had something that you needed, I would approach you with that thing and see if you had anything that I needed," says anthropologist Bill Maurer.

"The problem is that when we look around the world and in the historical and archaeological record for instances of this kind of direct barter, unfortunately we don't find it."

This week on Hidden Brain, we challenge established ideas about the origins of currency, and highlight the connection between money and relationships.

"Society is a thing of ongoing continuous relationships. The settling and unsettling of debts, on and on and on and on and on."

Listen to the interview podcast here:

Thursday, January 9, 2020

The Lessons of Fintech Apps: Design Matters for Personal Finance​

by Bill Maurer, UCI; Melissa Wrapp, UCI; Chandra L. Middleton, UCI; Vivian Dzokoto, Virginia Commonwealth University; and Jenny Fan, UCI

This research report from Filene's Center of Excellence, the Center of Emerging Technology at UC Irvine provides lessons to credit unions that may help ​improve how their services are​ perceived and that may help ​activate deeper engagement ​with younger members.

Executive Summary
Fintech-based personal financial management (PFM) apps are providing new ways for budgeting and investing. In an effort to attract or retain Gen Z and Millennial members, financial institutions have been quick to adopt products similar to Mint or Acorns. In the race to provide these services, few financial institutions have reviewed and explored the value that such products provide, and how people interact with and feel about budgeting and investing with these new apps.

What Is the Research About?
Filene piloted a study that tested three PFM apps for budgeting (Mint, Wally, and You Need A Budget) and two for investing (Stash and Acorns). Twenty-seven participants between the ages of 18 and 34 used an assigned app for one month. Each participant was interviewed before and after using the app. Focus groups were held to provide additional insights.

We set out to learn three things from this study:
  • How do people use these apps? And how does the design of the apps shape the user experience?
  • What are the apps really teaching users? Are there conflicting messages to “buy” in budgeting apps? And how do users’ behaviors change as a result of using the apps?
  • How effective are the apps at getting people to improve their financial behaviors?
Surprisingly, we learned that traditional financial institutions are still preferred over PFM apps. Although the apps have their benefits, people still want access to actual people in their financial institutions. In terms of design shaping the user experience, good design begets credibility. Poorly functioning or shoddy-looking apps eroded trust in the financial institution.

The apps tended to raise awareness of participants’ budgeting or investing behaviors rather than change behaviors. For some, using the apps reinforced preexisting frustration or stress participants felt about their financial lives. With investment apps, some participants felt that the gamification of the apps promoted addictive behaviors.

Read additional takeaways, download the full report, and view summary slides here:

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Libra's biggest problem? Facebook

Bill Maurer, IMTFI Director, anthropology and law professor and social sciences dean in Wired, Dec. 5, 2019

Credit: Mike McQuade

Digital currency Libra needs Facebook's global reach to succeed, but the social network is also the biggest driver of its backlash. As regulators gather, controversy reigns.

…As the controversy rages on, Bill Maurer, the dean of social sciences at the University of California, Irvine, sees a missed opportunity to have necessary discussions about important issues with the world’s financial systems and the impacts on democracy. “In a way, I think, unfortunately, because it is Facebook, it's just, ‘get them in front of us on the TV cameras, and let's yell and scream at them about privacy and security’,” he says.

For the full story, please visit

Monday, November 25, 2019

In Search of the Human Face of Artificial Intelligence

by Bill Maurer and Daivi Rodima-Taylor in Backchannels, Society for Social Studies of Science (4S)

“Once bots gained human rights, a wave of legislation swept through many governments and economic coalitions that later became known as the Human Rights Indenture Laws. They established the rights of indentured robots, and, after a decade of court battles, established the rights of humans to become indentured, too. After all, if human-equivalent beings could be indentured, why not humans themselves?” – Annalee Newitz, Autonomous
Figure 1. At the Symposium. Credits: Daivi Rodima-Taylor

We recognize the grim logic governing unfree labor in Annalee Newitz’s 2017 novel about future forms of property. Contemporary forms of human slavery and indenture occupy the same world as new intelligent computational systems and human-computational assemblages that are shifting the nature of work and contract—see, for instance, ride hailing, which is only a prelude to broader changes in augmented labor relations. This conjuncture brings to the fore urgent questions of autonomy, infrastructure, and ethics.

The symposium “The Human Face of Artificial Intelligence: Infrastructures, Narratives, Ethics” that took place at the University of California, Irvine on October 17, 2019, brought together an interdisciplinary and international group of scholars to discuss new challenges and opportunities around the systems of AI. Broadly defined as intelligent automated systems that can analyze their environment, make decisions and adapt their behavior by learning from experience, systems of AI steadily permeate social and political spaces, fomenting novel conversations about law, ethics, governance, sociality, and humanity.

If a complex AI system malfunctions and causes harm to humans, who or what should be found liable and according to which criteria? Should AI be viewed as a mere technological tool, or an autonomous agent with a free will? How does artificial intelligence reshape our conversations about legal personhood and human spirituality within this increasingly complex intersection of humanity and technology? Exploring the conceptualizations of a legal person in the history of Anglo-American jurisprudence, Summer Kim of UCI Law School discussed the challenges around prescribing new rights and obligations to artificially intelligent autonomous agents. Reflecting on lessons from arguments that corporations have used to enjoy some of the rights that natural persons have, she examined the ways how corporate law could guide the responsible use of technology in society.

Read the full post on Backchannels, Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) here:

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Loy Loy: The Financial Education Board Game for Everyone

By Mrinalini Tankha, Portland State University on the Consortium of Practicing and Applied Anthropologists

Ethnocharettes, role-playing, simulation games, and other embodied pedagogical strategies are receiving increased attention in the field of anthropology. They are also increasingly being used to teach the basic principles of money and finance. These experiential teaching tools provide learners an opportunity to “switch sides” and take on the role of people facing financial hardships. This creates empathy and a more nuanced and critical understandings of socio-economic problems.

Loy Loy: The Savings Board Game

Loy Loy (“Money Money” in Khmer) is a financial education board game developed by a team of anthropologists and economists at the Institute for Money, Technology & Financial Inclusion (IMTFI) at the University of California, Irvine, the Department of Banking and Finance at Monash University, and the Department of Anthropology at Portland State University. Loy Loy is a role-playing game where players take on the roles of Cambodian women workers in a Rotating Savings and Credit Association (ROSCA), earning monthly wages while making monthly contributions to their local savings group. Each month a different player gets a turn to take the pot of savings collected by the ROSCA. As players go through the game, they are hit with unforeseen expenses, but also collect windfalls and have a chance to invest in assets. Intended as an antidote to monopoly, the end goal of the game is for players to collectively save enough money to purchase a garment factory together. The game forces players to cooperate and support one another; everyone loses if any one player goes bankrupt!

Expense and Asset Cards
Loy Loy provides a window into the complexity of financial decision making for people living on the edge of poverty. It educates players about alternative and collective forms of finance where community relationships act as safety nets and provide more immediate ways of confronting economic hardship. In a creative and fun environment, the game demonstrates the ways money and financial instruments are socially and culturally embedded in value systems, mutual obligations and negotiations of morality, while also teaching basic savings and money managing skills and financial literacy concepts such as risk management, income smoothing through credit, value return on investment, and liquidity.

Loy Loy is intended for a broad audience, from high school and university students to financial literacy advocates, educators, and policymakers in non-profits, banks, businesses, and government engaged in financial education programs. Loy Loy is therefore not only an innovative active learning tool for anthropology students but also an example of anthropology in action that breaks out of the ivory tower to educate a wider public engaged in poverty alleviation and financial inclusion.

Pilot testing Loy Loy at my Cultures of Money & Finance course at Portland State University

Loy Loy is currently in the pilot-testing phase of product development. It has already been tested at several universities, international development conferences, credit unions, community organizations, NGOs and foundations. It was also recently on view at the British Museum as part of an exhibition titled Playing with Money: Currency and Games.

Members of The Cambodian Family Community Center in Orange County playtesting Loy Loy

Please buy the game and join us in playtesting Loy Loy! We would also love to receive your feedback. This contributes to the iterative design process and will enhance the experience and playability of the game.

To purchase the game:

 Loy Loy website:

For more information, contact: Mrinalini Tankha or

Read more about Loy Loy at the Geek Anthropologist, Analog Game Studies, LA Times, Medium, and IMTFI.

View original post here:


JOIN US! Next Friday, November 22nd

12-4pm at the AAAs in Vancouver

For those attending the American Anthropological Association (AAA) conference 
Loy Loy has an installation on
11/22/2019 from 12:00 PM to 4:00 PM 
CC EAST | Exhibition Hall A  | East Convention Level

Come by the table, check out Loy Loy, and 
get stamped with IMTFI's very own 3-D Harriet Tubman stamp from Dano Wall!


Thursday, October 31, 2019

Mediating microinsurance: the techniques of translation

Article in the Journal of Cultural Economy by Christopher Paek, The American Institutes for Research


Over the past decade, microinsurance has taken off in South Africa. The strength of this market is fuelled almost exclusively by funeral insurance, unsurprising considering the immense cultural value South Africans place on funerals. Moreover, insurance companies have achieved scale by working through brokers who are embedded within community-based institutions like burial societies and funeral parlours. The incursion of ‘insurance culture’ into this sphere has thus resulted in an ecosystem in which formal and informal institutions are in fluid states of tension and cooperation. Mediators sustain this ecosystem and enable the extension of microinsurance into low-income communities. I employ Bruno Latour’s notion of ‘translation’ in my analysis of three types of mediators: insurance agents, funeral parlour operators, and burial society administrators. The paper, which is based on fieldwork I conducted in Cape Town, South Africa, focuses on these actors’ specific techniques of translation, i.e. the different strategies/practices used to reconcile the disparate rationalities and institutions of the formal insurance system with those of the informal risk management sphere. An analysis attuned to the various social identities and positions embodied by these brokers reveals the dislocations, ambiguities, conflicts, and opportunities generated by the expansion of microinsurance markets into the low-income terrain.

Access Journal of Cultural Economy:

Access through ResearchGate:

Read up on original IMTFI-funded research project:

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Cash as a Public Good - the Expert View

Currency News interviewed IMTFI Director and Professor Bill Maurer and Dr. Ursula Dalinghaus about the role of cash as a public good and the IMTFI following the release of Cash Matters white paper, "Virtually Irreplaceable: Cash As Public Infrastructure", authored by Dr. Dalinghaus, affiliated scholar at the IMTFI.

L: Maurer, UCI/IMTFI; R: Dalinghaus, Ripon College/IMTFI

Q: What is the main focus of the institute?

BM: We want to understand how people’s diverse interactions with money are being reshaped by new technologies, from new payment platforms to things like artificial intelligence in providing financial advice or in creating alternatives to traditional credit scores.

But, again this is crucial, we focus on the user side of the equation, on people’s actual interactions with money and these technologies, down to the level of questions like, where do they keep their money, and why? What does their daily transactional life look like? What are the diverse systems and beliefs that inform their money practices?

We developed the concepts of monetary ecology and monetary repertoires to capture this people-centered approach to money and technology.

Q: IMTFI was initially funded by the Gates Foundation, major supporters of the Better than Cash Alliance. The IMTFI is neutral when it comes to payments; however, there is an increasing focus on cash. What caused this development?

BM: We realized pretty quickly that there were a couple of very general things going on, almost everywhere around the world.

First, most of the new mobile money systems in which the Gates Foundation was initially interested as potentially banking the unbanked were in fact serving as payment rails – not as means of saving but as a means of moving money. This made us focus more and more on payment systems as a distinctive area of research.

Second, pretty much universally, we found that new systems were not replacing old ones; they were instead being added into the mix. People would use one payment method for one kind of transaction, and other payment methods for others. But nothing was replacing anything else. I think a lot of people initially thought that things like mobile money would displace cash. Instead, mobile money became a way for people more efficiently to move money and access it in the form of cash.

Q: What is the key takeaway of your white paper on cash as a public good?

UD: That physical cash will continue to have a vital and complementary role to play alongside digital well into the future, not only as a method of payment but also as a democratizing force – an important form of power-sharing between issuer and user that is distinct from digital-based money.

One reason is that people value the ability to choose from multiple payment forms. Another, even more substantial argument for cash, is that the cash infrastructure serves a vital public role since cash can circulate independently of its issuer and it can work offline.

Read full interview in this excerpt of Currency News, Vol 17 - No. 8/August 2019.

Read original post, "Bill Maurer, Director of the Institute for Money, Technology & Financial Inclusion (IMTFI), talks about the ongoing relevance of cash"

The Director of the IMTFI is Professor Bill Maurer, Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Fellow of the Filene Research Institute, Dean of the School of Social Sciences and Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. He will also be one of the keynote speakers at the ICA’s Global Currency Forum 2020 in Barcelona.

Dr Dalinghaus, Visiting Professor of Anthropology at Ripon College, is also an affiliated scholar at the Institute for Money, Technology & Financial Inclusion (IMTFI), University of California at Irvine, which has made itself a name as one of the leading institutes when it comes to the role of money in people’s daily lives and practices, and to the best way to go about financial inclusion.