Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Liz Losh's Guest Blog: Taking Mobile Money Out for a Test Drive
The next panel on "Mobile Money: Adoption, Uptake & Transformation" was filled with both facts and figures and narratives about inclusion and alienation. In "An Assessment of Adoption and Use of Mobile Money Services in East Africa: Case Studies from Uganda and Tanzania" by Batilda Moshy and Paul Mukwaya, researchers examined the customers' experiences with companies like MTN, Airtel, and UTL in Uganda and Vodacom, Airtel, and TIGO in Tanzania to assess how "social cultural" factors play a role in adoption, although the presentation opened with responses to more conventional survey questions about ease of accessibility, security, convenience, decreased travel time to service points, cheaper costs, good service, and decreased time spent queuing. Mukwaya pointed out that customers' and potential customers' decision-making and perceptions might also be shaped by the company first in the market, as in the case of MTN in Uganda.
They noted the importance of acknowledging instabilities and network failures, and -- like many researchers on the day's previous panel -- they asserted the importance of branding, customer care, and managing vendors. They claimed that successful awareness campaigns included several media outlets and road shows. They also observed that unregistered users could be incentivized to become registered users by "walled gardens" that made certain services more expensive.
In "Differences Between Fee Structure of Mobile Money Technologies and Traditional Banking Systems, Social Psychological Determinants and Service Uptake: A Case Study of Uganda," Bruno Yawe and Tinah Nassali used interviews with officials from the bank of Uganda to understand how fee structures might shape the attitudes of potential users. Although researchers complained about how challenging it could be to get data from banks and grappled with the complexity of accounting for transactions across the Uganda-Kenya border, they were able to show that large amounts of mobile money was banked in in customers' accounts and that it was used for many purposes, including the payment of school fees.
Jose L. Estuar introduced his talk on "Mobile Phone Cash In Cash Out Service in a Frontier Area: The Dynamics of New Money Technology and Embedded Systems of Money Relationships" with the official video above from CGAP, which showed a fluent montage of images of GCASH usage, but he also presented less polished videography from his ethnographic work with 43 households in a frontier village on a remote peninsula in the Philippines, where he also studied financial diaries. Estuar's videos showed the arduous journey by boat to his field site and card-playing in unlit domestic urban interiors to give his audience a stronger sense of place. In explaining his research on cash in and cash out services, he also said that "we will tell the stories as we go along" of "social and cultural relationships. Estuar characterized the larger project of his research as an exploration of "embedded money relationships" in the "money ecology of a frontier area."
Following Viviana Zelizer -- the Princeton sociologist who studies how interpersonal connections enter into the production, distribution, consumption, and transfer of economic value, Estuar described himself as interested in subjects who are "partly autonomous" and in interdependent relationships that are historically variable rather than in financial analysis that focuses exclusively on impersonal instruments or objectifiers. He also made no claims of finality: as he explained, “for now we tell stories of this work in progress.”
The Philippines is a country that Estuar said had reached 43% penetration with mobile phone use. As he joked, the nation even had Angry Birds, and he showed an image of Filipino spokesperson apl.de.ap of the Black Eyed Peas as an endorser of mobile phone technology. His research focused on an area outside of Manilla, which was hard to reach but not totally inaccessible and located in a spot that was not an island but might as well be, because there was no road, and visitors had to choose between travel by boat or attempting to navigate the dense thicket. His methodology involved a housing index in which domiciles might be named "house 1," "house 2," or "house 3." He reflected about how these houses related to each other in terms of money and how they might be at different stages. As he observed, "scholars call it dependency; we call it something else . . . a relationship." Although he granted that the question might remain if such a relationship was unfair, he argued that Mark Granovetter's embeddeddness theory encouraged scholars to explore how social relationships might include a seemingly exploitative boat owner.
The irony that Estuar emphasized was that a telecommunications device had been put into the hands of people in this remote area of the Philippines seemingly in order to make expansion beyond a tight circle of social relationships possible, so they could exercise more economic independence. However, ultimately the device facilitated existing relationships rather than established new relationships, particularly among people with a strong preference for face-to-face interaction rather than neutral exchanges with remote markets.