Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Rough Going: Mobile Money's Agency in Everyday Behavior & Practices

In the third panel at the IMTFI annual conference researchers described frustrations and challenges involved in the introduction of mobile money practices. Mani Nandhi and Deepti Kc's "Evolving Participatory Relationships for Uplifting Urban Poor Rickshaw Pullers: Next Step Forward" detailed the difficulties of rickshaw pullers living in illegal housing in slums, 95% of whom rely on informal methods, in moving toward the formal economy.  (Nandhi has presented research at prior IMTFI and appears in the photograph above.)  Researchers used the model of "action research" aimed at 50 pullers. She explained that her plan to implement and study financial change included providing rickshaw drivers with UIDs (unique identification cards) that were issued India government as a way not only to facilitate social mobilization but also to build trust.  After obtaining the UID AADHAR card, rickshaw pullers could open a mobile banking account, but pullers’ willingness to participate was extremely limited because of cynicism, disbelief, distrust. and lack of enthusiasm grounded in past histories of financial failure.  With the initial implementation plan, researchers found it took 61 days for pullers to get accounts that should have been immediately set up, and the first puller failed to deposit successfully  The CSP also lacked sensitivity, because they focused on markets for remittances not saving.  Field workers also had to deal with a range of chicken and egg problems among the dispossessed outside of the formal economy.  Thus they undertook a change in field strategy by linking with ICICI-EKO mobile banking, which allowed rickshaw pullers to immediately see rewards.  Nonetheless pullers still suffered from post-purchase anxiety, particularly given their desire for a familiar brand and the absence of ATM facilities.  She argued that this change in strategy in the "race to bank" was sometimes less like leading a horse to water and more like pushing mountains.

Vivian Afi Dzokoto and Elizabeth Appiah followed with more stories about challenges to adoption in "Making Sense of Mobile Money in Urban Ghana: Personal, Business, Social and Financial Inclusion Prospects," which studied 1250 people polled on mobile money use and derived rich data from ten in-depth interviews.  Appiah presented poll research, and Dzokoto observed that the interviews revealed that it was the financial situation that shaped adoption of the technology not the personality of a given user, since adopters were not particularly technophilic.  Often users adopted the technology under duress because a particular person was in a bind and needed to send money quickly.  The two researchers also drew on industry data, although because of companies' desires to keep statistics confidential, they couldn't reveal all their sources to document a slide showing the steady growth of mobile money.  One company made its own employees enroll in mobile money, but the expectations of providers and users clearly differed dramatically, and many were slow to seek payments through this technology.  For examples, when researchers suggested that mobile money could be used for church donations and tithing, informants responded with a "strange look" and defended the importance of cash as a marker of inclusion in rituals. Researchers argued that "Ghana will need to build a whole mobile money ecosystems," because agents argue that profit margins are too low  for them, so that it is actually "more profitable to sell bagged water."  When "nobody is driving the agent relationship," and customers suffer from the absence of agents and lack of cash, matters are worsened by an "information gap."  Nonetheless, researchers also reported a lot of optimism from the telco sector, even if competition made it difficult for them to acknowledge that they were "all in it there together."  Statements that "we will get there" and that "the building blocks are there" and promises that there were new marketing strategies that they were not at liberty to discuss ended the presentation on a positive note, although the country as a whole was still 97% still cash based.

Anatoly Gusto and Emily Roque's "Delivering Cash Grants to Indigenous Peoples Through ATM and GCASH Remit: Boon or Bane? The Case of Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Conditional Cash Transfer Program in the Philippines" also presented a sobering picture of the obstacles involved in delivering cash grants to indigenous people.  Researchers compared two types of cash distribution -- over-the counter distribution and ATM distribution -- in CCT or Conditional Cash Transfer programs, which are social programs that provide money subsidies to poor families, although disbursement of funds is conditional on sending children to school or sending them to health centers.  Roque explained differences between the education and heath systems.  For example, 85% attendance in school is required for eligibility in the education program, and parent leaders inform payees about where and when the next payments will occur.  Researchers gathered data from the Department of Social Welfare & Development, from the Land Bank, and from the beneficiaries themselves.  They surveyed thirty people from each group with a population drawn from Palawan in the southern Philippines, focusing on Rizal for over-the-counter distribution and Brook’s Point, which included both ATM and OTC.  The ATM experience was hardly friction-free, since users were exposed to heat and rain, and the process could take the whole day.  Although the OTC experience had shade and a roof to recommend it, the distribution site was still far from the community, so it still could take a whole day, despite a faster time with disbursement by human individuals.  Beneficiaries could only withdraw "what’s left" in their disbursement, so many reported "feeling happy" about perceived saving in meriting a bigger amount in next payout.  Nonetheless, researchers found that users were afraid to use an ATM card since it might be captured by a machine, and the limited currencies of the bills in ATM machines created problems for merchants limited in how they make change.  Over-the-counter distribution also was stymied by a fear of outsiders and rumors about putting tattoos on organs for users to participate in the system.  They also noted differences between the fall-back economies of Rizal (barter) and Brook’s Point.  Sadly Gusto had to fast forward through slides about gender relations and the use of plastic bags as storage to move toward the pair's conclusions about introducing the concept of money to some IP beneficiaries.  Of course, some spent money on the intended uses – education or health – but others merely took advantage of increased financial liquidity.  As Gusto noted in showing the cash in the plastic bag, money was perceived by beneficiaries as a medium of exchange not a way to store value.  He suggested that institutional partners should recognize the need to emphasize saving.  He also said that beneficiaries should be considered as "we" not "I" participants.  He concluded with a slide of the infamous "Gangnam style" dance and argued that financial practices were "like learning to dance" a "signature move," because they were not about the individual but about the group.

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