Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Use of m-money for conditional cash transfers in the Philippines: Part 1 of 3

By Erwin A. Alampay based upon his IMTFI funded research with Charlie Cabotaje

Design-Reality Gaps in the Use of M-money for Conditional Cash Transfers in the Philippines

Conditional cash transfers (CCTs) are programs that transfer cash to poor household beneficiaries on the condition that they regularly accomplish a set of human development tasks on a regular basis. These are often related to investments in the health and educational well-being of their children that are also monitored. Most CCT programs move transfers through the mother (Fiszbein & Schady 2009).

CCT Distribution by GRemit merchants in San Jose, Mindoro Oriental
Photo credit: Charlie E. Cabotaje
In the Philippines, the conditional cash transfer program is called the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) and is overseen by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). It is a human development program that invests in the health and education of the poor, particularly those with children between 0-14 years of age. As of June 2013, the program had already enrolled 3.9 million households. The amount disbursed has also grown by 3300% in 5 years, to almost Php34B (about 753M US$) in 2013. Given the program’s scale, whereby beneficiaries are given cash grants of between Php1600-2800 (35-62US$) every two months, one of the main challenges is logistical, given the limited access to banking services in a country that is composed of more than 7000 islands.

Growth in funding allocated to CCT 2008-2013 (Source DSWD)

At present, DSWD uses various channels for sending the CCT. The basic design is through Landbank of the Philippines (LBP) and the use of cash cards. Ms. Antoinette Duero, from the DSWD’s Financial Management Service, estimates that around 40% use cash cards and the rest (60%) uses other conduits, like Philpost, GRemit, etc. They estimate that operationally, they only have around 20% with logistical problems overall (for example people may face significant costs in terms of transportation to get to the payout site, absence of alternative channels, etc.). The majority (80%), DSWD finds ‘manageable’.    

GRemit as a conduit 

On November 5, 2010, DSWD and LBP engaged the services of Globe Telecom in the pilot implementation of the distribution of cash grants using the GCash Remit service, the telecommunications company’s cash pick-up service. Since the pilot, was considered a success, the DSWD decided to expand to more areas using the same service. By 2011, the service was serving about 300,000 beneficiaries and distributing approximately PhP 1 billion (22M US$) in cash grants to almost 70 areas in 16 remote districts in the country. This was said to have made the act of claiming grants more convenient for beneficiaries who used to spend money and time for their transportation to, and queuing up in banks and distribution centers but has also spurred local economic activities as the beneficiaries were more likely to spend their grants in their community (Bold, 2011).  

Design-Reality Gaps on mobile money use

GCash is the mobile money technology that Globe Telecom developed over a decade ago. Among the potential advantages of GCash, and mobile money in general, is its supposed efficiency and security features. In reality, however, the primary consideration for DSWD was to get a partner with a presence in the different areas and districts in the country where they needed to disburse the grants, particularly those where there is no Landbank present and no rural bank available to help disburse the grants. For instance in Balabac in Palawan where GRemit was first piloted, there were no rural banks, and GRemit was the only option they knew at the time. It was noted that initially, beneficiaries were made to travel to the next municipality of Bataraza (or Brooke’s Point) to claim their grants, however this posed security issues for the beneficiaries and significant transportation costs. According to DSWD's Regional Program Coordinator, Mr. Vincent Obcena, “We (initially) had to have the beneficiaries go to the nearest Landbank (in Brooke’s Point or Batarraza). This would cost the beneficiaries several hundred pesos, sometimes 300-500 pesos even.”

Bringing the bank to them

Photo credit: Charlie E. Cabotaje
Another option was to bring Landbank to the municipality through the use of land and air transportation. Mr. Obcena described the logistical challenge of implementing the distribution in 2009: “We even used a helicopter to bring the money, because it was risky for LandBank to transport it by public transportation and boat. That was a risk they did not want (to take on). However, it was also not always possible to have the money brought in by helicopter, and it was not sustainable because it was expensive."

It was noted that the design of its implementation never considered what mobile money technology had to offer. In Mr. Obcena’s words the m-money model does not apply in this case because: “there was no use of the technology by the beneficiary.”

It is worth paying closer attention to the way that money actually passed across the different groups involved in the transactions. To explain how it works, we have an extended quote from a DSWD regional staff member:

"There is no use of (mobile money or mobile phones) technology among the beneficiaries. Instead, beneficiaries are given transaction slips by DSWD with codes. They gave this to the GRemit merchant who will enter the code for verification before remitting the cash. It is only the merchant who has a GCash account in this arrangement. They put the code that DSWD generated at the central office, and texts this back to GRemit. They needed this then because they could not verify the GCash transfer without the code. This was done individually, and not in bulk, as a control measure in case the beneficiary did not appear on the day of the release for funds.  Merchants then get paid per transaction  by GRemit (per beneficiary who are able to collect their CCT) and GRemit, in turn is paid by LandBank of the Philippines."

Ms. Duero, from the DSWD central office, says this is a way for GRemit to monitor their merchants, considering also that these merchants are just accredited by GRemit and not really part of their company. The text sent by the merchant to GRemit is their way of monitoring if beneficiaries were paid and by how much. This is also important because GRemit and the merchant also have an internal fee sharing arrangement for each transaction. The argument (for the sharing) is that even as the merchant provides the manpower and direct field contact, Globe provides the technology and infrastructure. 

Photo credit: Charlie E. Cabotaje
Unfortunately, the design as stated, never really took into consideration how the mobile money technology can be more beneficial for cash transfers. Such a model has been demonstrated to be possible, as Aker, et. al  (2011) have documented in Niger. In the Philippines, the U.N. is also piloting a similar scheme, but this time, partnering with SMART Money as part of a cash for work program to rehabilitate communities affected by Typhoon Haiyan (see Lee-Brago 2013).

As such, among those who qualified for the bidding, GRemit was outbid in early 2013 by MLhuillier, a remittance company with a nationwide network of pawnshops. Partly this was because GRemit did not really have the technological advantage working for it, and MLhuillier’s network could just as easily compare with Globe’s network of merchants. Among the considerations for those who participated in the bid was the matter of cost but also their capacity to deliver the grants down to the barangay-level (community-level).

However, it is also unlikely that the 20% of the population that DSWD finds problematic will be solved through a truly mobile money based system. According to Ms. Duero, the problem for mobile money in those cases would be very basic: some beneficiaries do not have cellphones and some areas lack cell sites and have poor cell signals. More likely, m-money can work in the 80% that DSWD finds less difficulty.  However, if they are not as problematic and is already manageable, why should DSWD consider this as an option? 

Where mobile money can help will be discussed in my next blog, part 2 of 3: “The Potential and feasibility of m-money for CCT in the Philippines: where mobile money can help.”

Monday, March 24, 2014

Gender Inclusion - Financial Inclusion

Supriya Singh, Professor of Sociology at RMIT in Australia, blogs about the need for the gender of money to be a key aspect of the policy of financial inclusion.

"This will mean two conceptual changes in regulatory and banking policy. Firstly, regulation and ‘suitable’ banking services will need to consider money as both a social and market phenomenon. The use of financial services has to be seen in the context of money as a medium of social relationships; men and women’s management and control of money in the home; migration and remittances; and access to mobile technologies. Secondly, gender will become an important implementation and monitoring measure for financial inclusion and economic empowerment..."

Read more over on the Smart Services CRC Research Group's blog

Monday, March 17, 2014

What can ethnography contribute to microfinance research?

IMTFI researcher, Erin B. Taylor gets qualitative in her latest blog on ethnography and microfinance:

Money costs
"A problem with microfinance is that profit margins have to be very narrow to keep costs down.
If prices rises even a little, the world’s poorest people–for whom these products are intended–will not be able to afford them. This is why it is often necessary to keep a product range simple...

Private/public partners
"Where a market alone cannot support a product, non-profit funders (such as NGOs and multilateral development banks) may step in to provide support. This has been the case with both microcredit and mobile money, both of which are profit / non-profit hybrids....

Getting qualitative
"Qualitative research, such as ethnography, can reveal patterns of behaviour that we never would have expected. The best example of this that I have come across in recent times is David Stoll’s study of a Guatemalan village, described in his 2013 book “El Norte or Bust!: How Migration Fever and Microcredit Produced a Financial Crash in a Latin American Town.”

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Today, Transactions: A Payments Archives launched a new occasional series of short videos on the material cultures of payment, money, and debt. These pieces pair academic experts with objects from the human transactional archive, drawing on the collections of the Institute for Money, Technology & Financial Inclusion and others. We are thrilled to launch this experiment with a commentary by Keith Hart (Centennial Professor of Economic Anthropology, London School of Economics), who took a break during a recent visit to IMTFI to discuss a kina shell necklace from our collection and its connections to the history of anthropological thinking about money, gifts, and exchange. As always, please consult Transactions' Contribute page if you would like to get involved in the video series or other initiatives. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Mobile Money Payments in Ghana: Part One, Private Intervention

By Yaw Owusu-Agyeman and Abena Offe

The World Bank report of 2012 indicates that global mobile phone subscription now stands at 6 billion. This figure represents approximately 75 percent of the world’s population. In Ghana, the present mobile phone penetration of 98% makes it a fertile ground for the promotion of mobile money activities. Statistics from the World Bank Report show that between GLO, MTN and Airtel there are 5.4 million subscribers with total daily transactions of approximately GHC (Ghana Cedi) 16.5 million. Nonetheless there is a lack of penetration in rural areas.

Photo by Yaw Owusu-Agyeman and Abena Offe
Over the course of two blog posts we will look at the different roles that private technology companies and the government of Ghana can play in promoting mobile money uptake. We are interested in looking at responsibility, awareness, uptake, promotional material, stakeholder conferences and gaps between rural and urban dwellers.

Several factors account for the low patronage of digital financial services and payment systems in the urban and rural communities in Ghana. Some of these factors include; fear of losing money that is stored electronically, lack of trust in the digital financial payment systems, time lost in engaging on electronic transaction while physical contacts could provide results and lack of proper information on the advantages of using mobile money.

The Role of the Private Sector

The need to increase the number of mobile money users in Ghana calls for diverse strategies from the various Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) involved. Some of the strategies include: media advertisements, sales promotion strategies and the use of retail agents to sell the products. While government is expected to play a significant role in the expansion of mobile telecommunication in Ghana, the role of MNOs in the development of appropriate products and distribution systems cannot be underestimated. This was evident during a Ghana based IMTFI/GTUC conference where all the MNOs in the mobile money business took turns to explain to participants their network system and how they had worked over the years to increase their customer base. What was missing however was a collaborative effort among the three MNOs to develop a sustainable strategy to educate mobile phone users to include mobile money in their daily business transactions. Another issue that came up was about the funding of such an advertising drive. Some MNOs indicated that they could not solely fund the adverts since the benefits would go to all the companies involved. One main awareness creation strategy that the study identified was the use of mini durbars (festival) to explain to a particular community, the benefits of mobile money.

Photo by Yaw Owusu-Agyeman and Abena Offe
Challenges in Network Operations

The challenges mobile phone users face with respect to network connectivity came up in discussions at the conference and most presenters and discussants noted that the MNOs should ensure their network had very minimal challenges since mobile money uptake in Ghana also depends on the ‘strength’ of connectivity. Some participants advised the MNOs to get state of the art technology to augment their existing equipment in order to provide quality services to their clients while they also consider expanding their operations to the rural communities where individuals cannot have access.

Relationship between Mobile Network Operators and Consumers

Some respondents we interviewed at the conference were of the opinion that there is a big disconnect between the MNO products and the larger audience, a problem we encountered in our own investigations and data collection.

As one respondent explained: "I do not think that partnerships as suggested will be the ideal solution because it will only lead to additional costs which are punitive to the poor. The rural banks seem to play a crucial role in providing banking services to the rural population. I believe the rural banks could be the starting point (entry point) since people have confidence in them. Let rural banks rollout agents with their identity to reach out to the poor further in the interior.” 

Problems included apprehension on the part of some respondents because they had very little idea about the rationale of the researchers; fear of disclosing information about their businesses; and suspicion of the researchers because of the prevalent cases of fraud in the districts by people from outside the community.

Engaging the Informal Sector

The informal sector continues to be Ghana’s leading sector in the employment of people and most participants indicated that the informal sector should be the focal point in the development of mobile money transactions in Ghana. Various presenters from the telecommunications organizations took time to discuss the market potential of their products and services while identifying the benefits of their products to people in the informal sector. Some participants indicated that programs designed for mobile money uptake should include people from the informal sectors as well as opinion leaders from the various surrounding communities.

The conference organizers were able to inform the MNOs to do their presentations in the local dialects as well and this allowed the market women to present their challenges in the use of mobile money to the MNOs. When conferences are held, the language used in communicating should also not be restricted to English alone but more importantly, the use of indigenous languages should be paramount.  One respondent indicated that: “a critical attention needs to be looked at with regard to the rural, uneducated and educated. So far I have observed that we are not able to resolve the problem facing our rural folks and this has resulted in the seeming bottlenecks in mobile money uptake. Secondly, a separate body needs to be set up to act as an intermediary between banks (rural and private) and the end user. The appropriate means already exist as more than 99% of the population use mobile phones.”

Photo by Yaw Owusu-Agyeman and Abena Offe
Our Results

Our study brought to light the difficulties retailers encounter in their day to day activities. It was noted that mobile network operators (MNOs) were quite reluctant to train retailers because they felt that retailers were not under any obligation to serve their interest but rather have every incentive to switch to represent rival companies. This factor seems to be a major setback for mobile money uptake in Ghana. Most of the retailers interviewed were either disinterested in mobile money services or were completely ignorant about the benefits of the product. The lack of enthusiasm about mobile money was a major concern. An intensive educational campaign is recommended to boost the current adoption levels. This may be achieved with collaboration between mobile network operators, retailers and government. The results show that although a reasonable number of retailers had heard of mobile money, very few had used the product. Their responses revealed the need for further education on the benefits of mobile money usage and the relevance of transacting business without holding cash. To increase the adoption rate in Ghana, MNOs must leverage their resources to create an awareness of mobile money and its associated benefits.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Charting Times of Change: Money Practices and Behaviors in Myanmar

There are dozens of mobile money trials globally addressing part of the financial inclusion puzzle, and, like many start-ups, many of these will fail to reach the critical mass needed to become sustainable businesses. While to transact is universal, how and why we transact is inherently local. To build new services requires not just technological, financial and regulatory nous, but a foundational understanding of local consumer needs.

Two weeks ago a team from Myanmar-based Proximity Designs, design strategy consultancy frog, and Studio D Radioduransfunded by the Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion, started a journey to map the financial landscape in Myanmar. Our aim over the two month project is to understand the formal and informal ways in which the poor transact, save, and invest. Over this period, the team will traverse the country, use services, interview dozens of farmers, traders, and day-labourers, people for whom the current formal financial instruments that each of us take for granted are mostly out of reach. Our findings will provide a foundational understanding to develop future services that meet the financial needs of the poor.

Myanmar is at a special moment in its history, with the easing of sanctions and an opening of the economy, significant inward investment, rapidly increasing land/property value (in some areas, property is more expensive than Singapore), and the introduction of 3G (2G mobile penetration is currently at 12% and according to a study by Deloitte is expected to rise to up to 50% in the next 3 years). Our research is focused on understanding the complexity of this shift. What are the current needs of a society that is primarily agrarian, and how will these needs shift as urbanisation increases? How has a turbulent and unpredictable economic and political history shaped the expectations and behaviours of the people of Myanmar? In a nation that is mostly Buddhist (with growing religious minorities) yet multi-ethnic, what roles do religion and ethnicity have in how people spend, save, and borrow? When a largely agrarian society uses the lunar calendar and harvest schedules as yardsticks of measure, how does a wholly different notion of time affect what the words “long-term,” “savings,” and “debt” mean? Finally, for a cash-centric nation in which airplane tickets are still handwritten on paper and internet connectivity (if it exists) is dependent on weather, where does the opportunity lie for technologically mediated/enabled financial tools?

Money and practices around money are never easy to research, and Myanmar presents particular challenges. The subject of income and savings is a taboo the world over, forcing any team researching the subject to come up with innovative ways to build an accurate picture. Myanmar has had a tumultuous and unpredictable political and economic past. As an example, in both 1982 and 1987, a number of banknotes were removed from circulation, rendering a percentage of peoples’ savings worthless overnight. While there is not the widespread NGO fatigue found in neighbouring countries, some contexts are still wary of outsiders. The ceasefire between the central government and ethnic regions is fragile. Significant contributors to the economy such as mining are naturally shy of researchers and probing questions. All of these factors make for an interesting research challenge. 

Myanmar is strategically wedged between China to the north/east and India to the west, countries that are garnering political, economic, and environmental attention worldwide and for whom the significance of Myanmar's development goes beyond neighbourly interest. How will Myanmar develop from here? For each comparison that is made to countries such as Thailand, South Africa, and Indonesia, we're reminded daily that there are myriad factors that make Myanmar unique.

The team's research will be published in early April 2014. To be notified when it is available, please use this form

For now, we’ll leave you with a quote from a market vendor in Shan State, which was a telling reminder of similarities and differences to what is familiar to many readers: "If I die before I repay my loan, in my next life, I’ll become a servant to the person who lent me the money." There are debts that last a lifetime. And debts that carry to the next life.

Su Mon, Yin Yin Oo, Ye Lin Oo, Aung Ko Ko, Lauren Serota, Venetia Tay and Jan Chipchase.