Friday, April 22, 2016

Trust Funds: Session Four of the 2016 Conference

"In _____We Trust: The Contingencies of Social and Financial Protection" with discussant Kate McKee of Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) began the session by polling participants about their trust relationships with banks, insurance companies, credit card companies, and spouses. She also built on earlier discussions about the differences between "knowing how" and "knowing whether" by pointing to issues about lack of choice, the disconnect among clients with efficiency discourses from industry, the "layering" of digital effects, and the understanding that the continuing "role of the state is quite important" as an entity that can "drive" efforts.

The role of mobile money in social protection networks in two rural areas of Colombia" by Maria Elisa Balen and Andrea Beltrán from the Universidad Externado de Colombia started with an explanation of how sixty years of conflict had produced over six million internally displaced people. Using the analytical triad of market, state and family, the research team focused on "social protection practices" in two field sites: Montes de María in the north and Putumayo in the south. The northern region has been suffering from a decline of tobacco production, and in the south the ups and down of illegal coca crops have been disruptive. Thus the family has to "reconfigure over a large distance." Two additional features are significant: "the state has become more present," and "mobile money becomes an interesting object of study."

The methodology of the study, which used snowballing ("someone who knows someone") and different entry points, avoided "normative perspectives of what family is" and was structured around "two decentralizations." Researchers looked at practices from a past-present-future perspective (including accounting for "how they think the future will be" and "how they want the future to be") and viewed money with "an approach allowing for diversity in conflict zones" and in the context of "other goods and services." The research team used tools like storytelling, drawing (including family maps), and workshop participation.

Participants faced a number of challenges in an environment in which regulation is designed to protect a platform being open to everyone but has yet to be enforced. Often bank intermediaries change very often, and the distribution of cash transfers also changes. When populations in those environments "don't know who they are dealing with and what they have to do to be more stable," the resulting volatility can be very relevant. Regional differences matter as well. For example, in the north the availability of cash transfers for two or three years has shaped uptake patterns. Researchers also looked at how participants treated different amounts of money differently. Among their major findings, researchers found 1) the amount of money in circulation changed in both directions, 2) money is often part of a wider web of exchange, and 3) mobile phones are present in family practices but don't appear to be influencing "technological spillover."

"Dimensions of Electronic fraud and Governance of Trust in Nigeria’s Cashless Ecosystem" by Oludayo Tade of University of Ibadan and Oluwatosin Adeniyi of University of Ibadan looked at "what trust means" and "how trust-building can be done" by examining financial fraud in the digital sector and how it might be facilitated by the trust fostered by intimate ties. They also observed a generational dimension in opportunities for deviant behavior in this "peculiar ecosystem," because of the existence of a "huge population of young people" that is "also dynamic" in which Nigerian youth may "deploy their energies" for "the right and wrong reasons." In considering the dimensions of e-fraud and how trust issues may stymie adoption of new technologies, they reminded the audience that the "internal dimension" in which a conspiracy by staff of the bank may compromise the data of the bank or improperly use technical know-how to make cash transfers. With 21.69 billion lost to 3,756 fraud cases in 2013 alone, policies pushing cashlessness can stimulate greater anxiety. Wen "trust underlies customer-bank relations," breaches cause avoidance behaviors and disrupt financial ecosystems. Fraud strategies may also involve love/fiancee, wife/husband, and son/father dyads, although transaction alerts can foil schemes, particularly for ATM card withdrawal fraud.

At this stage of the primarily qualitative study, content analysis has been done and crime narratives have been analyzed. For example, they presented The Eatery Case as an instance of "un-credited lodgment." Many scams promise to return money in two weeks time and are facilitated through text messages. They also note the "other side" of fraud in terms of governance, and how from the side of business and government, access to subscription services can be compromised

In the question and answer session the team emphasized the importance of specific context in "what you mean when you think about the unbanked." Insights from the field indicated that people were deeply invested in formal banking, and that the rhythms of life in "normal local markets" were still structured around the informal collection of daily contributions from traders. They noted that in making trade-offs, an incentive for becoming banked might be to avoid being susceptible to "increased physical attacks" and "robbery at home," in which victims would lose not only their property but also their lives. Transferring risks to a formal banking center could limit this danger. Additionally, they pointed to the affordances of existing programs for students to open accounts, which "enables you to receive money from home." They also observed that as people travel "we need to design packages that addresses customer characterizations."

"Intermediaries, Cash Economies, and Technological Change in Myanmar and India" by Janaki Srinivasan of the International Institute of Information Technology Bangalore (IIITB) and Elisa Oreglia of SOAS at the University of London examined why intermediaries might be valuable rather than vilified.

"We have most of our fieldwork ahead of us," Oreglia admitted and expressed her enthusiasm for IMTFI critique, because she and Srinivasan were "looking for feedback." She began with a story of a tea trader from the northern part of Myanmar. "In many ways she is the kind of intermediary who is portrayed as the 'bad guy' in markets." Enthusiasts for disintermediation might see her as taking "advantage of farmers who may be ignorant of prices or unable to travel" and morally compromised by her assumptions that "farmers are really dumb." In a system in which traders may "give money and clothes" that create obligations from farmers who "have to sell to us because they are indebted to us" she appears as a suspect character. But Oreglia argued that the story is "much more complicated," particularly when "cash persists as do intermediaries" despite the potential "escape" offered by mobile money. Yet "even when the same operation would be cheaper and faster" if done directly by the farmer himself, many prefer existing social, cultural, and economic norms.

Srinivasan noted how "markets that are dominated by cash" raise interesting questions about the role of intermediaries and "what value are they bringing to the market," "what value do these transactions brings to the idea of value as situated in a place," and "what constitutes value in two different places." She emphasized the importance of how different countries manifest different patterns of adoption: "mobile money is about to take off in Myanmar," but in India "mobile phones has been around for a while, but mobile money is relatively recent." Although she granted it can be challenging to map how intermediaries are able to add value or disrupt value in a summer of fieldwork, she will be looking at a site that she has worked at previously in in Kerala in a study "which is itself a revisit" of an influential study by Robert Jensen who did survey work over the course of five years. (IMTFI blog readers can peruse the article for themselves from this link to "The Digital Provide: Information (Technology), Market Performance, and Welfare in the South Indian Fisheries Sector and read an account of Srinivasan's first IMTFI presentation with Jenna Burrell and Richa Kumar here

Srinivasan believes that terms like "producer" or "seller" may actually be more complicated categories characterized by differences of investment, size of fishing crafts and operational costs, and even various types of fish. Thus "the story of a sardine" may be different from the story of another fish. In particular, the role of the auctioneer may be important as well as issues of religion and gender that differentiate Janaki's field site in the Christian south and Jensen's in the Muslim north. Although the middleman is "the person that everyone wants to remove," she asserts that collective organizations can have more benefits than autonomous entrepreneurs and that the rise of co-ops in the sixties and seventies had undermined the power of the previous"fairly exploitive relationship." Using an auctioneer who was paid by the co-op was often valued "to get the best prices for the fish," although a system of transparent auctioning facilitated that, because it was "a system that people have come to recognize and trust." In asking "what does this have to do with technology," she noted that "the auctioneer always had a mobile phone." Accounts were settled daily and sometimes settled weekly. Of course, in 2012 there was "no mobile money to speak of," so Srinivasan was looking forward to revisiting to "see how the intermediary deals with" the new platform.

Oreglia noted three previous financial crises in Myanmar and instances of demonetization. She explained that the field site was in an area of ethnic minorities and small market towns with Burmese-Chinese and Burmese-Indian residents, as well as tribal people, so ethnicity could also play a role not only in trust but in loyalty. The region might "trade with the rest of the country," as well as with China and Thailand, using its economic base in agricultural products. In the illustration above she shared the roughness of field notes, in trying to map out how money travels, including on bus networks. and the many financial movements of small traders who tended to borrow money from financial traders. Unlike the Kerala case, co-ops were used mostly by women traders. Goldsmiths who were all around the market and tended to be Chinese, Those of Chinese ethnicity "did business with everyone," although she emphasized the fact that "loyalty is not necessarily trust." Her tea traders relied on farmers not having many choices, but the technology that has proved to be most transformative is not mobile money. Rather she claimed that cheap motorbikes from China were offering now access to other lines of credit, because farmers could travel to other villages much more easily. Nonetheless most "still rely on these traders," and "ethnic ties have big part to play."

Bothe researchers said they strove to "rescue intermediaries from distain" and the "contempt they are held in." To learn more about the disintermediation debate, you can visit this profile of Janaki Srinivasan to read an extended interview with her and see images from her Kerala field site.

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