Monday, September 26, 2016

Money Matters: New Educational Display at the British Museum

By Ben Alsop and Mieka Harris – The British Museum 

For millennia money has been a constant in human society. It is a persistent thread that entwines with politics, faith and warfare to allow us a window into past societies. For good or ill we all have a relationship with money. The emotions that it instills in contemporary society, from happiness to fear and everything in between, are not dissimilar from those felt by someone thousands of years ago.

In 2013 the British government added elements of financial education into the national curriculum. This decision was compelled in part by a realization that whilst people may have a grasp of what money is, there are many facets to the monetary system that remain uncertain and even a mystery. ‘Money Matters’ is a new display, supported by Citi, in gallery 69a at the British Museum that explores some of the most important aspects of the monetary world. Objects from the British Museum collection are used to illustrate important concepts such as money creation and economic cycles as well as looking at the sociological aspects of money through the millennia. The display acts as a complement to the themes addressed in the permanent exhibition in Room 68, the Citi Money Gallery.

Money and society photographs 
produced in collaboration with local school groups

The display is a collaborative project between the Department of Coins and Medals and Learning and National Partnerships. The co-curation has enabled work from a variety of audiences to be embedded in the display. School groups were invited to the museum to explore the concept of money and how it is used in society. They then translated what they felt money looks like in their local communities by taking photographs, which include a new housing development and litter on the street. A project was also undertaken with New Horizon Youth Centre where young people provided everyday words that are used interchangeably with 'money', such as 'racks' and 'wonga'. From working with community groups to provide a contemporary take on the modern financial world, to commissioning an original artwork to act as a focus for the exhibition, Money Matters acts as a companion piece to the established Citi Money Gallery education programme. These visual elements included in the display are deliberately designed to be conversation starters; encouraging visitors to challenge their views and perceptions of money by considering those portrayed by various school and community groups. 

‘Money Matters’ looks firstly at the material culture of money – the stuff that we hold in our hands and pass from one to another. Monetary supply has always been a concern for those in power. One of the earliest quantitative theories relating to money comes from Qi state in China over two thousand years ago.  The concept recorded in the Guanzi extolls the virtue of the manipulation of monetary supply and defines money as having heavy and light properties, heavy when stored and light when in circulation. The provision of money is still a concern for governments, how much to pump into circulation and the attendant risks of under and over supply.

However money is not, nor has it ever been, solely the preserve of a central issuing authority. There have been numerous attempts to answer societies’ monetary, and in some cases social ills, through unofficial means. The work of social reformer Robert Owen is highlighted through paper money created by the Equitable Labour Exchange, an organisation begun by Owen in 1832 that aimed to better reward labourers for their work. The notes, which would have circulated locally in central London, were produced not in the currency of the day, pounds, shillings and pence but in hours. 

Equitable Labor Exchange one hour note, 1832
© Trustees of the British Museum 

Public confidence in money is also a recurring theme, from the great debasement of Henry VIII where he systematically reduced the silver in his coinage to fund wars and the building of lavish palaces, to attempts by individuals to counterfeit currency. A particularly fine example is a counterfeit Swedish banknote that has been lovingly recreated by hand. Whether it worked or even if it was worth the time and effort we will never know. Someone felt compelled to try. 

Hand drawn counterfeit Swedish banknote, Sweden,
1868 © Trustees of the British Museum

The Euro, first issued in 1999 is often seen as the exemplar for the coming together of nation states and a shared single currency. It was however not the first time such an attempt had been made in Europe. To enable easier trade between European countries the Latin Monetary Union was formally created in 1865 between France, Switzerland, Italy and Belgium. This Union saw the creation of coinages of a similar weight and fineness which could be exchanged across borders.

The museum’s rich and varied collection discusses the functions of economies and their impact on society. From objects thousands of years apart that speak to one another like a Roman papyri referencing the repayment of a loan to a modern letter from a debt collecting agency threatening repossession.

Small objects can often tell global stories. A countermarked 8 reales coin from the 18th century issued in Spain, minted using silver from South America, has stamps approving it for use on the Isle of Bute in Scotland and then latterly in China. The coin speaks to a financially interconnected world that we as a modern audience would recognize.

The exhibition does not just deal with the global financial world but also hopes to encourage visitors to reflect on their own relationship with money.  A print by German artist Fritz Lang titled ‘Mortgage Joy’ celebrates the purchasing of a new home and sheds light on what some societies think of as important assets. Similarly Roman bankers tallies from the 1st century BC are used to highlight a banking system which offered the wealthy numerous opportunities for loans whilst the poorer members of society had to use money lenders at a much higher personal cost.

This access to money and banking systems is fundamental to the changing nature of society. A point exemplified by a leaflet donated to the museum by Mani Arul Nandhi through the IMTFI, which shows a man in the city sending money via mobile phone to his family who live in rural India. It is the role of technology that is discussed by the central object created especially for the Money Matters exhibition by artist Olga Bagaeva. Fiat Coin is an attempt to represent the confusing, labyrinthine intricacies of the modern financial system. In doing so suggesting that money lives a double life. From our personal interactions with commercial banks and their products, to the abstract, distant mechanism of investment banks, hedge funds, data centres and regulating authorities.

Left: Eko India financical services leaflet, Mani Arul Nandhi through the IMTFI, 2013
                        Right: Olga Bagaeva, Fiat Coin 2016 © Trustees of the British Museum

Then there are the consistently controversial elements to the financial world such as tax. While some taxes are broad, others are far more focused. In the late 1600s, in an attempt to modernize Russian society and discourage the growing of facial hair, Peter the Great introduced a beard tax. Those who wished to grow a beard were taxed and given a token as proof of payment. Conversely a group of leaflets from Camden Borough Council explaining Poll Tax in the 1990s end with a note of resignation that does much to support Benjamin Franklin’s famous assertion that ‘In this world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes’ – ‘Poll Tax, no-one likes it but we all have to pay it.’ 

Peter the Great ‘Beard Tax’ token, Russia, 1705© Trustees of the British Museum

Search the British Museum for more IMTFI money objects here.
View previous blogpost, Haiti's mobile money at the British Museum.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Review Post: Monetary Practices of Traditional Rural Communities in Ethiopia: Implications for New Financial Technology Design

By IMTFI Postdoctoral Scholar Ursula Dalinghaus

In this blog post I review an exciting new publication by IMTFI Fellow Mesfin F. Woldmariam, co-written with Gheorghita Ghinea, Solomon Atnafu and Tor-Morten Groenli. The article is based on Woldmariam's IMTFI supported research and appears in the journal, Human-Computer Interaction. The post ends with a brief update on Woldmariam’s latest research endeavors, together with IMTFI fellow Ndunge Kiiti.

In their path-breaking and provocative research article, “Monetary Practices of Traditional Rural Communities in Ethiopia: Implications for New Financial Technology Design,” the authors propose novel design applications for digital money and mobile money information systems with illiterate and low-literacy users at the focal point. Grounded in a fieldwork-based case study on the money practices of several village communities in Ethiopia, and in the context of religious and social practices, the authors make a case for incorporating peoples' existing practices and values into the design of dematerialized money forms. The authors, like many in the financial inclusion space, anticipate a time when all money is digital and no longer needs to be "cashed out" of an e-money system.

What challenges does this present, not only now but also in the near future, for rural populations like the low-literacy communities studied in Ethiopia whose techniques for managing and embedding money in social practices depend upon the material aesthetics of money? Cash money features—such as color for sorting value and visible piles to budget amounts—are important for navigating the daily use of money and in fulfilling religious obligations and social performances. Especially in the context of extending money gifts, the materiality of cash enables individuals to decide when money amounts should be hidden or visible, and even to refuse a money gift based on its source or moral quality (is it "clean" or "dirty?")

Rather than assuming a "one-size-fits-all" approach, the authors argue that these values and practices should be integrated into the design of new mobile money platforms. Failure to take local and population-specific needs and values into account will mean that illiterate users will be further excluded or may even reject the adoption of new technologies. While the authors are careful to connect their design ideas to the specific case at hand, they argue that similar types of needs can be found in many other parts of the world. More grounded research is therefore needed to ask the right questions in developing locally specific and context-appropriate e-money applications that support existing social practices. The larger and crucially important question the authors of this article raise is this:

"who gets to decide what 'value to people' looks like, what 'legitimate uses' of money are?" (p. 511)

The insights and applications presented here will be invaluable for professionals and researchers alike in the financial inclusion space, as well as for anyone interested in the qualitative design implications represented by digital money futures. (The full article can be accessed here)

In a blog post for IMTFI Woldmariam wrote early on about the importance of metadata and information in conceptualizing how material money might be translated into digital form. His case study on cash management techniques in Ethiopian rural marketplaces has also been featured in IMTFI’s Consumer Finance Research Toolkit.

Mesfin Woldmariam talks with smallholder 
farmers from a DigitalGreen Project
More recently, Woldmariam has been collaborating with IMTFI Fellow Ndunge Kiiti on a project supported by the Institute for African Development at Cornell University to assess mobile money awareness and use/usage among smallholder farmers in rural Ethiopia. This project places research and on-the-ground dialogue with smallholder farmers and other stakeholders at the beginning and forefront of potential design and implementation of new technologies. Drawing on their respective field experiences and areas of expertise, Kiiti and Woldmariam's work emphasizes the importance of carefully assessing and documenting smallholders' existing practices and needs to develop appropriate and empowering solutions.     

To read more about Mesfin Woldmariam’s and Ndunge’s IMTFI research, their project pages can be found here and here.


Mesfin F. Woldmariam, Gheorghita Ghinea, Solomon Atnafu and Tor-Morten Groenli
"Monetary Practices of Traditional Rural Communities in Ethiopia: Implications for New Financial Technology Design." Human-Computer Interaction. Volume 31 (2016): 473-517

Monday, September 12, 2016

How is digital payment working for women in rural India?


The Government of India is pushing its Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) reforms by creating digital payment of social welfare transfer or pension payment directly into the accounts of beneficiaries. As the DBT rollout proceeds, the bigger question is how these payment flows work for women.

Why women? 
Most cash transfer welfare schemes in India are designed for women. For example, pregnant and nursing mothers in rural India are paid from the second trimester until the child attains the age of six months. Girls from rural areas are provided with special financial incentives with an objective to encourage families to retain a girl child, educate her and prevent child marriage.  Moreover, as the government is converting fuel, food, and other price subsidies into digital cash payments, some states in India are making the payment directly to women’s bank accounts. The female head of the household, some experts believe, is most likely to optimize the subsidies—in particular food subsidies—according to the desired intent. One research study tracked how women and men spent subsidy funds deposited in bank accounts. The study found that women used the subsidy for food purchases whereas men diverted the subsidy funds to pay for non-food items. Experts therefore believe the subsidies will have the greatest development impact when the funds are transferred directly into women’s bank accounts.

But using a bank is still inconvenient for women.

Take this case as an example. Under a conditional maternity benefit scheme named Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana (IGMSY), cash is directly transferred to accounts of beneficiaries (pregnant and lactating mothers).  A study found the scheme failed due to cumbersome banking procedures and delayed funds flow.  Women lived in remote areas, almost 22-24 km away from banks.  Banks took almost six months to open accounts for women. Although zero balance accounts are allowed under the scheme, banks and post offices insisted on a minimum deposit.

Worse, women were required to submit identification documents. 

A recent World Bank Report indicates that women in several countries still face additional documentation hurdles when trying to get a national identity card.  Hence, their absence acts as a barrier to accessing entitlements via banks even though the requirement of identity documents is not a direct criterion of any cash transfer scheme per se.

Furthermore, social, regulatory and cultural barriers prevent women from accessing financial services.  

Several studies have indicated women find interaction with male staff intimidating and in many cultures custom dictates that women should not communicate directly with male officials. A recent GSMA study indicated that women prefer twice the number of face-to-face interactions than men before they feel comfortable enough to use financial services technologies independently.  However, with a higher proportion of male banking staff and agents, women clients experience greater hurdles to learning more about the financial products.  

Experts argue that enlisting female agents may be the most effective way to reach women. Female agents are not only effective but also lucrative as they lead to increased sales, access to new markets and a stronger brand image based on more thorough product communication.

However, in India recruiting female agents has been a daunting task. As of 2015, there are more than 600,000 agents in India. The proportion of female agents has only declined over the years (15% in 2012, 13% in 2013 and 9% in 2015).

Is the Self Help Group platform an answer?

One platform that can be leveraged to create female agents is India’s women-based Self Help Group (SHG) network. SHG is known as both a community meeting grounds and a liaison facilitating access to banks, financial literacy training, and the benefits of government programs. Typically, SHG members are already integrated into the community and a relationship of trust already exists with other members.

Recently, NABARD-GIZ conducted two pilot projects to test the potential of establishing SHG members as female bank agents, known as ‘Bank Sakhis’. This study found Sakhis attracted more first time customers, especially women. The proportion of active savings accounts and the average balance maintained in the savings accounts was three times higher for Sakhis compared to conventional banking agents. Sakhis were more motivated to provide liability products to low-income customers at low commission rates while male agents were more motivated to work with richer customers and sell more lucrative credit products. The pilot study therefore recognized that there is a need for initial funding support through subsidized loans or capital support to reduce the financial burden placed on female agents in the initial implementation phase in order to make women agents’ ventures successful.


Despite the availability of initiatives and schemes to provide financial services to women, low levels of literacy and financial awareness continue to remain impediments to financial inclusion goals. A growing literature suggests that women often lack the financial literacy required in tackling the complex financial decisions they face. Financial counseling can improve women’s capability in making better financial decisions. At the same time, some experts point out that some of the responsibility lies on the provider side and suggest that providers and distributors can also benefit from financial literacy training to ensure better outcomes in their interactions with clients.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

New ROSCA Board Game at the Mekong Financial Inclusion Forum

By IMTFI Researcher Andrew Crawford

The concept of Rotating Savings and Credit Associations (ROSCAs) has fascinated economists and anthropologists for several years. The altruistic dynamic of social capital involved in these tight knit groups in the developing world has provided an interesting comparison to the buyer/seller nature of credit markets in the developed world. By allowing users to pool their funds and then take turns to borrow from the pool ROSCAs appears to enable users to co-operatively invest and lend without formal institutions.

While the basic rules of ROSCAs are easy to understand, it is much harder to master the dynamics and complexity of risk and returns provided by the groups along with day-to-day income, asset and expense decisions that form a constant state of financial flux. This becomes even more complicated in bidding ROSCAs, such as those found among garment workers in Cambodia, where group members bid for the collective fund by offering to pay higher and higher rates of interest. In fact, financial decision-making in the ROSCA world in many ways resembles a chaotic game like situation. This gaming quality inspired Monash University and IMTFI to create a ROSCA board game -- one that would familiarize anyone from school students to bank customers to policy makers, on the elaborate financial and social dynamics that ROSCAs entail. as well as provide an education about budgeting and financial planning and management.

In the successfully developed and pilot-tested ROSCA board game, each player or participant takes the role of a garment factory worker who earns monthly factory wages while making monthly contributions to the ROSCA. Each player then decides whether to borrow, how to spend, and how much to save for future needs while considering their respective assets and ROSCA obligations. Just as the boardgame Monopoly gives us a flavour of property market finance, this game provides a taste of the financial situation of a ROSCA participant in the developing world.

In each round of the game players roll a die and move around the board landing on squares that make them draw cards, such as regular expense cards (eg food), urgent expense cards (eg medical treatment), asset cards to purchase income earning assets (eg livestock) and life event cards (eg a wedding) which move their position on the board. The bidding ROSCA system, common in Cambodia, means that players bid each month to borrow from the pool of funds. Many strategies can be formulated while deciding the interest rate to bid in order to borrow and buy assets whilst planning ahead for both regular and unanticipated expenses. The opportunity to borrow, steal the pot and leave the group is also a strategy option!

Field-testing with Cambodian factory workers in March 2016 helped to fine-tune the game and make it reflect real world situations. Numerous rounds were played during work breaks in factories and surveys were conducted to gather feedback. Initially the game only involved more expensive assets, such as a motorbike or food cart. But it soon became apparent from feedback that income generating assets could be as cheap as $40 spent on egg-laying chickens. Difficulties in measuring the size of the pot were a primary hiccup but were overcome with clever suggestions from workers on how repayments and interest are usually calculated without relying on traditional accounting practices. This involves the participants arranging money in certain pile patterns on the table so it is obvious that the current balance is correct.

Following its development and field-testing for accuracy the ROSCA board game debuted at the IMTFI conference in April 2016. Since then, the game made its first appearance at a financial industry conference, the Mekong Financial Inclusion Forum at Phnom Penh on 11th-14th July, 2016 which was attended by stakeholders across the region from the development finance sector. During the conference the game was played by participants at the forum at a demonstration table setup outside the conference hall.

Players found the game challenging and interesting as they attempted to deconstruct the dynamics of the game to develop a clear strategy. Players also disagreed on the best strategy and a Finnish consultant implied an aversion to borrowing at all and an Indian businessman suggesting that borrowing early to buy assets was useful. An American development fund representative was surprised at the complexity of the ROSCA structures in the region and noted that they should be more widely considered in development aid funding structures. Connections with the subject matter of the conference made the game relevant to a large number of participants. The continued disconnect between informal and formal financial services was a major topic of forum panels and the game provided insight into why ROSCAs continue to be a popular despite the increasing availability of financial services in the developing world. Most notably, the game showed the flexible nature of ROSCAs, their potential for higher return on savings and the community trust they contain that is often lacking in formal financial services.

Feedback on the game design was very positive and the game continues to stimulate interest as a financial education tool. The game will soon commence its rollout among NGO financial education projects in Cambodia that aim to help school students improve their financial knowledge and money management skills. The game has also been used as a teaching tool with university students in Melbourne to provide them with a better understanding of the financial life of a garment factory worker in Cambodia.

The next stage of the game evolution is to find investment and resources to develop it into a playable app format that can be distributed online. This will allow the game to be accessed more easily worldwide and used in the field by financial educators with access to tablets and smartphones. The existence of an app may also enable groundbreaking research. The app will have the potential to record player movements which will collect data to explore such areas as behavioral economics, trust, moral hazard and game theory across multiple cultures, demographics, and financial knowledge levels. The strong interest in the ROSCA game so far demonstrates its potential as a valuable teaching tool plus, once digitized, it would be a research device that could help scale and unlock greater insights about the intricate workings of money, finance and social relations.


This piece is an outcome of the 2015 IMTFI research project "Exploring Rosca Dynamics with a Cambodian Factory Worker Board Game" by Pushkar Maitra, Andrew Crawford, and Professor Paul Lajbcygier.

Andrew Crawford is an Adjunct Research Associate in the Department of Banking and Finance at Monash University, Australia. He began research in microfinance at Monash and moved to Cambodia in 2010 as an AusAid Youth Ambassador based at the Cambodia Microfinance Association (CMA).