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Message from the director, Bill Maurer

In this Spring 2013 issue of the Institute for Money, Technology & Financial Inclusion’s (IMTFI) Electronic Newsletter, we highlight recent developments from our network of over 100 researchers in 35 countries. IMTFI continues to support important and original research into people’s everyday financial practices and on the adoption and use of new technologies for money savings and transfer. In this issue we summarize results from our Fourth Annual Conference and spotlight a variety of public engagements and projects with industry partners – from recent publications on designing mobile money services in Afghanistan and China to the IMTFI-sponsored conference "Reaching the Unreached: Mobile Money Uptake in Ghana." We also showcase recent reports on IMTFI-funded research, as well as artifacts from the history of payment and money collected by IMTFI researchers on display at UC Irvine and the British Museum.

We have been distilling lessons learned from our ever-growing portfolio of original case studies of mobile money and everyday financial lives of the poor, and will soon be releasing a report on the perennial question: What drives people to use a mobile money service, and what prevents them from doing so? With an impressive and growing global footprint – constituted not only by researchers who often live and work where they conduct their investigations, but also by connections to academic, industry, and regulatory networks – IMTFI brings together diverse perspectives to shape the conversation about the potential of mobile money in the developing world, and beyond.

To read the first issue of the IMTFI newsletter, see here.


IMTFI’s 4th annual conference

IMTFI fellows and funded researchers came together in December 2012 in Irvine, California to present work-in-progress and to think through new collaborations at IMTFI’s fourth annual conference. As more professionals in philanthropic, industry and development domains ask how mobile technology can expand access to needed financial services, IMTFI researchers look to the on-the-ground experience of mobile money users, businesspeople, and regulators for insight.

Conference participants discussed cutting-edge research on topics ranging from designing mobile money services for the blind in Kenya (see YouTube video) and mobile money initiatives with cash transfer programs in Brazil and Indonesia, to the diverse denominational practices of merchants in open-air Ethiopian marketplaces, and the potential payment platform provided by electronic betting games in Colombia. Much discussion at the conference focused on connections between practices and objects: researchers described diverse and changing worlds in which money remains both material and dematerialized, digitized, spectral. Participants thoughtfully engaged with, as blogger and IMTFI affiliate Liz Losh puts it, "real people’s practices around objects, not just the objects themselves, such as forms of money or the technologies for storage or transfer. They asked, for instance, ‘Is dematerialization really new, and is that really what we’re seeing when we look at digital money forms today?’"

For a summary of the conference presentations, see the series of blog posts by Liz Losh, who recounts the very stimulating few days in detail (see them online here, or download a pdf here). Video from the conference is also online, as are researchers’ powerpoint presentations.

IMTFI money artifacts on display at UC Irvine and the British Museum

Select artifacts and resources from IMTFI’s collection of money objects and paraphernalia are on display at UC Irvine’s Langson Library. The exhibit, titled "Gold to Gigabytes: The Past, Present and Future of Money," explores the history and anthropology of money, tracing the evolution of currency from ancient beginnings to its diverse manifestations today while broadly illuminating new trends in forms of payment and alternative currencies. Featuring a diverse array of artifacts – from African valuables to early payment technologies to money films, games, and art – the exhibit also treats the rise of credit cards and cashless transactions, the development of digital currencies like Bitcoin, and the creation of new technologies for electronic payment and banking.

The exhibit was inaugurated at a lecture and public reception with Catherine Eagleton, the Curator of Modern Money at the British Museum, and IMTFI Director Bill Maurer on October 5, 2012. The exhibit is curated by UCI Libraries and IMTFI staff and is on display through April 2013 in the Langson Library Muriel Ansley Reynolds Gallery during regular library hours.

"Gold to Gigabytes" was also documented by REAL ORANGE on PBS SoCal. The show features an interview with Maurer and footage from the collections. Visit here to view the segment on PBS SoCal.

In the previous newsletter, we described the participation of IMTFI in the creation of the British Museum’s Citi Money Gallery, which includes artifacts donated by IMTFI researchers. Visitors to the British Museum’s website can now search for all of the money and payment objects contributed to the British Museum through IMTFI. Just search “IMTFI” in the British Museum’s online collection database (or click here).


Social networks of mobile money in Kenya

In IMTFI’s latest working paper, Sibel Kusimba, Harpieth Chaggar, Elizabeth Gross, and Gabriel Kunya report on the complex social and economic networks produced and revealed by mobile money in Western Kenya. Although mobile money services are often described as a form of "banking," most users in Western Kenya use mobile money as a social and economic tool through which they create relationships by sending money and airtime gifts. A wide range of mobile money uses includes social gifting, assisting friends and relatives, organizing savings groups, and contributing to ceremonies and rituals. Even though mobile money was designed for person-to-person transfers, the authors argue that its practices are best understood as created by collectivities and groups. Matrilineal kinship ties are a means of sharing or circulating money among those marginalized from access to other resources and forms of value. For Kusimba and team’s working paper, see here (.pdf).

IMTFI-supported research and guest contributions on the IMTFI blog

IMTFI fellows and affiliated researchers have also contributed in recent months to the IMTFI blog with updates from their ongoing research projects. Kevin Donovan writes about SIM registration and financial inclusion in Kenya. Donovan asks whether new SIM registration regulation might do more harm than good to financial inclusion efforts in Kenya and other parts of Africa.

Joel Patenaude reports on IMTFI-supported research in the Greater Ibadan Lagos Accra (GILA) corridor on cross-border monetary practices and mobile money adoption. Patenaude notes the persistence of cash transactions in a region with diverse regulatory environments and payment systems. He outlines the different regulatory landscapes and proposes various steps that governments and industry might take to enable an intra-regional mobile money service that would facilitate the existing cross-border trade environment.

Also reporting on IMTFI-supported research, Deepti Kc describes the variety of difficulties she and her colleagues faced in working with migrant rickshaw pullers in Delhi, India as they registered for identification cards and mobile money services.

Finally, Ignacio Mas and his colleagues have contributed several recent guest posts, from reflections on M-Shwari in Kenya to thoughts on the metaphors we use to describe money and the importance of situational thinking in accounting for people’s everyday financial decision-making.


IMTFI supports conference on mobile payments in Ghana

IMTFI fellows Edwin Clifford Mensah and Zhixin "Richard" Kang (along with IMTFI researchers Abena Offe and Yaw Owusu-Agyeman) at the Ghana Technology University College (GTUC), Accra, recently organized the conference "Reaching the Unreached: Mobile Uptake in Ghana." The conference brought together a diverse group of researchers, industry experts from mobile money providers and telecommunications companies, regulators and policymakers, community leaders and organizers, and mobile money users and customers. It featured paper presentations, panel discussions, and onsite mobile money demonstrations. The conference included remarks by the Ghanaian Minister of Communications and the Vice-President of GTUC, and a keynote address by Peter Zetterli of the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP). Mobile money use has lagged behind in Ghana, especially in comparison to success stories such as M-Pesa in Kenya. The conference aimed to explore, in particular, the contributions of retail agents to mobile money uptake and existing and potential barriers to adoption, while promising to open a space of discussion among diverse stakeholders. The conference booklet and agenda can be found here (pdf).

Mensah and Kang also reflect on the motivation and results of the event on the IMTFI blog (here and here).


IMTFI’s industry partners frog design and Reboot have recently published results of research in Afghanistan and China, respectively.

Risk and savings in Afghanistan

A team from the design firm frog (Jan Chipchase, Mark Rolston, Cara Silver) and University of Washington’s Joshua Blumenstock traveled to Afghanistan December 2012 to investigate people’s savings practices and perceptions of risk and reward. Researchers found that "actively mitigating financial risk was a very real part of everyday life" in Afghanistan. Having encountered widespread laments about the high-risk nature of everyday financial transactions and repeated demands for more trusted financial services, in their report, researchers suggest rethinking existing savings platforms and products. Based on their deep ethnographic engagements with people on the ground, frog researchers proposed that new designs for financial services in Afghanistan should take into account rewards and incentives, family entanglements, Islamic rules governing financial practice, and the "culture of contribution" that often structures earning, spending, and saving. The methods, results, conclusions, and preliminary commentary on implications of this collaboration can be found in the frog publication "In the Hands of God."

Financial services for the migrant poor in China

IMTFI-supported field research in China by former IMTFI fellow and Reboot Principal Panthea Lee co-written with Patrick Ainslie and Sarah Fathallah. "Embracing Informality: Designing Financial Services for China’s Marginalized" documents the variety of needs and experiences of urban migrants, rural villagers, and ethnic minorities with regard to existing financial services and potential mobile money systems. The Reboot team emphasizes that service providers should seek to build on existing informal practices, leverage existing social relations, focus empathetically on the needs people express, especially for stability. Writing on the IMTFI blog about "Embracing Informality"’s launch party in New York, IMTFI post-doctoral scholar Ivan Small summarizes the Reboot project, emphasizing the ”importance of engaging ethnographic design for effective development.”

Both the frog and Reboot projects have gained significant publicity. For a brief roundup of Reboot’s impacts, see the blogpost here. For frog, see here.


Be sure to check back regularly, as announcements of the latest cohort of IMTFI-funded research projects will be released soon!

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