Institute for Money, Technology,
& Financial Inclusion
University of California, Irvine
School of Social Sciences

3151 Social Science Plaza
Irvine, CA 92697-5100

949 824-2284


Welcome to the Fall 2014 newsletter from the Institute for Money, Technology & Financial Inclusion! So much has happened in the mobile money space in the past twelve months, it’s hard to keep up. I know, I know—you’re probably thinking ApplePay; the spinning off of PayPal from eBay; something, anything, about bitcoin, or maybe that hurried rebranding of ISIS into Softcard.

I think there’s been even bigger news, however, with the potential to fundamentally reshape the lives millions around the world, not just Whole Foods shoppers in suburban Palo Alto or the privileged few controlling the big bitcoin mining pools. Safaricom, Kenya’s largest mobile money provider, opened up its extensive agent network to rivals Orange and Airtel. M-Pesa agents are now allowed to sell these telcos’ other mobile money products. This is a win for consumers and competition in the mobile money marketplace. The Reserve Bank of India issued draft guidelines for the creation of “payment banks,” a new kind of entity that will potentially revolutionize the provision of branchless banking services in that gigantic, populous country. And, in the realization of a dream long held by some mobile money promoters, Tanzania’s Tigo launched a mobile money service that pays interest. It's being introduced as “comply[ing] with all our customers' cultural or personal beliefs,” and users can choose to donate the money to Tigo's social projects, which changes the game for what mobile money can do re: as a collaborative financial inclusion tool.

It may not sound like much—no finger print scan to tap your phone to a POS device that… wait, how does this work again? You mean I have to enter all my credit card info into on this tiny touchscreen keyboard? Tap what, where… ummm, let me just get some cash…Ahem. They may not sound like much, but these developments represent big shifts in the mobile money business that may have a tremendous reach and impact in the months and years to come. And our researchers will be there, observing, interviewing, collecting qualitative and statistical data, and integrating their analyses with those of their colleagues in our network and beyond.

It’s been a busy year for IMTFI, too. With 21 new projects funded in 2014, we now have a total of 123 projects in 41 countries, with support for over 160 researchers since our founding in 2008. Our researchers have published new books, tons of articles and reports, and are exploring new formats for the dissemination of their research results as well as for the provision of financial education. Take a look at our new executive summary of our research to date on gender and financial inclusion, "Snapshots of Gender and Financial Inclusion". We were also recognized by The Guardian as one of the top ten financial inclusion Twitter streams—so, if you’re not doing so already, please follow us!

Join us for our annual conference in December 2014 in person or online and stay tuned for our seventh annual Call for Proposals coming up, announcement coming soon!

Bill Maurer

IMTFI Paper Profiles

“We were particularly impressed by children of women entrepreneurs who were excited to learn about managing finances through our comic books. Several children stated that they would want the basic financial literacy included in their school curriculum. Many children helped their mothers in documenting household expenses, conducting banking transactions and also saving for the family. In our stories directed at the women entrepreneurs, we have therefore included stories that revolve around the children and the family in general. Most women were actively saving for their children’s education and marriage, and involved their children in household finance management. We therefore see our comic books as catalysts for change in financial attitudes not only for the women entrepreneurs but also their children.”

How to Increase Formal Savings for the Papad-Makers of Dharavi Slum

IMFTI fellows Deepti KC and Mudita Tiwari both serve as Senior Managers at the Center for Microfinance, IFMR, where they are involved in research evaluating the impact of microfinance, financial inclusion, financial literacy programs, and agricultural financing programs in India.

In Dharavi, Mumbai, the largest urban slum in Asia, groups of women make papad (crispy lentil dough wafers) for Lijjat Papad Company, one of the world’s largest papad retailers. Lijjat requires any woman who works for the enterprise to first open a savings account, and to encourage savings the company deposits a small proportion of the women’s earnings directly into their savings accounts, adding a bonus during the Diwali festival.

Stashing their cash under the mattress

The researchers interviewed twenty-five of these women to determine their current savings practices and assess their attitudes regarding saving money and conducting other financial transactions using formal banking institutions.

Despite having ‘active’ bank accounts, the women still use cash as their primary mode of payment for business and personal transactions because they perceive cash to be safer and more convenient to use. Cash savings may also be easily hidden at home from their husbands, who would otherwise spend household savings on gambling or other addictions.

Three quarters of the women stated that although they preferred to use cash, they would be interested in conducting more financial transactions at banks. However, they claimed to be unaware of available banking services and products, and since most financial decisions are made by male household members, the women were hesitant to commit to using formal banking systems because they believed that they needed to consult with male relatives in their households regarding financial decisions. Additionally, since almost all bank tellers are male, the women were uncomfortable with the thought of conducting financial transactions at the bank, unaccompanied by a male relative.

Behavioral modification using educational materials that entertain, educate, and empower

Study findings indicated that cash is culturally accepted for both business and personal transactions despite respondents having bank accounts and mobile phones. Previous research indicates that on average, women are disciplined savers and have excellent loan repayment rates, but are apprehensive about banking and have a limited understanding of financial systems. Banking products and advertising campaigns designed to appeal to women and increase their financial literacy may make the prospect of formal banking more attractive to them, and the presence of female bank tellers may overcome the reluctance of women to conduct business at a bank. Despite financial inclusion initiatives by the government, men are almost twice as likely as women to have bank accounts.

The study identified two groups — migrant employees and women entrepreneurs — who are amenable to using mobile banking services, if provided with adequate information. To meet this need, the researchers applied real-life stories gleaned from interviews with some of the women whom they worked with to the design of context-specific financial literacy modules aimed at both educating the users and modifying the underlying behavioral biases that impact their financial decision making. The information is presented in the form of comic books, which are proving to be both entertaining and educational for children as well as adults.

“During the interview process, we came across an amazing 20-year old individual whom we shall call John. John is one of the graduates still looking for employment opportunities. For now he stays with his uncle whom he helps with some weekend shopping from the local markets. With some saving from the money that he would have used for transport from the market, one day he decided to try out his luck by betting on sports his favorite team being Barcelona. He said “with only UGX 1,000 (US$ 0.5) why not try your luck to change your life in case you happen to win?” John’s case was a major reflection of a majority of the youths that were from school but lacked employment opportunities. Any opportunity where there are chances of making some money can be made will be ceased.”

Gambling and Mobile Money Payments: A Case Study of Sports Betting in Uganda

IMTFI fellow Bruno Lule Yawe is a Senior Lecturer and Chair of the Department of Economic Theory and Analysis, School of Economics, Makerere University. IMTFI fellow Kizito Ssengooba is the Senior Assistant Bursar in charge of Projects and Assets at Kyambogo University, Kampala. He has over nine years of experience working with organizations that fight poverty by empowering people to undertake income generating ventures.

Sports betting is a popular pursuit for men in Uganda, across all age and all socioeconomic groups. Uganda has over one hundred sports betting shops, which are always filled with young men placing bets on professional rugby, football, and cricket games, and trying to collect their winnings. Older male “advisors” offer predictions, for a fee, about which team will win.

The Ugandan government noted last year that new technology is driving the country’s efforts to improve financial inclusion, especially in the areas of electronic money transfer and agency banking. The government highlighted the tremendous growth of mobile money transfer systems as part of the range of services offered by mobile phone service providers. These mobile money transfer systems are popular means of transmitting money within Uganda, especially among the working class, because the services are quick and easy to use, charge low transfer fees, and are available to urban and rural populations not served by formal banking institutions.

In recent years, the gambling industry has experienced massive growth, due to its entry into new territories, the increased popularity of gambling, innovations such as televised poker tournaments and online gambling, and improvements in payment systems made possible by the use of mobile money technology. Uganda is no exception. The popularity of sports betting has surpassed casinos, lotteries, and poker because it combines the excitement of gambling with the Ugandan passion for professional sports teams. The use of mobile money technology by the sports betting industry has created a new economic sector. Sports betting has become so ubiquitous in Uganda that it is flourishing in all areas served by mobile money transfer networks.

“Trying out their luck in the hope of making some big kill”

The researchers visited eighty-five betting outlets in the vicinity of Uganda’s capital city (Kampala City) to examine betting behavior in betting shops and casinos, and in private situations with friends and family. All of the respondents were male, primarily between the ages of 20 and 40. Based on observations of activities within the betting shops and casinos, conversations with bettors recruited by other bettors, and with betting shop owners and regulatory agency representatives, the study found that the majority of bettors use both cash and mobile money to place their bets. Although placing bets using cash is becoming increasingly popular among unemployed youth in urban areas — perhaps due to the social benefits derived from spending time at betting shops with like-minded individuals — the geographic expansion of mobile money transfer systems, coupled with the increasing availability of low-cost mobile phones, have made sports betting even more attractive to working class bettors. Betting via mobile enables them to place bets and collect their winnings at work, without having to visit or be seen in a betting shop. As one bettor remarked, “With my mobile money service, I can place a bet and receive payment in the comfort of my living room or my workplace.” Sports betting shop owners are equally enthusiastic about mobile money because it increases the volume of betting during daytime hours when most men are at their places of employment.

While mobile money platforms have increased the efficiency and volume of betting, they may also be accelerating the downward spiral of vulnerable young men into the behaviors and poverty associated with gambling addictions. This raises a host of regulatory and ethics questions to be addressed by future research.

View Video

Currency article (kina necklace video)

The following is a summary of a video commentary by Keith Hart (Centennial Professor of Economic Anthropology, London School of Economics), regarding a kina shell necklace in the IMTFI collection, and its connections to the history of anthropological thought about money, gifts, and exchange.

This beautiful kina necklace was a valuable object in circulation in the Western Pacific, most likely in the first part of the twentieth century. In addition to being an object of personal adornment, it was exchanged for other items of value in trade between the Melanesian Islands. But does its utility as a means of exchange define it as money?

Markets provide local societies with a means of exchanging objects of value with outsiders, to meet deficiencies in local supply. Markets have been viewed by some theorists as self-interested, impersonal systems of exchange in which money is traded for commodities and services. The value of objects used as money is purely symbolic, endowed on it by the society that uses it.

The kula system involves the exchange of shells as objects of value. These shells are made into dual-purpose artifacts, serving both as a means of personal adornment and beautification, and as a convenient way of carrying money on one’s person. This calls into question theories that money must be impersonal in order to retain its value. In addition, the symbolism of the shells as objects of value is graphically illustrated by Papua New Guinea’s national currency, banknotes of the type conventional in Western societies – but decorated with an artistic rendering of the shells.

The juxtaposition of traditional and modern practices represented by the use of money in Papua New Guinea is perhaps best illustrated by people wearing the necklaces and carrying banknotes (rolled up and inserted into their nostrils, apparently for convenience), indicating that both personal and impersonal objects of value may effectively function as money.

IMTFI's Sixth Annual Conference for Funded Researchers
December 10 & 11, 2014 | UC Irvine Student Center

This conference brings together the Institute’s sixth-year award recipients who will present their preliminary findings. As more and more philanthropic, industry, and development actors ask whether mobile technology can help provide access to needed financial services like savings and money transfer, these projects look to the experience on the ground of existing, traditional money systems and financial practices, as well as the potential and real impact of new technology in providing access to finance for the world’s poor.

For additional information or to register for this free event visit the conference website

For those who cannot attend, live video streaming will be available.

Global South Field Work and Working Papers

IMTFI’s research and field work extends to numerous countries throughout the Global South. For detailed information on these projects, review the links below.

Book Highlights

Current Publications

IMTFI Presentations


Are you following IMTFI on Twitter? The Guardian says you should be

29 September, 2014
News agency ranks the institute’s feed among the top 10 for info on financial inclusion

From mobile money to microfinance, savings groups to Bitcoin, The Guardian says these tweeters on financial inclusion cover it all. Among them: UCI’s Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion. Established in 2008, the institute has received more than $6 million from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support research on money and technology practices among the world's poorest people. To date, IMTFI has supported 123 projects in 41 countries. This includes 160 researchers, more than 70% of whom are from the developing world.

Follow IMTFI on Twitter.