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 Spring 2015 newsletter from the Institute for Money, Technology & Financial Inclusion! Our sixth annual conference drew over 128 participants, including 31 researchers from 13 countries. Researchers presented work as varied as an inquiry into mobile phones and divination in northern Ghana to the use of comedy TV shows to promote financial literacy in Cambodia. It was an exhilarating and busy three days of sharing, networking, forging new insights and building new collaborations.

Our seventh call for research proposals is in full swing, and we’re looking forward to this next round of projects. Meanwhile, we’ve been synthesizing lessons learned, gathering insights from our researchers on the IMTFI “special sauce” of capacity building, collaborative mentoring and research dissemination, and spreading the word of how in-depth, locally grounded studies of the lives of the poor can meaningfully impact policy and the design of new services and products for financial inclusion.

To that end, I was pleased to present at a recent convening at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation about some of the crucially important but often under-appreciated aspects of money, technology and financial inclusion coming out of our research. For instance, social hierarchies matter—they really, really matter—in determining whether and when people will pick up a new mobile money service, who adopts it, and on what basis trust can be built. From elders and dead ancestors rejecting the use of the phone to discuss a death or to pay homage to an elder, to low-ranking wives in polygynous marriages sending money to high-ranking wives, to church leaders promoting mobile money use, we continually find that the specifics of who is perceived to outrank whom, and why, can put up barriers but also sometimes accelerate mobile and digital financial service adoption. Mobile money also lets people get things done that they would not otherwise have the freedom to do, given its relative “invisibility.” Yet in some circumstances—church donations come up again and again—people want to see and feel the tangibility of paper cash and metal coin.

A recent Guardian forum underscored some of the basic requirements of any digital financial service: you need reliable electricity and network coverage. All it takes is one failed transaction to shake a potential customer’s trust. We’ve been hearing more and more about smartphones, too—yet they are power hogs, requiring daily charging. After our online forum, the Guardian put phone charging at the top of its list of "10 Barriers to Using Mobile Technology to Fight Inequality.”

Read on to learn more about Erin Taylor’s new Consumer Finance Research Toolkit, currently under development, to catch up on the latest IMTFI research, and to see Sibel Kusimba’s fantastic videos of social networks and M-Pesa use in Kenya and webinar with M-Changa. We’ve also made a video of our own! We think it helps highlight how one of IMTFI’s contributions is the networks we form and plug into, as a vital complement to all the good work that is being done in this space. We are empowering, capacity building, and connecting, and providing a place for voices to be heard and developed that would otherwise not make it to the table.

Bill Maurer

IMTFI’s Sixth Annual Conference for Funded Researchers | Recap

At IMTFI’s Sixth Annual Conference for Funded Researchers on December 10th & 11th, 2014 researchers showcased work on a diverse array of topics using innovative methodologies to understand how new money technologies are being integrated into peoples’ lives. Below is a preview of approaches:

To explore the full set of projects and pdf versions of the presentations, click on the specific title to download individual presentations. For a summary of researchers’ presentations, see the series of blog posts by Liz Losh (see them online beginning here or download a pdf here). Find the conference videos at our new YouTube channel.

Interviews with IMTFI researchers

As IMTFI enters its seventh year, past and present research fellows reflect upon what they have accomplished and where financial inclusion research is headed in the future. In conversations with five IMTFI researchers at the annual conference—Vivian Dzokoto, Anatoly “Jing” Gusto, Erin Taylor, Deepti KC, and Ana Echeverry—IMTFI graduate student researcher Stephen C. Rea identifies several common themes that have emerged with respect to financial inclusion, and the contributions that IMTFI’s research network is making to important discussions in this space. Read his blog post here to learn more.

IMTFI Working Papers and Research

The Impact of Pure Mobile Micro-financing on the Poor: Kenya’s Musoni Experience by IMTFI researchers Tonny Omwansa and Timothy Waema evaluates the impact and success of Musoni, a relatively new non-deposit taking microfinance institution in Kenya that offers purely mobile-based loan disbursement, repayment and savings services through M-Pesa. Using qualitative data the researchers demonstrate that the bundling of regular M-Pesa services and Musoni products contributes to greater convenience and trust in electronic channels, resulting in increased mobile money adoption. However, they argue that mobile money complements rather than eliminates existing payment systems mainly because of high mobile money fees, especially for smaller amounts, as well as the important socio-cultural value placed on face-to-face cash transactions.

In “My Story Has No Strings Attached”: Credit Cards, Market Devices, and a Stone Guest, IMTFI researcher José Ossandón addresses how low income households in Santiago de Chile use and lend department store credit cards to family and friends, producing networks around collective circuits of debt. The boundaries of these networks are constantly tested and re-established when individuals default because retailers in Chile prioritize consumers’ timely repayment behavior in evaluating extensions on credit limits. Using the metaphor of “strings attached”, he shows the ways that credit cards are not only technical “market devices” but also objects that foster new social bonds and collectives.


Collaborative Projects and Public Engagements

Nigel Thrift on Errors in the Monetary System

In February 2015, noted human geographer and current Vice-Chancellor of The University of Warwick, Professor Nigel Thrift visited UCI at the invitation of IMTFI. Besides delivering a lecture on “Cities in the Anthropocene”, Professor Thrift sat down for an informal discussion with IMTFI’s graduate student researchers about the persistence of calculation errors in monetary systems. Follow this link for a short video on Professor Thrift’s thoughts on the subject.

IMTFI in the Media


Conference Presentations