Successes and failures of fintech
February 28, 2022
Bill Maurer, UCI anthropology and law, receives grant to study how design and deployment of digital currency impacts low- and middle-income populations
Bill Maurer, dean of social sciences, professor of anthropology and law, and director of the Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion at UC Irvine, has received an $80,000 grant from Maiden Labs to organize an international research team to study how new fintech impacts low- and middle-income populations. They’ll be looking specifically at e-money and remittance systems in Mexico, Indonesia, India and Nigeria to identify some of the most pressing failures and successes of existing payment systems in each country. Findings will inform more financially inclusive development, design and deployment of central bank digital currency (CBDC), a new payment system that’s being considered by a majority of the world’s central banks, says Maurer.
“This research is intended to offer policymakers, central bankers, regulators, and technologists better evidence and independent insight into the impact of various digital currency design options on financial inclusion in low-to middle-income countries,” says Maurer.
Maurer and team will hold two international convenings where developers from Maiden Labs, MIT’s Digital Currency Initiative (DCI) and the University of Virginia will team up with IMTFI’s global network of researchers in the targeted countries. They’ll identify key points of fintech breakdowns and successes and dive deeper into user experience, infrastructural arrangements, successes that do or don’t scale, and determine how CBDC or other public sector technology might intervene.
“These challenges and opportunities will inform a framework of best practices for financial inclusion technology in the public interest, which we hope will drive pilot CBDC development at the DCI and beyond,” says Maurer.
Funding for this work began in November 2021 and runs through December 2022.
New Research Report Release
CBDC: Expanding Financial Inclusion or Deepening the Divide? Exploring Design Choices that Could Make a Difference
This 2023 report uniquely focuses on users, especially society’s most vulnerable, and is an interdisciplinary collaboration between the MIT Digital Currency Initiative and Maiden Labs, funded by the Gates Foundation. Findings are drawn from:
- design research to identify the important open technical design choices and ways forward for CBDC;
- infrastructure research on existing money technologies to understand the broader public-private dynamics in which CBDC financial inclusion issues are centered;
- and fieldwork to understand the financial experiences of people in four low- and middle-income countries (India, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Mexico) and the ways existing money technologies are failing them or helping them flourish.
For policymakers, technologists, financial-inclusion advocates, and social scientists interested in CBDCs’ risks and opportunities, this report's insights include concrete areas for focus, ideas for design directions, and recommendations for future research. It is a resource for anyone wishing to understand how we can design a digital currency that expands financial inclusion and operates in the public interest, rather than one that exacerbates or even creates a new digital divide for currency: https://dci.mit.edu/cbdc-fi-1
Download Executive Summary
Watch "CBDC: Expanding Financial Inclusion or Deepening the Divide? Exploring Design Choices that Could Make a Difference" Research Report Release Event (January 12, 2023) on YouTube: https://youtu.be/Xkbh6kmVmdQ
Regional Insights from Fieldwork
From March to June 2022, researchers around the globe affiliated with the Institute for Money, Technology & Financial Inclusion conducted fieldwork and survey research in order to understand the existing digital and mobile payment landscape in four countries. Putting the focus on everyday people's lives, hopes, and struggles, these researchers tell a rich story about how the seemingly simple act of paying for something or receiving money can be fraught with politics, drenched in emotion, or simply another instance of infrastructural failure. There are risks of fraud and scams; there is mistrust; but there are also opportunities for fun, for creatively working around the system, and for helping friends and family. This incredibly variegated landscape shows that one size may not fit all; that you can't plan a digital payments system without attending to social hierarchy, power, and trust; and that sometimes things as basic as reliable electricity and network coverage are at the crux of technology adoption. These illuminating blog posts from IMTFI affiliates in India, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Mexico informed the report on central bank digital currency design by Maiden Labs and the Digital Currency Initiative at MIT. Above all they highlight why we always need to begin and end with actual users' needs and concerns, with collective action and social relationships--as well as, ironically perhaps, the role cash continues to play in serving the public interest in accessible and affordable means of payment.
India’s CBDC Needs to Be People-Centric by Debashis Acharya (School of Economics, University of Hyderabad) and Alok Kumar Pandey (Department of Anthropology, University of Hyderabad)
Public Perception and Acceptance of Digital Payment Systems in Indonesia by Agus Indiyanto (Universitas Gadjah Mada, Indonesia)
Digital versus Cash Use among Women Urban Entrepreneurs in Greater Jakarta by Caroline Mangowal (PhD, Founder of RISE Indonesia)
Hierarchies of Participation: Experiences with Cashlessness in Indonesia by Sunniva Sandbukt (Assistant Professor at the IT-University of Copenhagen)
Frictions to Implement a CBDC: A View from the US-Mexico Family Remittance Corridor by Bernardo Bátiz-Lazo (Northumbria University and Universidad Anahuac) and Ignacio González Correa (University of California, Davis)
Challenging Common Assumptions about Access to Financial Services: Reflections from Rural Mexico by Clément Crucifix (UCLouvain, Belgium)
Nigeria’s eNaira: Enabling Possibilities by Olayinka David-West (Professor of Information Systems, Lagos Business School)
and Immanuel Umukoro