We are pleased to bring you this #ThrowbackThursday blog post, which was originally published in Resilience: The State of the Microcredit Summit Campaign Report, 2014, under the chapter “Mobile Network Operators Can Build Systems that Reach the Poorest and Most Remote.” The section excerpted below describes how important mobile technology and digital financial services are for reducing the cost of doing business with the poor and hard-to-reach — both for the provider and the client. Read also Ian Radcliffe’s blog post from Tuesday in which he describes WSBI’s progress achieved so far toward a related Campaign Commitment.
Transaction costs pose a significant challenge to those seeking to provide financial services to people transacting in very small amounts or living in remote areas. The cost of providing the service often exceeds the price that the client can afford to pay. People living in poverty must manage daily transactions with incomes that are small, inconsistent, and often unpredictable.
Ian Radcliffe, of the World Savings Bank Institute (WSBI) reported its research that calculates that people living in poverty can only afford to pay about USD 0.60 a month for financial transactions, an amount far lower than the cost to employ staff to manage the transactions. Moving transactions to mobile platforms can drastically reduce many of these costs.
An interview with Ian Radcliffe, Director of World Savings Bank Institute. Download a transcript of the video [PDF].
Low-income clients have shown the ability to adopt new technology when it provides them with essential services at much lower cost or with much easier accessibility than the alternative. A study by William Jack and Tavneet Suri of the M-PESA mobile payment system in Kenya describes how their system grew from its launch in 2007 to cover 70 percent of the Kenyan population today. The study stated that “while M-PESA use was originally limited to the wealthiest groups, it is slowly being adopted by a broader share of the population,” including those in the bottom quartile of household expenditure.  Compared to the option of receiving money from relatives far away only on their sporadic visits home, or through a USD 5 bus ride into the city, low-income people in rural areas quickly found out how to get access to a mobile phone, receive a funds transfer on it, and travel to the nearest agent to turn the digital funds into cash.
In addition, access to mobile payments can play a key role in reducing vulnerability and building resilience. Jack and Suri studied low-income families in rural Kenya who experienced economic shocks. Those with access to M-PESA received a greater number of remittances and more money from friends and family than those who did not have access to M-PESA. Access to mobile money gave them the ability to tap into a larger network and weather the economic crisis.
 William Jack and Tavneet Suri, 2011, “Mobile Money: The Economics of M-PESA,” http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/wgj/papers/Jack_Suri-Economics-of-M-PESA.pdf.