By Erwin A. Alampay
Over the past month, I’ve had the opportunity to present my research on mobile money for remittances in two different conferences, with different audiences (the paper and PPT presentation can be downloaded here and here).
On October 10, I presented my research on the use of mobile money for remittances in a panel on Mobile Adoption and Economic Development. This was for a conference held in New Brunswick on Mobile Communications and Social Policy, hosted by the Rutgers School of Information and Communication. Harsha de Silva also presented his paper in the same panel on the “Role of social influence on mobile phone adoption: Evidence from the BOP in emerging Asia.” His paper and presentation can be downloaded here and here.
On October 23, I then presented the same research, this time to a Filipino audience in the 2nd Living the Information Society conference at the Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City
The audiences for both conferences were academic in composition. Their reactions, however, were different. Those in the largely Northern audience, still had an abstract understanding of how it all worked, and their questions tended to focus more on the methodology, and notions of how it would impact on social capital and community relationships. With the Filipino audience, I was fortunate to find people who were able to relate their own personal experiences in using mobile cash. One shared how he learned to use it regularly to send money to his relatives. Despite the initial apprehension, he vouched that it was safe, reliable and costed much less. On the other hand, another person said that she first used the service to purchase something online. Enrolling, and the process of changing money to mobile currency for her was a complete hassle, although she did say that for the seller/vendor, this would have been very convenient.
All in all, the audiences were quite different from the regulators, I previously had to present to TRE research to, and different from the IT and Development group and IDRC network I’ve been meeting with in recent months, and much different from the people at the LIRNEasia colloquia I’ve had the privilege of first discussing this research with.
The good thing about moving around your usual circles is the chance to expand your network, and getting new perspectives about your own work. Interestingly, it was the serendipitous encounters I had with people not directly connected with the conferences that I discovered greater interest in what I was doing.
In New Jersey, I bumped into Gil Lacson, who works for the Women’s World Banking in New York. He told me this was the very same technology that someone presented to his group the previous week. Likewise, when I got back to Manila, I receieved an email from Grameen Foundation. Apparently, Grameen wanted to put together a conference in December, focused specifically for technologies that microfinance institutions can utilize in their services. They were able to attend the last day of the conference, but due to an error in my email, they missed my presentation by a few minutes. However, I did end up giving them a personalized presentation of my paper.
One of those who came with them was Mr. Eric Severino, whose company called ENCASH is doing some interesting work in providing rural ATMs where the unbanked can also encash money from. I haven’t personally seen how this works, but as he explains it, the transactional fees are based on the distance the ATM is from the nearest urban center (the farther it is, the higher the fee—although he says it will still be much cheaper than the transportation cost), and non-account holders get to withdraw money using Mobile PINs that are texted to them along with the amount that they can withdraw. I see this as a potentially good complement to m-remittances, as the problem of converting mobile money to actual cash is one of the major issues that came out in my research.
In the end, these conferences and chance encounters show that many people are looking to reach the unbanked. Hopefully, with the aid of innovations in mobiles that go beyond voice, the benefits reach them soon.