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Payment Mechanisms and Anti-Poverty Programs: Evidence from a Mobile Money Cash Transfer Experiment in Niger

2014 — By Jenny Aker, Rachid Boumnijel, Amanda McClelland, Niall Tierney

Cash transfers have become an increasingly important component of social protection policies in both developed and developing countries. While such programs are often implemented electronically in developed countries, in many developing countries with weak financial infrastructure, such transfers are distributed manually, resulting in significant costs to program recipients and the public sector alike. The introduction of mobile money systems in many developing countries offers new opportunities for distributing cash transfers. Using data from a randomized experiment of a mobile money cash transfer program in Niger, we find evidence of benefits of this new system: Households receiving mobile transfers had higher diet diversity and children consumed more meals per day. These results can be partially attributed to increased time saving, as m-transfer program recipients spent less time traveling to and waiting for their transfer, as well as increased intra-household bargaining power for women. This suggests that electronic transfers may address key logistical challenges in implementing cash transfer programs in developing countries, but that sufficient investment in the payments infrastructure is needed.