Technology is not Actually a Barrier for Very Poor G2P Recipients
Debates abound about what the easiest form of technology is for poor people to use as a channel for accessing financial services. Do they have an easier time with smart cards, magstripe cards, or mobile phones? What interface is easiest on the mobile device? Do they prefer to use ATMs or agents? Do they have a hard time with their PINs?
These questions are all the more relevant when talking about electronic payments to government-to-person (G2P) beneficiaries. By definition, social cash transfers - such as workfare programs and conditional or unconditional transfer programs - target the very poorest and most vulnerable in a society for whom their interaction with new technologies is often more limited.
Photo Credit: Quicksand
It was surprising to learn then that for G2P recipients in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, technology- whether a smart card or mobile phone -was rarely a barrier to use for recipients. In new research, we looked at the groundbreaking electronic benefit transfer system that has been in place in Andhra Pradesh since 2006 from the perspectives of the banks, agent management companies, agents and recipients.
Recipients did not seem to have much preference for one technology over another, but this is largely because transactions are always mediated by an agent. Whether a smart card, mobile phone or some other device, the recipients tend to hand it over, including their PINs, to the agent to carry out the transaction on their behalf. As a result, recipients are passive users of technology without enough direct interaction with the technology to have a preference either way.
This is a missed opportunity in many ways. First, there is a lost potential to empower these poor women through access to a new payment system and through access to new technologies like mobile phones. Second, since the agents are largely focused on making the payout to recipients as quickly as possible to move onto the next person, recipients only use this channel to receive government funds – no one explores potential linkages with other financial services, such as savings accounts. Finally, and most importantly, the link to financial inclusion that all of us are hoping for is lost. Several aspects of the end recipient experience are compromised because of poor information access. Recipients don’t seem to know that there are bank accounts linked to their payment, what services they can avail through the accounts, what their account balances are, or how to access any of this information.
However, the overall electronic benefit transfer program in Andhra Pradesh has been a big success. Our research showed that e-payments increase payment convenience by reducing the distance traveled by recipients by over half. Recipients report a high level of trust in the system.
The experience from Andhra Pradesh corroborates other G2P recipient research we’ve been doing since 2009. Recipients value the convenience of e-payments, but are not yet taking advantage of the financial services that accompany them. With the increasing integration of the Aadhaar Unique ID system in India, the potential to connect these recipients to the formal financial system is even greater. Later this week, we’ll look at some of the insights related to the business case for the G2P agents.
Sarah Rotman is a Financial Sector Specialist at CGAP and manages the workstream on government-to-person payments.