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Jordanians and Syrian Refugees: Remittances and Financial Services Use

How do you increase financial inclusion when the most vulnerable and financially excluded part of your population becomes host to a massive, even more vulnerable, and even less financially included group of refugees? This is a question the Central Bank of Jordan has been trying to answer over the past few years, as part of its commitment to financial inclusion.

New research connected to the Digi#ances project, which aims at “improving access to remittances and other financial services through digital solutions,” was conducted by CGAP, GIZ, and the Central Bank of Jordan. Building on a 2016 survey on the use of person-to-person remittances and appetite for mobile financial services by low-income Jordanians and Syrian refugees in Jordan, this research also covers broader access to financial services for Syrian refugees. It showed the following:

  • Only a small proportion of the surveyed populations engage in person-to-person remittances, which suggests that remittances are not likely to be the first entry point to mobile financial services in Jordan. Rather, digitizing international remittances will depend on an uptake of mobile wallets in Jordan. 
  • Access to an account or to credit for Syrian refugees is practically zero. However, the use of informal credit is widespread, and the most frequent credit users appear to be the most vulnerable. 
  • Aid disbursement mechanisms are an important tool that links refugees to formal financial services. Prepaid cards or iris-scan-enabled ATMs may be a stepping stone to offering formal transaction and savings accounts to Syrian refugees in Jordan. Nearly universal mobile phone penetration offers another opportunity to integrate Syrian refugees into the formal financial services system through digital financial services.
  • Conversely, the fear of losing aid support is a specific disincentive for Syrian refugees to manage their money through formal services. It may also explain the underreporting of financial flows observed in some survey questions. 
  • Significant awareness-raising and marketing campaigns would be needed to leapfrog from low financial inclusion to digital financial inclusion for both populations. 

For more information, see “Paving the Way for Digital Financial Services in Jordan,” which presents an analysis of prevailing regulation, infrastructure, and supply of national payments and international remittances over eight corridors. The full survey results and raw data and a summary presentation are also available.

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Customers are turning to formal channels that use digital and mobile technologies for remittances because these are often able to offer services at lower costs. As more customers turn to formal services, remittances will have an even stronger developmental impact, notably in countries where protracted humanitarian crises affect large numbers of people.