Tracking Mobile Money Use in Haiti

We all remember the devastating 7.0 earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010 reportedly destroying about one-third of the country’s bricks-and-mortar bank branches, limiting Haitians’ ability to send and receive money transfers, cash checks, or simply access much-needed cash resources.

In June 2010, the Financial Services for the Poor initiative at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation partnered with USAID on the Haiti Mobile Money Initiative (HMMI), featuring a $10 million fund to provide incentives to mobile service providers to quickly launch and expand m-money services. Notably, Digicel, Haiti’s leading mobile provider, won the first-to-market prize of $2.5 million in January 2011 after launching its Tcho Tcho Mobile service. Soon thereafter, Voila, Haiti’s second largest mobile provider, released its T-Cash m-money service and received a $1.5 million USD second-to-market award. The CGAP Technology Blog has had several posts on this initiative (here, here, here, here, and here).

To help monitor the impact of the HMMI as well as m-money service use and financial access in general, the Gates Foundation commissioned InterMedia to design and conduct a series of household surveys of Haitian adults (aged 18+). The first Haiti Mobile Money Tracker (HMMT) survey was conducted in March 2011, in the early days of m-money usage, and sampled all ten Haitian administrative departments based on figures from the latest census in 2003. Follow-up surveys will be conducted to establish usage trends – hopefully based on a more up-to-date 2011 census.

InterMedia’s HMMT Online Data Analysis Tool allows financial access practitioners and stakeholders to dive into the survey data themselves in a user-friendly way. The combinations of financial, mobile and demographic data are easily cross-referenced to support project planning and analysis.

Meanwhile, the first survey yielded some helpful insights and provided rare baseline data for a mobile money deployment. Here are some of the highlights:

  • The survey revealed strong potential for increasing the number of m-money adopters. At the time of the survey, only 10% of respondents had signed up for m-money. However, more than 80% said they were aware of the existence of m-money services, and 71% said they would use a mobile phone to send or receive money in the future.
  • The survey also identified the profile of early adopters of m-money – a helpful guidepost for planning future deployments. Over 60% of early adopters had completed at least a secondary education, compared to only 37% of the population as a whole.
  • In terms of economic strata, the survey indicated that over 60% of the population has difficulty affording sufficient food or clothing, or both. This compared with only 31% of early m-money adopters, indicating that the services have yet to reach deeply among Haiti’s truly impoverished.
  • Early adopters also has a different age profile than the population as a whole. One might expect younger people to be early adopters as a result of their assumed comfort with mobile technologies. In fact, the survey found that, while close to 50% of Haiti’s population is under 30, only 38% of the early adopters were in that age group.
  • Other common demographics considered in such studies, such as gender and rural vs. urban dwellers, showed little variation from rates among the total population. In addition, sign-up rates among men and women, and among rural and urban respondents, were roughly equal.
  • 61% of current m-money users said they were already recommending the services to others at least once a week, indicating that word of mouth was helping to expand awareness and use quickly throughout Haiti.

Lack of Access

Despite an apparently good start to the use of m-money, some barriers to adoption showed up.

  • About two thirds of non-users cited either a lack of knowledge about or lack of access to m-money as the primary reason for not having tried such services. Rural dwellers were somewhat less likely than their urban counterparts (77% vs. 85% ) to have heard about m-money services.
  • Going forward, one goal will of course be to expand m-money knowledge, access and use to the less-educated and less-affluent elements of society. The m-money sign-up rate among those who had not completed secondary school was about 6% , compared to the overall 10% adoption rate.
  • However, of the percentage of respondents who said they would likely sign up for m-money services in the future, 67% had not finished secondary school. This finding is promising for expanding into relatively untapped markets.

One factor which could help expand m-money use in rural communities is the remittance network. The research showed that over half of respondents said they have received a domestic cash transfer in the past year, while a quarter indicated that they had sent a domestic transfer in that time. These transfers often originate with a city-dweller sending money to rural family members. As these kinds of transfer increase, so will exposure to m-money in rural communities, which in turn should lead to increased demand for m-money services.

As the research continues, InterMedia plans to provide more information on how the market is expanding and identify potential users of the mobile money services. For more information on this ongoing project, go to the HMMT section on AudienceScapes or contact: Peter Goldstein.


27 August 2012 Submitted by Anonymous (not verified)


Having being part of the first electronic recharge launch in Haiti at Voila , I find the data presented in your piece overly generalized and lacking the understanding of the key element that in fact will drive a ubiquitous usage of mobile money. While the data comparison based on age and education has value, the lack of usage is not driven mainly by these factors.

The introduction of electronic recharge was the start of the market evaluation to determine whether or not mobile money could be successful in that market. As it turns out the launch was successful, the process of introducing the product to the general public was well analyzed , coupled with an understanding of the local citizenry’s way of accepting a new product. Especially one that required that they give their money to a stranger and receive a “virtual” recharge in exchange.

Your analysis that the slow pace of penetration of mobile money in Haiti may be due in part to the demographics of the users, I believe is misleading. To the contrary there should be a greater focus on a catalyst that will drive the usage of the product. The access to the product must be vulgarized. Its presence must be so overwhelming to make its usage a necessity.

Between Digicel and Voila you have approximately 2.6 million users that recharge on a regular basis. If the argument that being cash poor is the missing element to drive this product, it is simply inaccurate and I will argue

“Where is the beef” that will entice mobile telephony customers to turn on their mobile account and make it a substantial market force??? what will it take to attract the informal market to use this product and equally to attract the more savvy mobile telephone clients???

I have some ideas that I am willing to share if someone is willing to listen.


Phillipe Pollas

09 October 2015 Submitted by Patrice Talleyrand (not verified)

I was a founding member of RDDH and am a fierce believer that technology can tremendously improve the flow of money in Haiti.
I am extremely interested in your ideas

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