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Syndications from Jan Chipchase’s blog about the exploration of people, culture, and technology.

Mobile Money, Afghanistan: Researching the Mobile Frontier

In the summer of 2010, I conducted field research in Afghanistan with generous support from the Institute for Money, Technology, and Financial Inclusion at the University of California at Irvine. My research partner Panthea Lee and I led a nimble local team to investigate how people use cell phones to do their banking—known in the industry as mobile money. The findings from the field study are now available for download, along with a number of images captured on the trip. 

Download Mobile Money, Afghanistan: Notes From the Field (2MB PDF)
Download Presentation: The Mobile Frontier (17MB Powerpoint)
Download 170 Free Photos/JPGs (40MB Zip File)
Download Guide to Free Photos (10MB Powerpoint)

Print-ready photo resolutions also available—ping hei at janchipchase dot com to request copies.

One would expect mobile money services to be well suited to Afghanistan: low levels of fixed banking infrastructure; rising mobile penetration; and a safer, cheaper, more convenient way of transferring money—especially one that removes the likelihood of graft. It all points to a rising adoption.

However, local operator Roshan and other network operators have to overcome numerous non-trivial consumer barriers to adoption including: textual, mobile, and financial illiteracy; a general distrust of institutions compounded by the well-established Hawala agent network; a general distrust of non-tangible assets; and the chicken & egg challenge of investing in an agent network without sufficient customers—customers less willing to experiment with the service without there being a strong agent network. Furthermore, in a county with considerable graft, a legitimate commission may seem like an outstretched hand to many. Expect mobile literacy to rise over time as people purchase their 3rd/4th/5th mobile phone. Also, as people grow to rely on mobile services, we can expect to see increasing trust in the operators.

Those of you interested in the broader landscape should read CGAP’s Microfinance blog; the GSMA Money for the Unbanked blog; and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Financial Services for the Poor site. One chapter in Porfolio’s of the Poor is a good primer for newcomers to this space, and for local colour check out the Afghanistan thread.

It’s worth noting that statistics for banking penetration and mobile penetration are difficult to tie down. CGAP calculates that there are 83 bank accounts per 1,000 members of the population although many of these will have multiple accounts to increase the likelihood that they will win with Bakht or lottery accounts (the principles of Sharia law forbid interest, but accounts with a minimum deposit can be entered into a draw to win prizes such as money, cars, or even an apartment). Similarly, mobile penetration stats are difficult to come by. Whatever the number, assume that anyone who can afford to will own and maintain two or three SIM cards/phones simultaneously. It's simply good practice to reduce call costs between networks, to extend better coverage and to separate work from personal life.

With thanks to the extended team for pulling it all together – Enayat Najafizada, Airokosh Faizi, Mokhtar Hajji, Hamid Tasal, Farida Rustamkh, Sam Martin, Tom Manning, Kristina Loring and of course Panthea Lee. Zahir Khoja, Shainoor Khoja and Evan Decorte at Roshan were interviewed to better understand the mobile money landscape (but had no input into the report itself); Mark Pickens helped with decoding actual bank account/subscriber numbers.

Related: research into illiteracy and mobile phone use.

Photo by Jan Chipchase.

Executive Creative Director of Global Insights Jan Chipchase oversees frog’s global user research practice, working with clients to turn insights into innovative solutions for business challenges. Jan joined frog from Nokia, where as a principal researcher he studied behavioral patterns that informed the development of new products based on emerging consumer trends. You can follow Jan on @janchip.