Technology Empowering U.S. Diplomacy and Development

Resisting the devil: using mobile money in Haiti

IMTFI researchers Dr. Baptiste, Dr. Taylor and Dr. Horst continue reporting on its rollout in light of their 2010 report on domestic remittances findings. Read their most recent blog entry Espelencia Baptiste:

As I boarded a plane bound for Haiti in December 2010, I received a text from one of my research assistants that says that Voila had just launched its mobile money service, T-Cash. It was followed closely by Digicel’s TchoTcho mobile. The advent of mobile money in Haiti is interesting and exciting. As an anthropologist I was curious to see how this new technology was going to change internal migration and remittance patterns between Port-au-Prince and the provinces. My interest in mobile money is also personal. As a Haitian with friends and relatives living in different parts of the country, the prospect of sending money electronically is particularly welcome. With mobile money I no longer have to rely on expensive money transfer services, bus drivers who offer remittance services, or send money with friends and relatives who are travelling back to their home towns.

Once in Haiti, I set out to register for both services. Registering for Voila’s T-Cash required sending a text to their dedicated number using your Voila phone. Within a few minutes you receive the secret pin required for withdrawal and transfers.  Digicel’s TchoTcho Mobile is a little more bureaucratic as it requires in-person registration with a valid state-issued ID and a photocopy of said ID. As with any new service, there were some kinks that both companies needed to work out. Although both companies boast agents throughout the country, or Port-au-Prince in the case of Digicel, finding an agent is not always easy.  On the day I registered for TchoTcho, I had to visit four agencies. At the first store we were told that the agent had been called away elsewhere; the second agency did not have an internet signal, while the third had sent their laptop out for repair. However, six weeks on, it is easy to find functioning TchoTcho agencies, even though Digicel has not officially launched their service and are not advertising. T-Cash is another story: while we have found numerous businesses with the T-Cash sign on the front of their shop, few of them are actually operational.

Digicel and Voila’s tariffs for transferring and withdrawing money are similar except that Voila offers a lower maximum that one can hold on a T-Cash account. While it may seem odd that customers have to pay to withdraw their own money, so far we have not heard any complaints about the fees. Prior to mobile money, the only safe place to hold money was the bank but banking was a time consuming undertaking. Mobile money offers a middle ground between the bank and cash. With mobile money, money is available but one is able to save. As Josué, an artist, explained to me, “If I have money in my pocket, I will use it on beer, cigarettes and women, but if it is not there I cannot spend it as fast. After all, money is the devil, it makes you do crazy things.”

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