Digital Cash Transfers in Cote d’IvoireCote d’Ivoire had been consumed by civil conflict at the beginning of the century. However, the conflict ended in 2011, soon after the election of Alassane Ouattara. Since then, Cote d’Ivoire has been one of the fastest-growing countries in the world. However, its growth has failed to reach large portions of the population as the country still struggles with a 46.1 percent poverty rate while an additional 17.6 percent of the population lives on the edge of poverty. In 2014, the World Bank Group started working to initiate digital cash transfers in Cote d’Ivoire to assist the poorest and most disconnected.

The Rise of Mobile Money in Cote d’Ivoire

From 2012 to 2018, the number of active mobile money users grew from less than 1 million to more than 9 million. Of note, the number of mobile cellular subscribers increased from 18.1 million to 33.81 million during the same time frame. With a population of less than 28 million, it is evident how popular the use of technology is becoming in the country. Ivorians have adapted to using mobile money for several reasons:

  • Person-to-person cash transfers in Cote d’Ivoire are easy to operate.
  • Due to high fees and the historic failure of several banks in the country, more Ivorians are turning away from licensed financial institutions. In 2017, 34 percent of Ivorians had mobile money accounts compared to 15 percent with bank accounts.
  • There is a rising trend in the digitalization of secondary school feels.
  • Migrants are digitally transferring remittances back home.
  • Paying bills digitally is growing.

How the Cash Transfer Program Works

According to the World Bank, the program operates as follows: “(i) a targeting system for cash transfers; (ii) a social protection household registry; (iii) a cash transfer payment system using digital mobile money technology; and (iv) management information system and capacity-building.”

For the actual transferring of money, the government of Cote d’Ivoire has partnered with the digital financial service organization, Orange. The Account of the Ministry of Social Protection sends a wire transfer to Orange. Then, it creates e-money and puts it into the digital accounts of the intended recipients. The recipients can then access and use their money electronically or cash-out.

Initial Constraints of the Program

Despite the widespread use of mobile devices in the country, there are a few issues with the implementation of the program. Many beneficiaries already owned mobile phones. However, others are given a device through which the program struggled to adapt. Financial literacy has been another issue as some beneficiaries are unsure about how much to withdraw and how much to save. Moreover, the lack of understanding of the importance of the PIN number resulted in some beneficiaries sharing sensitive information, thus compromising their accounts. Regulatory issues such as the requirement of a state-issued ID also created challenges in ensuring beneficiaries are eligible to continue to receive their transfers.

Successes of the Program

Peer-to-peer and community-oriented training focus on increasing knowledge surrounding the operation of devices and building awareness about security best practices with accounts. Those without a proper state-issued ID have been informed on how to obtain one. In addition, exemptions have been provided which allow beneficiaries to designate a trusted transfer recipient within the household or community. This led to 100 percent of beneficiaries receiving their payments in 2018.

By going digital, administrative and transactional costs are limited. As of April 2019, 300,000 poor individuals have benefitted from the program, more than half of whom are women. Additionally, as of the same date, 720,000 individuals have been registered with the social program’s registry. This expands the number of potential future social program beneficiaries.

Overall, the implementation of cash transfers in Cote d’Ivoire is an excellent example of how technology can assist those who are most financially vulnerable and most disconnected from the rest of society.

– Scott Boyce
Photo: Flickr