Electronic transfers in humanitarian assistance and uptake of financial services

Research reports and studies
April 2017

The Electronic Cash Transfer Learning Action Network (ELAN) undertook case studies on humanitarian electronic transfer (‘e-transfer’) projects in Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. The case studies examine the extent to which: 

  • recipients used digital financial services (e.g. money transfers, savings, credit, purchases) through mobile money;
  • the factors that affected recipients’ uptake of these financial services; and
  • considerations for future humanitarian programmes aiming to increase the use of digital financial services among recipients.

The case studies show that receiving humanitarian cash transfers through mobile money can increase the use of certain services but does not automatically lead to widespread or sustained uptake. People may prefer to continue using informal financial systems that are more familiar, accessible and profitable. The provision of humanitarian e-transfers, even when combined with training, was not sufficient to enable the vast majority of participants to conduct mobile money transactions independently. 

Encouraging uptake of digital financial services requires resources. A disaster or crisis may not be the most suitable moment to invest in and oblige recipients to attend extensive training, and other delivery channels may be more appropriate. Aid agencies still need to be capable of delivering cash transfers digitally when that is the best way to get money to people. Humanitarian organisations that do not have relevant internal capacity may consider partnering with development organisations that do.