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Antipoverty programs in developing countries are often difficult to implement; in particular, many governments lack the capacity to deliver payments securely to targeted beneficiaries. We evaluate the impact of biometrically authenticated payments infrastructure (“Smartcards”) on beneficiaries of employment (NREGS) and pension (SSP) programs in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, using a large-scale experiment that randomized the rollout of Smartcards over 157 subdistricts and 19 million people. We find that, while incompletely implemented, the new system delivered a faster, more predictable, and less corrupt NREGS payments process without adversely affecting program access. For each of these outcomes, treatment group distributions first-order stochastically dominated those of the control group. The investment was cost-effective, as time savings to NREGS beneficiaries alone were equal to the cost of the intervention, and there was also a significant reduction in the “leakage” of funds between the government and beneficiaries in both NREGS and SSP programs. Beneficiaries overwhelmingly preferred the new system for both programs. Overall, our results suggest that investing in secure payments infrastructure can significantly enhance “state capacity” to implement welfare programs in developing countries.

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Published Paper
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October 31, 2016
English

We implemented a randomized controlled trial among transnational households in the Philippines estimating impacts on financial behaviors of a financial education treatment, a financial access treatment, and the combination of the two. We test whether there are complementarities between financial education and financial access interventions, and also provide insight into the nature of constraints operating in financial services markets. We find no evidence of complementarities between the financial education and financial access treatments. In addition, while we find no evidence of constraints in access to formal credit and savings products, our results do suggest that access constraints exist in the formal insurance market. Impacts on other financial behaviors are suggestive of the importance of information constraints in financial decision-making. These results provide guidance to designers of financial interventions in similar populations.

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Working Paper
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September 22, 2016
English

Asymmetric information can be costly in insurance markets and can even hinder market development, as is the case for most agricultural insurance markets. I study information asymmetries in crop insurance in the Philippines using a randomized field experiment. Using a combination of preference elicitation, a two-level randomized allocation of insurance and detailed data collection, I test for and find evidence of adverse selection, moral hazard and their interaction – that is, selection on anticipated moral hazard behavior. I conclude that information asymmetry problems are substantial in this context and that variations on this experimental design may be useful in future work for identifying interactions between choice and treatment effects.

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Working Paper
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September 07, 2016
Spanish

Una capacitación financiera simplificada basada en reglas prácticas mejoró las prácticas de negocios y los resultados económicos de microempresarios en República Dominicana, mientras que una capacitación técnica basada en principios contables tradicionales no produjo impactos significativos.

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Brief
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August 30, 2016
English

Public employment programs play a major role in the anti-poverty strategy of many devel- oping countries. Besides the direct wages provided to the poor, such programs are likely to affect their welfare by changing broader labor market outcomes including wages and private employment. These general equilibrium effects may accentuate or attenuate the direct benefits of the program, but have been dicult to estimate credibly. We estimate the general equilibrium effects of a technological reform that improved the implementation quality of Indias public employment scheme on the earnings of the rural poor, using a large-scale experiment which randomized treatment across sub-districts of 60,000 people. We nd that this reform had a large impact on the earnings of low-income households, and that these gains were over- whelmingly driven by higher private-sector earnings (90%) as opposed to earnings directly from the program (10%). These earnings gains reflect a 5.7% increase in market wages for rural unskilled labor, and a similar increase in reservation wages. We do not nd evidence of distortions in factor allocation, including labor supply, migration, and land use. Our results highlight the importance of accounting for general equilibrium effrcts in evaluating programs, and also illustrate the feasibility of using large-scale experiments to study such effects.

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Working Paper
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August 30, 2016
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An audit study was conducted in Ghana, Mexico and Peru to understand the quality of financial information and products offered to low-income customers. Trained auditors visited multiple financial institutions, seeking credit and savings products. Consistent with Gabaix and Laibson (2006), staff only provides information about the cost when asked, disclosing less than a third of the total cost voluntarily. In fact, the cost disclosed voluntarily is uncorrelated with the expensiveness of the product. In addition, clients are rarely offered the cheapest product, most likely because staff is incentivized to offer more expensive and thus more profitable products to the institution. This suggests that clients are not provided enough information to be able to compare among products, and that disclosure and transparency policies may be ineffective because they undermine the commercial interest of financial institutions.

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Working Paper
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July 19, 2016
English

We experimentally test the impact of expanding access to basic bank accounts in Uganda, Malawi, and Chile. Over two years, 17%, 10%, and 3% of treatment individuals made five or more deposits, respectively. Average monthly deposits for them were at the 79th, 91st, and 96th percentiles of baseline savings. Survey data show no clearly discernible intention-to-treat effects on savings or any downstream outcomes. This suggests that policies merely focused on expanding access to basic accounts are unlikely to improve welfare noticeably since impacts, even if present, are likely small and diverse.

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Working Paper
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July 13, 2016
English

Using new data from a field experiment in India, we test hypotheses about micropension design in a poor population. We elicit demand for the basic micropension in addition to variants with different minimum withdrawal ages, government match rates, and options for lump sum withdrawal. A majority (80%) of respondents report interest in the micropension, and the amount they are willing to contribute would be enough to cover about 40% of expected old-age consumption. We find that prospective policyholders value the inability to access the assets until a particular age. We also find that they respond positively to the government match rate.

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Published Paper
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July 12, 2016
Letter

The Financial Inclusion Program (FIP) provides technical and financial support to rigourous evaluations and pilot projects related to financial service design, digital finance, and financial capability. The Program’s projects, which range in scale from pilots to multi-country randomized evaluations, are implemented across developing and advanced economies and focus on innovations that are informed by behavioral insights, are cost-effective, and present a promising business case for scale-up. FIP identifies new research projects and promising partnerships through open calls for proposals and periodic matchmaking and training events, and disseminates recent results through conferences, webinars, and publications.

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Brief
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June 15, 2016
English

Theoretically, weather-index insurance is an effective risk reduction option for small-scale farmers in low-income countries. Renewed policy and donor emphasis on bridging gender gaps in development also emphasizes the potential social safety net benefits that weather-index insurance could bring to women farmers who are disproportionately vulnerable to climate change risk and have low adaptive capacity. To date, no quantitative studies have experimentally explored weather-index insurance preferences through a gender lens, and little information exists regarding gender-specific preferences for (and constraints to) smallholder investment in agricultural weather-index insurance. This study responds to this gap, and advances the understanding of preference heterogeneity for weather-index insurance by analysing data collected from 433 male and female farmers living on a climate change vulnerable coastal island in Bangladesh, where an increasing number of farmers are adopting maize as a potentially remunerative, but high-risk cash crop. We implemented a choice experiment designed to investigate farmers’ valuations for, and trade-offs among, the key attributes of a hypothetical maize crop weatherindex insurance program that offered different options for bundling insurance with financial saving mechanisms. Our results reveal significant insurance aversion among female farmers, irrespective of the attributes of the insurance scheme. Heterogeneity in insurance choices could however not be explained by differences in men’s and women’s risk and time preferences, or agency in making agriculturally related decisions. Rather, gendered differences in farmers’ level of trust in insurance institutions and financial literacy were the key factors driving the heterogeneous preferences observed between men and women. Efforts to fulfill gender equity mandates in climate-smart agricultural development programs that rely on weather-index insurance as a risk-abatement tool are therefore likely to require a strengthening of institutional credibility, while coupling such interventions with financial literacy programs for female farmers.

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Published Paper
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May 01, 2016
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Individuals across the world use high-transaction-cost savings devices, even when lower-cost technologies are available. High costs may help savers protect resources from the demands of others. I investigate this hypothesis by randomly assigning ATM cards to 1,100 newly-opened bank accounts in rural Kenya. These cards reduced withdrawal fees by 50 percent. While the cards increased overall account use, the positive treatment effect is entirely driven by joint and male-owned accounts. I also find that individuals with low levels of household bargaining power save less when accounts have ATM cards, while individuals with high levels of household bargaining power save more.

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Working Paper
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April 14, 2016
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Through a field experiment in Afghanistan, we show that default enrollment in payroll deductions increases rates of savings by 40 percentage points, and that this increase is driven by present-biased preferences. Working with Afghanistan’s primary mobile phone operator, we designed and deployed a new mobile phone-based automatic payroll deduction system. Each of 967 employees at the country’s largest firm was randomly assigned a default contribution rate (either 0% or 5%) as well as a matching incentive rate (0%, 25%, or 50%). We find that employees initially assigned a default contribution rate of 5% are 40 percentage points more likely to contribute to the account 6 months later than individuals assigned to a default contribution rate of zero; to achieve this effect through financial incentives alone would require a 50% match from the employer. We also find evidence of habit formation: default enrollment increases the likelihood that employees continue to save after the trial ended, and increases employees’ self-reported interest in saving and sense of financial security. To understand why default enrollment increases participation, we conducted several interventions designed to induce employees to make a non-default election, and separately measured employee time preferences. Ruling out several competing explanations, we find evidence that the default effect is driven largely by present-biased preferences that cause the employee to procrastinate in making a non-default election.

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Working Paper
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April 09, 2016
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Weather index insurance protects farmers against losses from extreme weather and facilitates investment in their farms, but randomized evaluations in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa have shown low demand for these products at market prices, suggesting the need for alternative approaches. 

Key Findings:

Without substantial subsidies, take-up of insurance was low. Large discounts increased take-up substantially, and interventions designed to increase financial literacy or reduce basis risk also had positive effects. However, at market prices, take-up was in the range of 6–18 percent, which cannot sustain unsubsidized markets.

Insured farmers were more likely to plant riskier but higher-yielding crops. In the three studies that measured changes in farmer behavior, farmers who felt protected against weather risks shifted production toward crops that were more sensitive to weather but more profitable on average.

While self-sustaining markets for weather index insurance have not emerged, finding ways to address weather risk remains a priority for agricultural development. Some possibilities are improving index quality, providing subsidized insurance, selling insurance to institutions, and exploring other risk-mitigating technologies, such as irrigation and stress-tolerant crops.

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Brief
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March 24, 2016
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Loans and business management training helped men grow their small business profits, but women did not experience any impacts on their businesses as a result of loans, training, or grants.

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Brief
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March 21, 2016
English

With the support of the Citi Foundation, the Financial Capability Initiative at IPA incubates, develops, and rigorously evaluates products and programs that improve the ability of the poor to make informed financial decisions and adopt healthy financial behaviors. The Initiative conducts tests and evaluations of innovative, product linked financial education interventions and financial products that aim to improve financial capability.

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Brief
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March 04, 2016

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