Financial products and transfer schemes are often designed to help individuals improve welfare by following through on intertemporal plans. This paper implements an artefactual field experiment in Malawi to test the ability of households to manage a cash windfall. This study varies whether 474 households receive a payment in cash or through direct deposit into pre-established accounts at a local bank. Payments are made immediately, with one day delay, or with eight days delay. Defaulting the payments into savings accounts leads to higher bank account balances, an effect that persists for several weeks. However, neither savings defaults nor payment delays affect the amount or composition of spending, suggesting that households manage cash effectively without the use of formal financial products. 

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Working Paper
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August 01, 2016
English

We worked with two microlenders to test impacts of randomly assigned reminders for loan repayments in the “text messaging capital of the world”. We do not find strong evidence that loss versus gain framing or messaging timing matter. Messages only robustly improve repayment when they include the loan officer’s name. This effect holds for clients serviced by the loan officer previously but not for first-time borrowers. Taken together, the results highlight the potential and limits of communications technology for mitigating moral hazard, and suggest that personal obligation/reciprocity between borrowers and bank employees can be harnessed to help overcome market failures.

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Working Paper
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August 01, 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
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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

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 find evidence that these differences are driven by intrahousehold issues: household bargaining power is a key mediator of the ATM treatment effect.

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Working Paper
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May 13, 2016
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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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In developing countries, poor households often do not have access to formal financial products or use bank accounts to save for the future. Without a safe and secure way to save, many people rely on riskier and more expensive methods of managing their assets. Increasingly, government-to-person cash transfer programs are addressing this issue by providing beneficiaries with formal savings accounts through which they disburse cash transfers.

In Peru, evidence from one such program suggests that very few beneficiaries of a conditional cash transfer (CCT) use their accounts to save, preferring instead to withdraw the entire cash transfer immediately after it is made. Beneficiaries may prefer to withdraw their funds all at once due to the time and cost required to travel to a bank branch or automated teller machine (ATM) to access their account, especially in rural areas where there is limited banking infrastructure. Furthermore, although access is improved and travel time reduced, beneficiaries may not have the necessary knowledge or confidence when interacting with the formal financial system. This evaluation explores how the introduction of branchless banking and a workshop to build knowledge and trust of the formal financial system impacts beneficiaries’ attitudes toward this same system and savings behavior.

As a component of the pilot project and evaluation “Financial inclusion for the Rural Poor Using Agent Networks,” Banco de la Nación (BN) installed correspondent banking agents (MultiRed Agents) in municipalities and some shops on 30 districts of the Provinces of Puno, Cusco, Apurímac, and Ayacucho in Peru. Concurrently in 2015, the Instituto de Estudios Peruanos (IEP) implemented education and trust workshops in a subset of the districts where agents were functioning with the objective of improving the knowledge, trust, and empowerment of beneficiaries of the state’s conditional cash transfer program (JUNTOS) in the formal financial system and encouraging the use of formal savings accounts via BN correspondent banking agents.

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Working Paper
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April 30, 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
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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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March 04, 2016
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I use a field experiment in rural Kenya to study how temporary incentives to save impact long-run economic outcomes. Study participants who were randomly selected to receive large temporary interest rates on an individual bank account had signifi- cantly more income and assets 2.5 years after the interest rates expired. These changes are much larger than the short-run impacts on experimental bank account use and almost entirely driven by increased rates of entrepreneurship. Temporary interest rates directed to joint bank accounts had no detectable long-run impacts on entrepreneurship or income, but increased investment in household public goods and led to greater spousal consensus over financial matters. The short-run effects of modest unconditional cash payments were similar to those of the interest rates, but the cash payments had no apparent long-run impact on economic outcomes.

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Working Paper
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March 01, 2016
English

We investigate the impacts of subsidies for technology adoption, and how savings constraints affect subsidy impacts. In a theoretical model in which risk-averse households face liquidity constraints as well as incomplete insurance, alleviating savings constraints could promote persistence of technology adoption over time (dynamic enhancement), or could instead reduce technology investment by encouraging savings accumulation (dynamic substitution). We implemented a field experiment in rural Mozambique, randomly assigning households one-time subsidies for adopting modern agricultural technology (chiefly fertilizer). Entire localities were later randomly assigned programs facilitating formal savings. In localities with no savings program, subsidy recipients raise their fertilizer use in the subsidized season and for two subsequent unsubsidized seasons. By contrast, in savings-program localities, subsidy impacts on fertilizer use do not persist: households shift resources away from fertilizer, instead accumulating savings in formal bank accounts. The savings programs also appear to improve household ability to cope with risk. These patterns are consistent with the theoretical case of dynamic substitution of subsidies; demand for self-insurance is so high that households scale back technology adoption so as to accumulate savings buffer stocks.

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January 29, 2016
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The pricing and advertising of tied add-ons and overages have come under increasing scrutiny. Working with a large Turkish bank to test SMS direct marketing promotions to 108,000 existing holders of “free” checking accounts, we find that promoting a large discount on the 60% APR charged for overdrafts reduces overdraft usage. In contrast, messages mentioning overdraft availability without mentioning price increase usage. Neither change persists long after messages stop, suggesting that induced overdrafting is not habit-forming. We discuss implications for interventions to promote transparency in pricing and advertising, and for models of shrouded equilibria, limited attention, and salience.

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January 20, 2016

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