In recent years, the prevalence of predatory or fraudulent finance-related mobile applications has increased as mobile access and finance technology providers expand. Many consumers have fallen victim to such apps, in particular after the onset of COVID-19, which drove an increase in usage of digital financial services.

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Digital payments offer a fast and transparent way to distribute cash aid to households that have been economically hard hit by the pandemic. In the Philippines, researchers conducted a survey to learn about the experience of recipients of the Social Amelioration Program (SAP), an emergency cash transfer program implemented by the government.

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How do cash transfers support newly-designated vulnerable populations and informal workers during an economic crisis? To help answer these questions, researchers studied  the effect of Ingreso Solidario (Solidarity Income), a new unconditional cash transfer in Colombia that was launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Payday loans—small short-term loans with high interest rates that become due at the time of the borrower’s next paycheck—are a common form of lending to people with low income in the United States. Do borrowers taking out these loans make rational decisions, or do they borrow more than they expect or would like to in the long run? Researchers partnered with a large payday lender in Indiana to conduct an evaluation to better understand consumers’ decision-making.

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What’s the impact of digital credit on micro, small and medium enterprises? Are there differential effects on enterprises owned by women? If so, why?

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Sports betting has emerged as one of the fastest growing forms of gambling, with new technologies facilitating its rapid spread into new markets in developing countries. What explains the persistent popularity of sports betting despite such a low rate of return from participation?

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The opening of Nigeria’s mobile money system to non-banks and new mobile banking products from commercial banks presents the potential for digital finance to take off in the country. To maximize the benefits of digital inclusion, expansion of use should occur alongside sufficient consumer protection policies and responsible product design.

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A large and growing segment of the Bangladesh population are digital financial service users, yet little has been done to investigate the range and prevalence of consumer protection issues that occur with these services such as fraud, hidden fees, and ineffective complaints mechanisms. In other markets, evidence suggests some customer segments, for example women and lower income customers, may experience these issues at higher rates than the population at large.

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Lack of access to finance limits small business growth—a problem that is exacerbated for Muslim business-owners, many of whom do not take out traditional loans for religious reasons. Innovations for Poverty Action supported research in Pakistan on a lease-based product that features more flexible repayment schedules, allows businesses to share risk with a large microfinance institution, and complies with local Islamic financial norms.

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To meet their saving goals, farmers often rely on informal saving mechanisms and commitment devices. But how much do farmers value these saving services? In partnership with a local dairy cooperative, researchers utilized a combination of evaluations and surveys to measure dairy farmers’ responses to various price and timing incentives.

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Can redesigning pension statements increase the understanding of key facts related to the pension system and improve coverage? Researchers in Colombia partnered with Colpensiones, Colombia’s public pension fund administrator, to test the effect of redesigning pension statements on the beneficiaries' understanding of the information presented and the identification of potential errors in their statements.

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Mobile financial services have become the main channel of financial inclusion, especially in low-income countries. However, consumer protection failures in the sector remain common. In Uganda, researchers partnered with the Uganda Communications Commission to conduct a phone-based survey among 1,000 users of mobile financial services to inquire about their experiences.

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The transaction costs associated with opening, maintaining, and withdrawing funds may be a barrier to using formal savings accounts for low-income individuals. In partnership with Family Bank of Kenya, researchers evaluated the impact of providing free ATM card to couples on savings account use.

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Remittances are one of the largest sources of financial flows to low- and middle-income countries, and researchers and decision-makers are interested in ways to increase their development impact. One promising approach is enabling migrants to label the remittances that they send home for a specific purpose, such as education or business activities.

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Social Media apps on a phone - via dole777 on Unsplash

As financial services digitize, more consumers are bringing their experiences online as well, using social media channels like Facebook and Twitter to raise concerns and issues with specific products or services. Social media data could shed new light into the issues that affect digital consumers and how providers are responding to these complaints.

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