Mobile Money: The First Decade

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Contributed date

July 17, 2018 - 4:28pm

Critical Commentary


Over the past decade, mobile phone-enabled financial services, such as those made famous by the Kenyan mobile money platform M-Pesa, have been heralded as a means of poverty alleviation and financial inclusion. The mobile platform represents an exciting possibility as a delivery channel for digital financial services and as a technology that, like money, connects people with one another. Yet mobile money deployments around the world have not had unequivocal success. In this working paper, we survey lessons from the first decade of research into mobile money, focusing on an archive of studies produced by fellows funded by the Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion (IMTFI), based at the University of California, Irvine. We describe mobile money’s primary use case—P2P money transfer—and argue that both the “Ps” and the “2s” of this model (mobile money’s “peers” and the technological and social infrastructures that intermediate them) must be understood in context. We then outline ten insights from the IMTFI research archive that demonstrate the contextual complexities involved in introducing and scaling mobile money, including discussions of: agent networks; physical infrastructure; location, place, and space; kinship and family; gender and gender inequality; class, caste, and rank; religion and ritual; time and tempo; government and regulation; and the persistence of both cash and non-currency stores of value. We conclude by raising issues that promise to be critical provocations for the next decade of mobile money research, making an argument for methodological diversity, and interrogating the limitations of the “financial inclusion” frame within which mobile money has been situated as a development intervention. If mobile money is, at its core, a technology of communication and circulation, it is also a central means of distribution and redistribution. What would it mean, then, to shift the conversation from debates over financial inclusion to questions about financial justice?


Rea, Stephen C. and Taylor C. Nelms (2017). “Mobile Money: The First Decade.” Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion working paper.

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Cite as

Stephen Rea, Taylor Nelms and Bill Maurer, "Mobile Money: The First Decade", contributed by James Adams, STS Infrastructures, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 17 July 2018, accessed 23 September 2023.