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Mobile phone-enabled banking and payments

Understanding usability, security, social context, and impact


This project examines a range of mobile phone-based banking and payment solutions across countries, understanding the usability of m-banking systems by low-literate clients, the security of financial transactions conducted over low-end phones, as well as the social and economic context and impact of the new channel on low-income households.


The excitement around mobile phone-enabled banking (m-banking) and payment (m-payment) channels is on the rise, and their combination with the delivery of key financial services is believed to hold much promise as a socio-economic development tool. However, there is a need for systematic research to understand the relation between such innovations in financial service delivery and poverty alleviation.

We are engaged in a four-part research project with the objectives of:

· Understanding user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design requirements for low-literate customers of m-banking and m-payment solutions;

· Designing secure technology solutions that match these UI requirements;

· Assessing the social and economic context in which low-income individuals use m-banking and m-payment services;

· Studying the effect of m-banking and m-payment usage on the lives of low-income individuals, especially the impact on economic welfare, social networks and cultural ties.


Current Research

Photograph: courtesy EKO India Financial Services Limited

We are developing new technologies for doing authenticated banking on developing world mobile networks. What makes this problem particularly hard is the fact that a large number of mobile phones in the developing world have limited computing capabilities and are essentially impossible to program with software that one might want to use for strong security. (See picture.) Add to this the fact that current-day GSM networks neither provide good privacy guarantees to users nor enable secure authenticated communication between them. To counter these problems, we have come up with novel user-hardware based solutions for sending authenticated messages over mobile phones, similar to the ones that are used in corporate access control systems. We are working with EKO, a mobile banking provider in India, on this project. Our solutions have been field-tested with EKO’s customers and are being considered for deployment.

Low-tier mobile phones like these are prevalent in the developing world, and manufacturers continue to invest in them to increase rural outreach.

Previous Research

The project’s field research has involved ethnographic design methods, as well as interviews with key stakeholders (primarily end-users of the service, channel mediators (e.g. agents), and the institutional providers of the service) to collect data on the key constraints targeted by the intervention, usage patterns of the m-banking channel, cost comparisons between old and new channels for the given service, convenience metrics, welfare impact, and the social networks involved in usage. Our analysis presents an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the m-banking channel in meeting goals of accessibility, usability, cost savings, improved quality, convenience and social relevance in serving low-income clientele and contributing to welfare gains.


People involved and Partners

Indrani Medhi, Saurabh Panjwani, Aishwarya Lakshmi Ratan, Jonathan Donner, Kentaro Toyama, Ed Cutrell




Saurabh Panjwani, Towards End-to-End Security in Branchless Banking, in Workshop on Mobile Computing Systems and Applications (HotMobile), ACM, May 2011.

Saurabh Panjwani and Edward Cutrell, Usably Secure, Low-Cost Authentication for Mobile Banking, in Symposium On Usable Privacy and Security (SOUPS) 2010, Association for Computing Machinery, Inc., July 2010.

Saurabh Panjwani, Prasad Naldurg, and Raghav Bhaskar, Analysis of Two Token-Based Authentication Schemes for Mobile Banking, no. MSR-TR-2010-75, June 2010.

Indrani Medhi, Aishwarya Lakshmi Ratan, and Kentaro Toyama, Mobile-Banking Adoption and Usage by Low-Literate, Low-Income Users in the Developing World, in Proc. of HCII 2009, Springer Verlag, July 2009.

Indrani Medhi, Nagasena Gautama S. N, and Kentaro Toyama, A Comparison of Mobile Money-Transfer UIs for Non-Literate and Semi-Literate Users, ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 2009.

Aishwarya Ratan, Using technology to deliver financial services to low-income households: A preliminary study of Equity Bank and M-PESA customers in Kenya, no. MSR-TR-2009-4, June 2008.

Jonathan Donner and Camilo Tellez, Mobile banking and economic development: Linking adoption, impact, and use, in Asian Journal of Communication, vol. 18, no. 4, pp. 318-332, 2008.


Selected Presentations

Donner, Jonathan. (2008, September 19). “Re-examining m-banking: linking adoption, impact, design, and use.” Keynote presentation at the workshop on Everyday Digital Money, Irvine, CA.

Ratan, A.L., I. Medhi, J. Donner and K. Toyama. (2007, September 18)."Costs, Contacts and Convenience: Leapfrogging Access to Finance with Mobile Phone Technology." Presentation at the CGAP/ IFC/ VISA conference on "Next Generation Access to Finance: Gaining Scale and Reducing Costs with Technology and Credit Scoring", Washington D.C.



A number of researchers at other institutions are engaged in the effort to understand the uptake and impact of m-banking and m-payment channels among the poor. Pointers to some of their work are listed below:

Morawczynski, Olga and Mark Pickens. "Poor People Using Mobile Financial Services: Observations on Customer Usage and Impact from M-PESA”, CGAP Policy Brief, August 2009.

Porteous, David. "Just how transformational is m-banking?"" FinMark Trust, February 2007.

Ivatury, Gautam and Mark Pickens. "Mobile Phone Banking and Low-Income Customers: Evidence from South Africa." CGAP, 2006.

Wishart, Neville. "Micro-Payment Systems and Their Application to Mobile Networks. Infodev / World Bank, 2006.