Mobile phone-enabled banking and payments

Understanding usability, security, social context, and impact


Overview  |           Research       |           Resources     |           Contact




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.


The project involves looking at a range of existing and proposed m-banking and m-payment solutions across countries, understanding the usability of m-banking systems by low-literate clients, as well as assessing the social and economic context and impact of the new channel on low-income households.







Current Research


low-end-phone.jpgWe 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


Photograph: courtesy EKO India Financial Services Limited




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.





Our research has involved field investigations in India, the Philippines, Kenya and South Africa so far. Each field study has resulted in a detailed case report, whose findings are then synthesized for public circulation. Our current publications include the following:


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

Panjwani S., Naldurg P., Bhaskar R., Analysis of Two Token-Based Authentication Schemes for Mobile Banking, Microsoft Research Technical Report no. MSR-TR-2010-75, June 2010

Medhi, I., Ratan, A. and Toyama, K. Mobile-Banking Adoption and Usage by Low-Literate, Low-Income Users in the Developing World. Proc. Human Computer Interaction International, San Diego, USA, 2009.

Medhi, I., Nagasena, G. S. N., and Toyama, K. A Comparison of Mobile Money-Transfer UIs for Non-Literate and Semi-Literate Users. Proc. ACM Conference on Computer Human Interaction, Boston, USA, 2009. -- [Best paper nomination CHI'09]

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

Donner, Jonathan. M-Banking. id21 insights #69, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, 2007.



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.


Donner, Jonathan. (2007, August 23). "M-banking and m-payments services in the developing world: New channel, same ties?" Paper presented at the panel on living and livelihoods at HOIT2007: Home/community oriented ICT for the next billion, IIT Madras, Chennai, India.


Donner, Jonathan. (2007, April 20). “Mobile telephones as institutional links in the developing world: Implications for privacy and identity.” Presentation at the Workshop on Personal Privacy in a World of Intelligent Devices, School of Communication, Information, and Library Studies at Rutgers University.





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. "Examining the adoption and usage of m-banking in Kenya: The case of M-PESA." Presentation at the AITEC African Banking Technology Conference, Nairobi, April 2008.


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.





This project involves a cross-disciplinary group of researchers from design, economics, sociology, and computer science.





Indrani Medhi       |       Saurabh Panjwani               |           Aishwarya Ratan       |           Jonathan Donner         |           Kentaro Toyama



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