Mobile Phones and Financial Services in Developing Countries

Research concerning mobile phones and financial services in developing countries has undergone rapid growth in recent years.  This paper seeks to improve understanding of this expanding research area and in so doing consider the potential for mobile phone applications for the delivery of financial services for the poor.

The current state of knowledge is assessed by reviewing the content of 43 research articles drawn from both peer-reviewed academic journals and non-peer reviewed studies and other practitioner-orientated sources.  A framework is developed that categorises and analyses the research according to a socio-technical spectrum, identifying levels of analysis and differentiating research activity according to a lifecycle model that incorporates financial needs, design and applications, adoption and adaptation, and impact.

Positive aspects of research to-date are identified, most noticeably the high level of practitioner involvement in research publication and the strong links that have been forged between the mobile phone industry and the research community.  This, however, has also caused research to become too narrowly defined and largely a- theoretical.

Hence, research weaknesses and gaps are also identified suggesting that issues relating to financial needs and the measurement of impacts have been comparatively neglected, whilst application design and adoption have received greater attention.  Emphasis tends to be on devices and new ways to deliver services, but ignores the broader context of financial services for the poor and tends to be technology-led.  In order to correct this imbalance in research, the paper identifies key research gaps relating to concepts, methodologies, issues addressed and evidence presented and provides pointers to future research directions.

Educator’s guide to student questions for this paper.

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Duncombe, R. and Boateng, R. (2009) Mobile Phones and Financial Services in Developing Countries: A Review of Concepts, Methods, Issues, Evidence and Future Research Directions, Development Informatics Working Papers, 37, 1-33. Institute for Development Policy and Management, University of Manchester.


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