KPCC News In Brief

UCI launches new institute to study how the poor use money

UC Irvine is launching a new institute that will study how people with little money use what money they have. Maybe that sounds pointless, but KPCC’s Nick Roman says there’s a very important point to the research.

Nick Roman: UCI’s new Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion will study how the world’s “last billion,” the poorest of the poor, spend and save money. The aim is to help the “last billion” do something they’ve never done before: use banks to grow their money, and grow out of poverty.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is paying for the research center. Its focus will be on developing financial products for poor people, like “M-banking.” That stands for “mobile banking.” In parts of the world, there aren’t many banks, but there are lots of cell phones.

In Africa, the telecommunications firm Safaricom offers an M-banking service to transfer money securely by text message. The new institute at UCI will study it. Irvine anthropologist Bill Maurer is the institute’s founding director. He says M-banking has exploded thanks to computer and phone innovations, but there’s been little research into how people actually use it. That’s his job now.


January 2009

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