Cheaper, Faster, Better? A Case Study of New Technologies in Cash Transfers from the Democratic Republic of Congo

Categories : Customer and Users of Digital Payments, Humanitarian and digital social payments


Author: Mercy Corps

This study from Mercy Corps compares three different cash transfer mechanisms used in one humanitarian program in the Democratic Republic of Congo: physical cash, electronic vouchers, and mobile money. The study set out to answer two specific questions:
1. What are the differences in cost and time required to deliver cash assistance through these three different mechanisms in the DRC?
2. How do electronic transfers (e-vouchers and mobile money) affect the user experience in the DRC?

The research took place between October 2013 and June 2014 as part of an existing humanitarian program. As part of the study, 3,355 individuals received assistance from Mercy Corps in the form of electronic vouchers (e-vouchers), mobile money or physical cash. This study provides an opportunity to directly compare the time and cost efficiency of cash transfer mechanisms used in the same program during the same period. The study’s findings can be separated into three distinct areas: cost to deliver assistance, time to deliver assistance, and user experience.

Comparing the transfer mechanisms side by side, we found that cash was the fastest, simplest and most straightforward to set up, but was not available to all program participants because of security risks. E-vouchers worked reliably and offer an alternative where cash is unavailable or too risky. Though expensive for short programs, their up-front costs could be offset in longer programs, and are expected to fall as demand increases. Mercy Corps’ recommendation is to not use mobile money for humanitarian cash transfers in places like the DRC, where service providers are inexperienced and infrastructure is weak. Although mobile money fees were comparable to using cash, it was more expensive overall because it required greater staff time to manage.