Improving user journeys for humanitarian cash transfers

Marsabit, Kenya - March 2, 2015: Entrance to the fashion store in Marsabit, Kenya.

Humanitarian agencies today increasingly deliver cash to affected people, using a growing number of mechanisms to transfer money. From digital payment systems to more traditional methods of delivering funds, there is still much to be learned about how well these systems can meet recipients’ needs and satisfy their preferences.

Funded by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), our research in Kenya and Iraq contributes to a more holistic understanding of how cash transfer programmes and their underlying features are perceived by recipients. In collaboration with experts from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and Oxfam, we combined quantitative perception surveys with qualitative analyses of individual user journeys.

We found that while there is no one best mechanism suited for all user types and contexts, users want flexible delivery mechanisms they can trust. Their experiences are enhanced where users have the right information at all steps of their journey and feel able to participate in decisions that affect them. Main concerns by recipients relate to a lack of awareness and widespread confusion around key features of cash programmes including transfer values, duration, and targeting criteria.

Cash recipients in Kenya and Iraq describe in detail the challenges of accessing transfers, including expensive taxi rides to reach collection points and long waiting times once there. Some mechanisms are shown to incur costs on users directly when, for example, fees are imposed, or users receive damaged bank notes.

Emerging findings were presented and discussed with relevant stakeholders during workshops in Kenya, Iraq, and London.

Our summary report offers eight recommendations to improve user experiences for cash transfer programming. During the design stage of cash-based programming, it is crucial to use familiar delivery mechanisms, whenever possible. Even where this is not feasible at first, humanitarian actors should continue the quest to shift towards more familiar mechanisms later in the response. We argue that the cheapest way to transfer money is rarely the best solution for cash recipients. Rather, interventions should be designed with the recipient in mind, even where this means accepting higher transfer costs. It is crucial to provide opportunities for meaningful participation by cash recipients as early as possible, including seeking input on delivery mechanisms during the design stage.

During implementation, aid agencies should better communicate programme features and intensify the training of cash recipients and financial service providers to handle transfers in an effective way. Cash-based programmes should provide opportunities for referral of recipients with needs that cannot be met by transfers alone and include stronger links to complementary interventions.

Monitoring and evaluation of cash-based programmes should better mitigate the risks of exploitation of recipients, as well as of fraud by service providers. By systematically adopting a qualitative and user-centred approach, M&E functions of cash programmes can shed light on users’ experiences and perceptions of payment systems. Similarly, ensuring that field staff are trained to empathise with and understand the human experience of cash assistance can enable agencies to better identify unmet and latent needs, and inform the design of better solutions.

Detailed country reports including nine user journeys and the summary report are available for download below.