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Celebrating the launch of mobile money in Haiti

Haiti, December 10, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Fabiola Coupet/Mercy Corps  </span>
    A younger man trains an older man how to use mobile money in Haiti's Pandiassou community. Photo: Fabiola Coupet/Mercy Corps

Mercy Corps was recognized on Monday in a ceremony to announce the launch of T-cash, the Haitian mobile money service from telecom operator Voilà and Haitian bank Unibank. Over the past nine months, we've been a central partner in supporting the implementation and development of the T-cash service.

We view the establishment of a mobile money system in Haiti an important step to extend secure, convenient and affordable financial services to the millions of Haitians that lack access to a formal bank account. With this in mind, Mercy Corps used T-cash technology to deliver humanitarian payments through the mobile channel in the Central Plateau and Lower Arbonite regions as part of our economic recovery programming in those areas. This week’s event marked a public declaration of the viability of the commercial service to launch at a national level, and a broad recognition of the transformational potential of the innovation.

The ceremony featured speeches from Voilà director Robin Patberg, Unibank chairman Carl Braun and Mercy Corps Haiti country director Brian Oakes. In front of a standing room-only crowd of more 100 people, Patberg outlined the current T-cash service offering: the ability to store and transfer money and make in-store purchases using a cellular telephone.

Later, Voilà performed a demonstration of the technology. Voilà and Unibank highlighted Mercy Corps’ critical role in the development of T-cash, particularly the importance of the Mercy Corps pilot to demonstrate and inform the viability of the service at a national level.

All three organizations emphasized the importance of financial inclusion for the unbanked. Notably, Voilà and Unibank recognized the financially underserved as key T-cash constituents. Chairman Braun spoke of the 2.2 million bank accounts in Haiti — representing roughly 50 percent of the adult population of the country — that represent “an acceptable but insufficient level” of banked clients. However, Haiti is a country of just under 10 million inhabitants, where youth under 30 make up the bulk (70 percent) of the population. The partners view T-cash as a key tool to extend banking services to Haiti’s unbanked — both adults and youth.

The event celebrated the collaborative efforts of the partners. Mercy Corps piloted the service; identified, mobilized and trained program participants, as well as managed the logistics of the humanitarian distributions. Voilà and Unibank developed and introduced the mobile money architecture, incorporated our suggestions and comments for improvement, and designed a service relevant to the unbanked population.

Through our combined efforts we were able to unveil a service that has the potential to transform financial services in Haiti.

In the coming months, T-cash will continue to expand. Feedback thus far from our program has indicated that users overall appreciate the service — emphasizing the trust, convenience, security and anonymity that mobile money offers. If these experiences remain consistent, a national launch of T-cash should go a long way towards increasing financial inclusion for the other 50 percent of unbanked Haitian adults.

That is something to celebrate.