Can Haiti's informal economy eschew cash and embrace phone-to-phone money transfers?
SAINT-MARC, Haiti — Adeline Alexandre does a steady business selling Haitian staples at Fifi Boutique, a little hillside shop off a dirt street with potholes the size of bathtubs.
Sardine cans, buckets of rice, jars of cooking oil and stacks of empty Coca-Cola bottles fill her shelves — along with a glaring reminder that she, like Haiti, remains in the financial dark ages.
Her cash register is a splintering wooden drawer filled with crumpled bills and tarnished coins. It sits behind the counter on a gray bucket seat that had been torn from a car and dropped on the store’s concrete floor.
“I’ve always done it that way,” she said. Perhaps not for much longer.
Haitian telecoms and banks are racing to sign up residents like Alexandre for mobile banking plans through which payments are made electronically from mobile phone to mobile phone. The money is stored in an “electronic wallet” — the phone’s SIM card — instead of that wooden drawer.
...“I’ve met people who’ve never walked into a bank before,” said Kokoevi Sossouvi, who runs financial services for the aid group Mercy Corps, which is incorporating mobile money in a food aid program for 20,000 people in Saint-Marc and surrounding areas. “This is a safe way for them to have access to a full suite of financial services. Our goal is financial inclusion”...