Mercy Corps Tallies Costs, Benefits of Electronic Cash Transfers in Humanitarian Crises

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Global humanitarian agency first to compare cost-efficiency of different e-cash transfer methods in same emergency aid program

May 2014, Democratic Republic of Congo. A beneficiary of Mercy Corps' mobile money program holds up her registration packet.

A new study by the global humanitarian agency Mercy Corps examines the relative time and cost required to deliver cash assistance in an emergency setting. “Cheaper, Faster, Better?” is the first study to directly compare the cost-effectiveness of different electronic cash delivery approaches within the same program.

“Cash provides a reliable way for families in crisis to buy what they need, when they need it,” says Sara Murray, electronic cash transfer program manager for Mercy Corps. “Thanks to advances in technology, there are more ways to deliver cash safely and effectively, but it’s crucial to select the right method for a given environment.”

The study was conducted in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which has faced years of ongoing conflict, resulting in millions of people being displaced from their homes. More than 70 percent of the DRC’s population lives below the poverty line. Funded through a grant from MasterCard, the nine-month study evaluated three cash-transfer methods: physical cash, electronic vouchers (e-vouchers) and mobile money.

While e-vouchers were the most expensive to deploy, given the upfront hardware investment, they proved the fastest and most reliable delivery method. In contrast, mobile money proved highly problematic, taking three times longer to set up than e-vouchers and physical cash distributions. Moreover, the unreliability of the service provider and the dearth of cash-out locations in rural areas posed additional challenges.

“We still see great promise in the use of mobile money, both for cash transfers and for expanding financial services to underserved communities,” says Murray. “In this case, e-vouchers proved to be the better choice.”

“Mercy Corps’ study demonstrates that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to delivering cash-based aid,” says Monica Chaves, Director of Philanthropy at the MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth. “Through research like this we can help make aid delivery more efficient and effective.”

Mercy Corps has created a comprehensive guide for aid organizations looking to implement e- cash relief programs, including a decision tree to help select a cash transfer mechanism.

About Mercy Corps
Mercy Corps is a leading global humanitarian agency saving and improving lives in the world’s toughest places.

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Andie Long
Mercy Corps
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