Digital Society Forum Digital Society Forum
Dossier 18/02/2014

Mobile Banking, the tool of the independent migrant

And what if the migrants reserved less money for transfers to their family than for themselves? Far from the traditional theory of the duty of solidarity weighing upon migrants, this unexpected assumption is a reality.

Contrary to theoretical and empirical research conducted so far, the findings of David Bounie, Dana Diminescu and Abel François' study are surprising. Not only did researchers show that 70% of transactions carried out by migrants are aimed towards the establishment of personal savings in the country, but also that they transfer roughly as much money to their families (15%) as to a broader social circle (13%), constituted of distant family, friends or even lovers.

New data


How did these researchers find these results, which are so far removed from traditional theories on migrants' money transfers? Simply by studying new data. Whereas research on the financial transactions of the migrants is traditionally based on two types of data, interviews and the data recorded by national banks, the study carried out by David Bounie was based on original data: banking transfer statements on transactions carried out by telephone. Data which, according to researchers, is more exact: it neither suffers from the inaccuracy of the memory of respondents nor the undervaluation by banks of low value transactions. However, although this mode of transfer and payment is developing quickly, it remains in the minority compared to systems like Western Union.

New services


Since 2005, migrants can, by subscription, transfer money internationally via a simple call or by SMS, depending on the service. The pilot program appeared under the impetus of GSMA, an association of 850 mobile phone operators in 218 countries worldwide. This program thus operates a major change in the transactional activity of migrants, while tallying banking and communication corridors. A change appreciated by the migrants at the very least, many of whom own a phone but may not have a bank account. Basing its initiative on this observation, the project facilitates the opening of an account in the country of origin. As of 2009, there were 10 million users and in some countries, like the Philippines, this activity has even become even a state policy behind many innovative companies.

New uses


For researchers, the financial activity of migrants can no longer be understood only as an expression of an informal family contract honoured by money transfers. On the contrary, thanks to this new mobile banking service, migrants can make their "drive for autonomy" and escape the weight of collective representation. In some qualitative interviews conducted, to explain these new individual strategies, the reasons were given as being: “to be master of one's possessions elsewhere”, “to give to one's own, but to keep for oneself”, or “to prepare for retirement”, “to pay off a loan” or “to finance holidays back home”. Welcome financial autonomy which is both "out of sight" and allows for the duty of solidarity, which makes it possible for migrants to invent everyday life, here and over there.


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