Friday, July 30, 2010

Mobile Money

During our lunch hour I walked to and from town with two coworkers, Lucy and Lillian. Lucy was in pursuit of a new mattress and Lillian needed to stop at the bank. Today, unlike the cloudy cold day yesterday, was hot. The scarf, sweater, and rain jacket that seemed essential yesterday now appear completely out of place. The line at the bank for the ATM was long, probably 20 people waiting patiently for their turn at retrieving cash. We stopped in at several store fronts with stacks of foam mattresses covered in thin cloth, 5 or 6 inches deep. Although the salesman boasted long lasting foam, if these are anything like my mattress, I have a reason to believe that after just one month there are indentations where one sleeps at night.

Before we headed back down into the valley of swamp land between town and our office, Lillian stopped at a Mobile Money Agent to send money to her son via a cell phone. I remember my friend and colleague Oola (from Gulu, studying with me at Notre Dame) telling us about this in our economics class last semester, but did not understand how this system actually works. The Mobil Money Agent is associated with one of the cell phone companies and sits at a small desk outside on one of the main roads through town. In order to send money to her son, who is studying law in the south, Lillian simply gave cash to the Mobil Money Agent, who registered and completed the transaction to the son's cell phone within a couple of minutes. Lillian called her son and confirmed that he had received the money before we left the stall.

Lillian sent 20,000 Ugandan Shillings ($10) and paid 800 Ugandan Shillings (40 cents) for the transaction. Her son will then go to a similar Mobile Money Agent and retrieve the cash. He will pay 700 Shillings to get the money. The transaction fee increases slightly depending on the amount of money being transferred. Lillian explained that this was so much more convenient than sending money through the banks- there are more Mobile Money Agents than banks, there is no line, and the transaction is immediate. With this system one can send money to anyone, and it seems a whole lot less complicated than paypal...

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