We have all seen, with mounting horror, the health and economic impacts of the Covid-19 crisis as they have unfolded globally over the past months.  Unlike any crisis before, we face a challenge in that traditional humanitarian responses may not work.  This crisis is unique in affecting large parts of the world at the same time, and responders who would usually be organizing ground-based efforts to specific locations and populations are themselves in lockdown, and often stunned by the scope and scale of the needs to be addressed.

DFS Agent KenyaWe are having to work out, in a very short amount of time, how we offer humanitarian relief and solutions to these problems, and how we do this from a distance.  Most are turning to digital platforms such as DFS (digital financial services) as the answer.  Many donor organizations are immediately looking to replicate reactions from elsewhere in the world by organizing massive G2P (government-to-person) payment programs to alleviate missing incomes and are looking to use DFS and mobile money to execute them.


At MSC and Caribou Data we wanted to see how we could contribute to making these programs more successful, and we asked ourselves how we can, also from a distance, use our experience and platforms to understand what the situation for mobile money and banking agents is on the ground in Kenya.  We wanted to understand how they’re coping with lockdowns and curfews, social distancing and hygiene, and reduced hours of bank opening.  We wanted to understand how cash flow was changing, whether liquidity was becoming an issue, and what the experience of being at the very physical frontline of a digital banking system felt like for an agent in these troubled times.

After a brief discussion, we dove directly into a research sprint, using near-live data from the Caribou Data platform and MSC’s extensive contacts within agent networks to attempt a seven day research process to understand what’s going on within these agent networks.  We drew quant data from over 1,000 users in a demographically representative panel to see what real cash flows were over time, and we spoke to 20 agents, one super agent and five bank agent supervisors with a simple structured questionnaire to get a sense of the experiential issues of being on the frontline of money distribution.

Our full findings are below in this report, but in summary our findings show that:

  • DFS wallet balances are volatile, with an initial cash-out spike evolving into a pattern of reduced overall transaction volume but increases in transaction size, with the net effect of a halving of average wallet balances since the crisis started.
  • Agent commissions have halved, putting pressure on their own livelihoods, and increased transaction sizes are making liquidity balancing harder and harder.
  • Hygiene advice is poorly communicated to agents, if at all.  Without clear advice, guidance and protective equipment, agents are at risk to themselves and their customers.
  • We recommend that the central role of agents as frontline workers in this crisis be recognized and supported, particularly as they will be crucial to managing cash out and liquidity as DFS social payment schemes are rolled out across large numbers of the population

Further detailed research on DFS agents’ experiences in the Covid-19 crisis is available from MSC here. We plan to investigate more areas for future research, such deep dives into gender, urban/rural differences and other countries such Ghana, South Africa and Bangladesh. We welcome other organizations support and ideas for future research topics – contact us at covid19@cariboudigital.net

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