Research

Consumer finance in Europe:
The cultural economy of cross-border financial management
(2016-2017)

Since the inception of the European Union, the full integration of its member states has been of utmost priority for policy makers. Yet mobility across borders falls short of expectations, with just 3% of European residents having moved from one EU country to another. 

Surprisingly, cross-border mobility is also low throughout the EU’s eighty Euroregions, even though the proximity of national borders should make cross-border working, shopping, and socializing commonplace. Why, after decades of integration, does this relative immobility persist? 

There are many factors contributing to the dearth of cross-border mobility, including technical, regulatory, linguistic, and informational barriers. A growing body of research in economics, law, sociology, and anthropology suggests that financial issues also deter mobility.

In recent years, significant advances have been made in financial integration, including the construction of the Single Europe Payments Area (SEPA), cross-border taxation agreements, Europe-wide pension plans, and the purchase of mortgages across borders. 

Yet this financial integration is far from complete, even in Euroregions that have undergone up to five decades of governmental and technical integration. From everyday payments, to insurance, mortgages, and investments, households face obstacles in managing their finances across national borders.

These issues deter the emergence of a single market for financial services and discourage mobility across borders, especially labour mobility. Yet it is unclear precisely why financial barriers remain entrenched, in what ways they affect consumer mobility, and what could be done to overcome these barriers effectively.

To date, research on consumers’ financial management across EU borders has focused on technical/regulatory barriers (e.g., system integration, legislative boundaries) or the characteristics of single products/services (e.g., payments, insurance).

However, a growing body of evidence suggests that the problem of financial integration is complicated by the existence of multiple cultural-economic systems. The interplay of culture and market structures (“cultural economics”) shapes financial management across borders, particularly at the national level, because there is feedback between technical features of markets (e.g., pricing, distribution, regulation) and sociocultural dimensions of markets (e.g., language, aesthetic preferences, household structures). 

In this project I explore the ways in which cultural economics affects the development of a single market for consumer finance services in Europe and the mobility behaviours of consumers. I am investigating Europe-wide issues and plan to undertake a case study on consumers in the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion. 

The deliverables will be tailored to digital finance researchers and practitioners (e.g., academics, policy makers, non-profits, for-profits) to assist the development of policies, research design, consumer programmes, and products.

Consumer Finance Research Methods Project
(2014-2016)

A collaborative research project between Canela Consulting and the Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion (IMTFI) at the University of California, Irvine. You can read about the project on the IMTFI’s website.

The purpose of this project was to encourage knowledge sharing for better consumer finance research. Understanding consumers isn’t easy, especially given that products and services in consumer finance are changing fast around the world. 

Researchers in development, industry, academia, and government are all responding to these changes by innovating their approaches to understanding consumers. We stand to learn a lot from each other, but few of us have the time to look into what people in other sectors of consumer finance are doing. This project aims to bridge the knowledge gap, creating outputs that all consumer finance researchers can use.

Opportunities for new approaches are present in all stages of research, from conceptualization to planning, execution, analysis, and testing. For example, the IMTFI’s researchers, scattered around the globe, are adapting their research to changes in the payments space while they are in the field. Companies such as banks are hiring people with diverse research specialities and exploring ways to bring qualitative data together so as to turn data into actionable insights. The increasing availability of large data sets means that we have new sources to analyse that were not available before, and these are being deployed as part of mixed methods approaches.

We worked with the IMTFI and other stakeholders to begin the conversation and explore recent advances in consumer finance research around the world. The project’s outputs will showcase current practices from a diverse range of geographic and industry contexts.

The main output is the Consumer Finance Research Methods Toolkit. The Toolkit showcases qualitative and quantitative methods, share innovations, and present case studies of how methods are used by individuals and teams working towards different goals.

Mobiles, Migrants and Money:
A Study of Mobility in Haiti and the Dominican Republic
(2010-2012)

This was a collaborative research project with Dr. Heather Horst (Digital Ethnography Research Centre, RMIT, Melbourne) and Dr. Espelencia Baptiste (Department of Anthropology, Kalamazoo College, Michigan). It was funded by the Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion (IMTFI) at the University of California, Irvine.

Mobile phone ownership has increased dramatically in Haiti over the last few years, altering the ways in which Haitians maintain their market activities and social relations across the country’s diverse geography and trading routes. This project investigated how Haitians use cell phones as a means of storing value and as a tool to manage their social networks and economic activities through the development and maintenance of social and informational networks.

Our research was carried out primarily in Port-au-Prince and the towns of Pedernales and Anse-a-Pitres on the Dominican-Haitian border, with secondary sites in Cap Haïtien, Jacmel and Santo Domingo. We had two main foci: 1) How mobility (of information, people and things) helps Haitian travellers take advantage of, or cope with, differences on either side of the border (economic and cultural arbitrage); and 2) The development of a new mobile money system in Haiti and its integration into the existing financial and telecommunications ecology.

In Phase I (June-November 2010) we researched formal and informal remittance routes in Haiti, publishing a report called Haitian Monetary Ecologies: A Qualitative Snapshot of Money Transfer and Savings. This report provides a qualitative snapshot of Haitian monetary ecologies six months after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake on January 12, 2010. The research examined the variety of ways in which money, people and goods circulate throughout Haiti in light of the changing economic, social and financial landscape. Based upon over ninety qualitative interviews and focus groups with Haitians located in four key sites throughout the country, the report focuses upon the challenges that many Haitians face in their efforts to send, receive, exchange and store money, and the role of mobile phones and other conduits in this process.

In Phase II (December to April 2011) Dr. Batptise and I were on fieldwork in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, investigating the adoption and adaptation of new mobile banking services. While in the field we wrote a regular blog about our work on the IMTFI website. Our second report, Mobile Money in Haiti: Potentials and Challenges, builds upon our previous research on domestic remittances and financial practices to identify mobile money’s potentials and challenges given the specific characteristics of the mobile money services offered and the needs of the Haitian population.

In Phase III (January-May 2012) I worked with Dr. Horst and Gawain Lynch on the Dominican-Haitian border, looking specifically at how mobile phones and money transfers are impacting upon movement and trade of Haitians on the Dominican Republic. We were also interested in the persistence of social stratification along national lines, despite a long history of trade and socialization between border towns. Among other things, we published a paper called The role of mobile phones in the mediation of border crossings: A study of Haiti and the Dominican Republic (Horst and Taylor, 2014). The project was also featured in the Citi Money Gallery at the British Museum.

Material Culture and Poverty in the Dominican Republic
(2004-2009)

This project began with my PhD research in the Department of Anthropology at The University of Sydney, Australia, where I was supervised by Professor Diane Austin-Broos. My studies were funded by a University Postgraduate Award and my fieldwork was supported by the Carlyle Greenwell Research Fund and the Faculty of Arts Research Support Scheme. 

My doctoral fieldwork in a Santo Domingo squatter settlement primarily addressed the first issue of social stratification and material forms. I carried out the bulk of this research over fifteen months in 2004-5, producing a thesis entitled Abajo el Puente: Place and the Politics of Progress in Santo Domingo. I have undertaken three shorter trips since then, including undertaking a follow-up survey in November 2009.

My research analysed the strategies and practices of squatter settlements to realise socioeconomic mobility. In 2013 this research was published as a book called Materializing Poverty: How the Poor Transform their Lives (2013, Altamira). The book explores how very poor people use the material world around them to cope with poverty and, over the years, to transform their lives.