Figure 1: Cambiste in action in Croix des Bouquets
In a cybercafé in downtown Port-au-Prince, Jean Yves deposits 100 gourdes into his TchoTcho Mobile account. His brother Michel, who owns the business, recommended that he register for this mobile money service so that he doesn’t have to carry money across town and risk being robbed. Taking his brother’s advice, Jean Yves deposits cash at the cybercafe and withdraws it via his phone when he arrives at his final destination. One hour away in the busy port town of Saint Marc, Carmen receives a text message saying that Mercy Corps has deposited US$40 of food aid into her T-Cash account. She picks up her bag and heads off to her local merchant to purchase rice and beans using her phone.
These are just two small snapshots of how Haitians have been using mobile money services since they became publicly available in November 2010 with Digicel’s TchoTcho Mobile and Voilá’s T-Cash. Mobile money was initially introduced to Haiti as a way to move money around following the January 12, 2010 earthquake. Widespread damage to financial, communications and transport infrastructure crippled Haiti’s already underdeveloped financial system. According to GSMA’s Mobile Money Deployment Tracker, formal banks have just 15% penetration in Haiti,  and money transfer offices are not always easy to access.
Mobile money promises a more affordable and accessible way of conducting a wide array of financial transactions for a broad spectrum of Haitians, possibly even evolving into true mobile banking. Potential benefits of this new technology range from the primarily economic, such as through facilitating the circulation of currency and the ability of poor people to save money, to the overwhelmingly social, such as sending money to a family member to pay school fees or help fund a cultural event, such as a carnival performance. More often than not, the social and the economic are inseparable. Mobile money’s integration with Haiti’s existing financial landscape therefore depends upon both the technicalities of its operations and on Haiti’s sociocultural landscapes.