Card Crusaders, Cash Infidels and the Holy Grails of Digital Financial Inclusion

Philip Mader


This paper analyses the turn toward financial inclusion in general, and toward digital money and the end of cash in particular, in development policy. It examines the profit-oriented logics at work and raises critical questions about the moral crusade being waged over digitalising poor people’s money. It begins with a discussion of why financial inclusion has displaced microfinance on global development agendas, and is bringing new practices and players to the space of poverty finance. It shows how financial inclusion modifies the theory of change underlying poverty finance, with financial intermediation rather than income generation now being seen as crucial to poverty alleviation, and analyses and explains the particular emphasis on promoting cashless payment systems. As becomes evident, powerful actor coalitions (card crusaders) are assembling to push for an end of cash and the full digitalisation of poor people’s money. These crusaders pursue three holy grails: to capitalise on everyday transaction costs, to use big data generated by the poor for sale and analysis, and to exert greater governmental over poor people’s money. This raises serious questions about the possibility of empowerment through financial inclusion.


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