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who visit Muniyamma can now use smart cards and thumbprint
authentication to deposit and withdraw cash. Muniyamma keeps
the cash in a strongbox, reconciles accounts via a wireless con-
nection to the bank (established over her cell phone), and gives
out printed receipts for each transaction.
On the day I visited, Muniyamma padded barefoot around her
tidy one-room concrete home, where immaculate steel cookware
was stacked in the kitchen area. A silver wedding ring encircled
the second toe of her left foot; studs adorned both ears and her
right nostril; a mint-green sari swathed most of the rest of her.
Before long, Jayalakshmamma Doddarasaiah, a 22-year-old
mother of two, arrived carrying her 17-month-old son, Mahesha.
Jayalakshmamma wanted to deposit 100 rupees from a recent
sale of ragi, a local crop similar to millet. She was in a hurry, as it
was almost time to milk the cows in her extended family's
concrete-and-thatch compound two alleys over. Jayalakshmamma
slid her smart card into a plastic slot on the side of Muniyamma's
white metal machine and, after some prompting from the audio
interface, placed her left thumb on the reader. The ragi harvest
had left her fingers cut and callused, so the machine was unable
to recognize her. But other villagers who stopped by had no prob-
lems, and the technology is clearly widening their opportunities.
For example, a 55-year-old village man named Karehanumaiah
was able to deposit 150 rupees. Until
early 2008, he'd never had a bank
account or access to formal credit.
Borrowing 1,800 rupees from an
informal lender to buy a goat would
have cost him as much as 10 percent
monthly interest. Now he has a sav-
ings account and can borrow from
Such approaches have their crit-
ics; Swamy is one. He says that
India could, in fact, become utterly
cashless; a man like Karehanumaiah
could be paid for his farm labor
electronically and buy goods and
services the same way. Given that
many areas of India have no bank-
ing infrastructure at all, he argues,
it makes no sense to try to build
kiosks and machines. "Those are
nonscalable models and very labor-
intensive models," Swamy says. "If
he can do it in his village, he can do it in his pocket [with his
cell phone]. That is our perspective." Still, most experts say a
wholesale changeover to electronic transactions is unrealistic,
and that mobile banking will require some connection to the
Either way, the technology is there; the issue now is creating the
environment necessary to cultivate it. "First, it will take changes in
regulation," says CGAP's Ignacio Mas. "Second, it will take a mind
shift by the banks to see opportunities where they haven't before.
And it will take partnerships: how will the [telecom companies]
and banks come together with companies like mChek and other
vendors who can bring together the [retail] agents?"
Nobody has specifically proposed using cell phones for bank-
ing in Kasaghatta. But it is plain to see that in the village, all the
elements are in place. Not long after watching Jayalakshmamma's
failed e ort to deposit 100 rupees, I visited her home. The scene
was one of bare-bones rural living; her parents sat on a floor of
packed dirt, holding her daughter. Two cows munched grass nearby.
Reaching the interior of the one-room concrete hut required pass-
ing through a thatched enclosure housing more cows. But it turned
out that Jayalakshmamma's husband, like Sabira Khanam, owns
a cell phone. I asked Muniyamma how many people had bank
accounts in the village, and the answer came back: 190 of the 700
residents. Then I asked how many owned cell phones. The num-
ber was 300, and counting.
DAVID TALBOT IS TECHNOLOGY REVIEW'S CHIEF CORRESPONDENT.
BRANCHLESS BANKING Villagers in Kasaghatta, India, make cash
deposits with a local bank representative, who confirms their identities with
a fingerprint reader and a smart card. Such outreach efforts could comple-
ment cell-phone transactions by providing new ways to deal with cash.
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