Oral Financial Numeracy: A Hypothesis and Exploratory Test
Brett Hudson Matthews, My Oral Village, Inc. 2016

Achieving financial inclusion for oral populations, even in a world with a smartphone in every adult pocket, is a distinctive, neglected and highly salient information-design challenge. This paper presents a theory about oral financial inclusion and a simple empirical test.

In field testing in Cambodia and Tanzania, we found evidence of gaps in numeric cognition that are critical to financial inclusion: including decoding multi-digit number strings, saving and planning for the future in cash, and using calendars to manage household resources. However, we also found evidence of oral strengths that offer cognitive scaffolding for learning key skills, especially ability to count large numbers with the support of physical cash notes.

Oral Financial Numeracy in Tanzania: An Exploratory Study
Brett Hudson Matthews and Hawa Nuhu Mnyasenga, My Oral Village, Inc. 2016

Based on prior informal studies, including one in Bangladesh (published in Oral Information Management Tools, 2014) this paper profiles numeracy skills in a sample of 40 economically active, illiterate adults in rural Tanzania.

Some skills, includng counting large numbers in cash, adding, subtracting, estimating proportions and accurately counting large numbers in cash, are unexpectedly strong. But the authors also find evidence that illiterate adults frequently face certain characteristic skill deficits that can be a decisive barrier to financial inclusion, including mobile. Of particular concern is inability to decode place value (read 4+ digit written numbers), understand the concept of percent, and use a modern calendar. .

Oral Numeracy in a Digital World: Briefing Note #1
Brett Hudson Matthews, My Oral Village, Inc. 2016

As part of a larger study of oral financial numeracy, My Oral Village conducted a study of numeracy among 80 illiterate adults, mostly female users of financial services, in Cambodia and Tanzania in 2015. This 5-page brief note summarizes the results of the study, including the meaning of the multi-digit divide, awareness of information contained in financial records, arithmetic capabilities, understanding of calendar time and use of mobile money apps. It identifies implications for digital finance, and key strengths of oral financial numeracy that can ground enhanced financial interface design.

Balance or Break? Charting a Course for Savings Group Sustainability
Brett Hudson Matthews and Krishnan Narasimhan, UNCDF/Pacific Financial Inclusion Programme, 2015

Pre-literate enterprises have historically relied on ‘breaking’ — a periodic distribution of 100% of their assets back to their investors — to build confidence and validate that money has not been lost. During modernization many oral communities are persuaded by literate development practitioners to ‘balance’ written accounts instead of breaking. Due to different oral capabilities, incentives and institutions this results in frequent enterprise failure. This paper explores the meaning and practical consequences of the ‘balance or break’ trade-off for practitioners, policy-makers and the oral population with particular reference to savings groups.

Oral Information Management Tools: Lighting the Path to Financial Inclusion
Brett Hudson Matthews, My Oral Village, Inc. 2014

This paper is about designing financial products that illiterate and neo-literate people can use effectively and comfortably, by making the flows of information that accompany financial transactions usable for them. Here the tools required for such design are referred to ‘oral information management’ or OIM tools. This introduction to OIM tools reviews the theory behind them, including discussions of oral culture, behavioral finance, the psychology of learning and human-centred design. It includes examples from Cambodia, Bangladesh and the Solomon Islands, and proposes a set of core principles for OIM development and design.

Of Good Intentions, and Micropensions
Brett Hudson Matthews, Socialfinance.ca, 2012

This featured opinion piece at Canada’s premier social investment website discusses the explosive growth of the microfinance asset class, fueled by well-intentioned social investors, enthusiastic to fund microcredit programs world-wide. Ironically, this asset class has created perverse incentives for microfinance institutions to neglect local savings mobilization, effectively ‘crowding out’ the products that poor households need to accumulate assets, manage risks, and invest in the future. Grameen Bank’s introduction of micropensions, funded by the savings of poor Bangladeshi women, offers a truly ‘socially responsible’ alternative.

Orality and Microsavings
Brett Hudson Matthews, MicroSave India, 2010

Set in the lead-up to the meltdown in microcredit in Andhra Pradesh in 2010, this Briefing Note (BN #77) for MicroSave India explores the potential for the application of oral tools for microfinance institutions and business correspondents in India.

Governing the Oral Institution
Brett Hudson Matthews, Mathwood Consulting Company, 2009

This paper draws on the pioneering studies of orality by Walter J. Ong, and the work of Ronald Coase and Oliver Williamson on transaction costs, to develop both a theoretical framework and practical tools for overcoming the failure of rural financial markets through cooperative and other village-based institutions.

On an Informal Frontier: The ASCAs of Lower Assam
Abhijit Sharma and Brett Hudson Matthews, in The Financial Promise of the Poor, Kumarian Press, 2010

Here, Abhijit Sharma of the Indian Institute of Bank Management (Guwahati) and Brett Matthews document the extraordinary informal financial systems that have emerged in the past 3 decades in lower Assam. These systems include multiple product offerings (recurring savings accounts, term deposits up to 5 years, pension plans, and loans up to 3 years for various purposes). Informal auditors — often local primary school teachers or other educated villagers — check the accounts frequently.

SHGs Should Balance or Break
Trivikrama Devi and Brett Hudson Matthews, MicroSave India, 2009

Here, Trivikrama Devi of MicroSave India and Brett Matthews observe that there is a mismatch in Indian self-help groups (SHGs) between the information systems they require to protect the savings of their villager-members, and the capabilities of the members of the groups. They make recommendations for correcting this mismatch.

Credit Union Briefing Notes
Brett Hudson Matthews, Mathwood Consulting Company, 2007

One of Canada’s ‘best practices’ internationally is its community credit unions. Their soundness and effectiveness today emerges from a history of financial necessity, grit and institution-building in rural areas across the country. These ‘Briefing Notes’ for Canada’s credit unionists make the case that this experience is exactly what is needed to bring rural financial inclusion to villages across the developing world. Can the mission that led to the emergence of credit unions in the Maritimes and on the Prairies during the Great Depression be reborn on a vast new canvas?

Internal Control Working Paper
Brett Hudson Matthews, Mathwood Consulting Company, 2005

This paper, based on extensive field research in rural Cambodia, analyzes the impact of illiteracy on internal control of village financial intermediaries. Internal control weaknesses undercut member trust and effectively choke off the delivery of microsavings. The paper makes practical proposals about how to address this cluster of related problems (illiteracy — weak internal control — low trust — market failure in savings) in rural Cambodia.

Towards Safety and Self-Reliance
Brett Hudson Matthews, Canadian Co-operative Association, 2005

Development practitioners downplay savings by saying ‘poor people can’t save, because they don’t have any money.’ This 602 household study in 37 villages around Cambodia proves that poor people do save — aggressively — both in cash and in many in-kind forms. They also plan for the future, but large and unpredictable losses undercut their plans. They need a save place to save. Village institutions set up by NGOs are poorly governed, and are not providing it.

Shareholder Rights in Rural Bangladesh
Brett Hudson Matthews, Alternative Finance, 2003

Poor women have over US$1 billion productively invested in rural Bangladesh, and informal collaborative enterprises are increasingly common. But the risks of resource pooling are extremely high. This paper discusses an approach to reducing those risks through protection of shareholder rights.  This approach offers an entry point to vital livelihood issues including access to better markets, economic literacy, the performance of ASCAs, MFI financial innovation and depositor rights.


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Functional numeracy for millions of adult women. A safe,flexible savings account that illiterate villagers can understand, use and trust. Thriving, dynamic villages creating opportunities at home. If this vision excites you, call us about our volunteer opportunities. Make My Oral Village YOURS.