Financial Services in the Uganda Refugee Response; An assessment of user perspectives 2022


The purpose of this assessment is to collect ground-level insight into user experiences and perspectives of digital financial services and assistance in Uganda's refugee and host communities, to establish a solid knowledge base to enhance the inclusiveness of cash-based assistance programs. The data gathered is representative at the settlement level for refugees and at district level for refugee hosting communities with a 95% confidence level and 7% margin of error. It therefore provides a robust evidence base on the existing skills and experiences of the surveyed population - as well as their preferences and barriers - to accessing digital financial services. The following is an overview of the most important findings from this assessment.

  • Basic and digital literacy levels are low, particularly for refugee women and older persons, indicating the need for training to accompany any transition to digital financial delivery mechanisms.

  • Mobile money is the preferred mechanism for both humanitarian aid receipt and commercial use amongst refugees and refugee hosting communities.

  • Internet-enabled phones are rare, and even more so among women.

  • From the perspective of users, direct or over-the-counter (OTC) cash is a good alternative to mobile money when transferring humanitarian financial assistance, particularly because it is seen to be inclusive in areas with low basic and digital literacy levels. Literacy is reported to be an important barrier to accessing using all assessed financial mechanisms except direct and OTC cash.

  • Bank transfers and prepaid or smart cards are not typically used outside of aid, because requirements to open and maintain accounts are incompatible with the resources of most refugees and host communities.

  • The use of pre-paid or smart cards and bank transfers, linked to humanitarian interventions, are more commonly used in the south-west region (SWR) than in the West Nile, where inkind assistance is still more widespread.

  • Mobile money agents for day-to-day transactions are conveniently located, but distances to agents for more complex phone issues, such as activating SIM cards, are a barrier to using mobile money.

  • Although direct or OTC cash is perceived as accessible, it is also reportedly less secure and inconvenient due to public, crowded distributions which often take place on fixed days and may take hours.

  • In addition to the limitations of distance, bank transfers and prepaid and smart cards are costly for consumers due to fees to open and maintain accounts.

  • Respondents have easy access to service points connected to mobile money and direct or OTC cash to submit complaints or give feedback. This is in contrast to feedback mechanisms linked to bank transfers and prepaid or smart cards. Mechanisms associated with the latter two are reportedly more difficult to access, in part due to low literacy levels and people's preference for in-person problem-solving.