Authors: Francis Annan and Rachel Pizatella-Haswell, UC Berkeley; Apoorv Gupta, Dartmouth
Incentivizing Transparency: Insights from Mobile Money Markets in Ghana


In Ghana's Eastern Region the heartbeat of the local economy can be felt through the fingertips of mobile money agents. These agents aren't just convenient; they're a lifeline for many residents, especially migrants drawn to the region for work in the mining industry. With loved ones living hours away, these migrants find sending money home a necessity. However, traditional methods, like sending physical cash with intermediaries or relying on distant banks, pose risks and impracticalities. Thus, mobile money agents emerge as the pragmatic solution, bridging the geographical gap and providing a financial tool.

Despite the prevalence of mobile money apps like MTN’s MoMo in Ghana, cash still dominates the economy. According to the World Bank (2023), 62% of Ghanaians have a mobile money account.  Yet, in many rural areas where brick-and-mortar banks are scarce, mobile money agents serve as the backbone of financial transactions. They are often referred to as “human ATMs,”   derived from the practice where local businesses, such as corner stores, are enlisted by mobile money providers to serve as agents, facilitating deposits, withdrawals, and transfers while also acting as gatekeepers to financial services. Consequently, customers depend on these agents to maximize the use of their mobile money accounts. According to the Bank of Ghana (2023), there are presently over 600 thousand mobile money agents across the country.

However, this arrangement also presents challenges. Mobile money agents function within what economists describe as the principal agent problem. Plainly put, customers are often not fully informed about transaction costs, fostering a sense of mistrust between them and the agents. In response, researchers from UC Berkeley and Dartmouth, with funding support from ReFinD, undertook a study to understand the motivations behind mobile money agents’ willingness to disclose information to customers. Specifically, they explored the effectiveness of displaying official MTN mobile money tariffs, which aim to inform customers about the correct amount they should be charged for each transaction.

 Incentivizing Transparency: Insights from Mobile Money Markets in Ghana

The study, conducted across 18 communities in the Eastern Region, included 67 agents and 377 mobile money customers. Initially, none of the agents displayed mobile money tariffs. To prompt change, the researchers piloted a randomized experiment, offering various incentives such as financial subsidies, competition incentives, and reputational incentives to encourage agents to display tariffs.



Twice a month, trained mystery shoppers visited the agents to assess their transparency. Interestingly, financial rewards alone did not significantly influence agent behavior. However, when faced with competition from other agents and the desire to maintain a good reputation with customers, agents responded by embracing transparency. Agents realized that transparency indicated fairness, attracting more customers and fostering loyalty. 

Market transparency is important for curbing agent misconduct and boosting customer confidence, thereby fostering sustained mobile money usage and enhancing the efficiency of mobile money markets (Annan, 2024; Horvath and Katuscakova, 2016; Field et al, 2022). Unfortunately, MTN’s recent decision to discontinue providing mobile money tariff posters to agents has left customers uninformed. Although forcing agents to post tariffs may be challenging, this study offers valuable insights into incentivizing positive behavior among mobile money agents, ultimately empowering customers with greater financial knowledge.

By aligning incentives and promoting transparency, we can create a more harmonious and functional mobile money ecosystem, ensuring that mobile money continues to serve as a lifeline for communities in Ghana's Eastern Region and beyond.

In the next phase of the project, the research team plans to scale up the randomized experiment. The upcoming study will include nearly 200 markets, allowing the team to continue testing how agents respond to incentives and to capture downstream effects of transparency on service quality and the agent’s business




Annan, Francis. "Misconduct and reputation under imperfect information." Journal of Political Economy  (Forthcoming).

Bank of Ghana. "FinTech Sector Report: 2023 Full Year." (2023).

Dabalen, Andrew and Justice Tei Mensah. "Ten Facts About Digital Technology Adoption in Ghana." World Bank Blogs (2023).

Field, Erica M., Natalia Rigol, Charity M. Troyer Moore, Rohini Pande, and Simone G. Schaner. Banking on Transparency for the Poor: Experimental Evidence from India. No. w30289. National Bureau of Economic Research, 2022.

Horvath, Roman, and Dominika Katuscakova. "Transparency and trust: the case of the European Central Bank." Applied Economics 48, no. 57 (2016): 5625-5638.