Home - What we do - Knowledge and Research - Research 2012-2014 - E-transfers: Cost-effectiveness, Implementation guidelines & Principles and operational standards


From 2007 to 2010, humanitarian aid spending on cash transfer programmes increased from US$1.8 million (0.7%) to US$52 million (25.9%) (Global Humanitarian Assistance, Briefing: Tracking spending on cash transfer programming in a humanitarian context, March 2012). This has, in part, been enabled by the advances, availability and adoption of appropriate technology even in the most remote and insecure areas. The use of electronic transfers (e-transfers) in cash transfer programming (CTP) has grown significantly in the humanitarian sector and is increasingly becoming recognised as an effective response mechanism in emergency contexts. 

In this context, the Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP) commissioned a piece of research entitled: ‘New technologies in cash transfer programming and humanitarian assistance’ (Smith G et al 2011). A clear recommendation of this report was the need for NGOs to have more guidance; ‘a ‘tool box’ of successful mechanisms, to enable wider adoption of proven innovations. This would lead to the development of common tools such as contractual templates, and could reduce set-up costs. Furthermore, the topic of e-transfers was also a key area identified by the CaLP community of practice through an online survey in the summer of 2012.

CaLP research on e-transfers

To contribute to the achievement of these recommendations, and building on previous collaboration between CaLP and Visa, CaLP established a working group in January 2013 focused exclusively on e-transfers, and began three pieces of research on this topic:

  1.        Cost-efficiency research (Donor: Visa)
  2.        E-transfer guidelines (Donor: Visa + DFID)
  3.        Principles and operational standards for the secure use of personal         data in cash and e-transfer programmes (Donor: Visa + DFID) 

Technical Working Group (TWG) on electronic transfers

The role of the TWG was to provide overall oversight of the three research pieces. The group was critical in bringing technical rigour and neutrality. Furthermore, to facilitate and maximise organisational adoption of outputs and consideration of recommendations it was vital to have key actors engaged in the process. CaLP was also aware that there were a number of similar research projects in the past and hoped to access expertise and experience through the TWG members.

The group consisted of agencies with prior experience of CTP and with either experience or commitment to use/pilot e-payment systems in 2012-2013 in their emergency response work. It included representatives from nine agencies: Action Contre la Faim, CaLP, Concern Worldwide, Mercy Corps, Save the Children, The Somalia Cash Consortium, Tufts University, UNHCR and WFP.

Cost-efficiency research 

This piece of research, led by Oxford Policy Management (OPM) with support from Concern Worldwide, aimed to answer the key question: Are electronic transfers more cost effective than traditional manual based cash delivery methods, and under what conditions?                           

The Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP) commissioned this research to find out more about the cost of using electronic payment mechanisms (e-payments) for emergency cash transfers. The research draws on case studies of two countries, Kenya and Somalia, analysing the cost-efficiency (and where possible information on cost-effectiveness) of seven emergency cash transfer programmes implemented between 2009 and 2013: four using mobile money, one using a smart card and two using a traditional manual distribution method. It shows the administrative cost of delivering the cash transfer, broken down by activity (designing the programme, registering beneficiaries etc.), and identifies the factors that improve or decrease overall cost-efficiency.

Download the research piece now.

E-transfer guidelines 

The "E-transfers in emergencies: implementation support guidelines" are designed for field practitioners (as well as their extended teams in management and programme support functions) of aid agencies engaged in humanitarianresponses that incorporate cash transfers programmes delivered through digital payment systems.

These guidelines assume prior knowledge of CTP and focus exclusively on implementing e-transfers. They do not elaborate on decisions relating to whether or not cash is a viable programme option. These guidelines are designed as guidance sheets that can be used as reference documents to enable practitioners to easily access their sections of interest or relevance, yet some elements are cross-referenced throughout the documents.

Download the guidelines now.

Principles and operational standards for the secure use of personal data in cash and e-transfer programmes 

The principles and operational standards aim to enable agencies to meet and respect these international standards and in particular to address risks inherent in the use of beneficiary data by agencies engaged in the delivery of cash with a specific focus on e-transfer programmes. 

The principles and operational standards are organized into eight sections: 1. Respect 2. Protect by design 3. Understand data flows and risks 4. Quality and accuracy 5. Obtain consent or inform beneficiaries as to the use of their data 6. Security 7. Disposal 8. Accountability


Download the guidelines now.

For more information, please contact: