24/11/2021 – GTD Colloquium on The Battle for Remittances: (Digital) Financial Inclusion and Market Construction in Senegal and Ghana
While international and, to a lesser extent, domestic remittances have long been considered an untapped market for development finance, a wide-ranging set of private sector actors, from microfinance institutions and Fintechs to international banks and giant incumbent companies such as Western Union, are getting ready for “the battle for the remittances market”, deemed ripe for “digital disruption” (The Economist, 2018). The last fifteen years have witnessed the emergence of a Global Remittance Agenda (GRA) that encourages the incorporation of remittances as well as their senders and recipients into global finance. Critical analyses of the GRA have emerged over the past few years calling into question the market-based approach to the project and its prioritising of the political and financial concerns of a broad coalition of global and national actors over the needs of migrant men and women and the people they send remittances to. While being sympathetic to these political economy takes on the ‘financialisation of remittances’, I question the extent to which remittances, as well as remittance senders and recipients, can be qualified as financialised yet. More specifically, I argue that little is said in the existing literature about the intricate and grounded operations that are required for such projects to materialise, leaving finance and the concrete formation of (remittance) markets black-boxed. Drawing upon research with institutional and private sector actors involved in the remittance, finance and FinTech industry as well as with remittance recipients in Senegal and Ghana, I make two key arguments. First, I put a light on the technical, legal, financial and, importantly, behavioural engineering that is necessary for remittance markets to realise and show that these market-making processes are contingent, fragile, contested and always in the making. Second, I show how attempts at marketising remittances lead to processes of domestication, subversion and dissent from a various set of actors, including remittance recipients.
Vincent Guermond is a postdoctoral researcher at Royal Holloway, University of London. His research and teaching interests are in the areas of the geographies of debt and finance, migration and development, social reproduction, and the economic geographies of marketisation. He has published in a range of journals including Progress in Human Geography, Geoforum, Environment and Planning A, World Development, and Development and Change. His new book Remittances and Financial Inclusion: Contested Geographies of Marketisation in Senegal and Ghana is forthcoming with Routledge.