Cash-based programming: choosing the right provider

Cash-based programming: choosing the right provider

While cash and vouchers currently account for around six percent of total humanitarian spending, according to a September 2015 report from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), countries signing on to the Grand Bargain at the World Humanitarian Summit in May pledged to increase the use and coordination of cash-based programming. This mirrors the growing consensus around the benefits of cash, as David Miliband, Head of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) stated:

“Cash transfers work both in empowering people and in driving local economic development”

Meanwhile technology is evolving and spreading in the developing world at a rapid pace. While still growing and developing today, financial and technological innovations have the potential to enable humanitarian organisations to deliver money to unprecedented numbers of people, with record efficiency and speed.

But with rapid evolvement in technology comes competition. So once you have decided on a cash-based programme how do you go about selecting the best provider?

At the recent AIDF Global Disaster Relief Summit Monica Shah, Finance Director and Advisor for Cash Transfer Programming at the American Red Cross, highlighted the importance of doing your due diligence when choosing the right partner. Due diligence is crucial as, when deciding on a service provider, there are a number of aspects to consider beyond price. Monica Shah raised a number of criteria that should be investigated before making your final choice; three of these areas are considered below.


What is the service provider’s reputation within the business community and among your beneficiaries? It is especially important to look at a new company’s financial statements and cash flow. Do they have evidence of sound internal procedures? Do they have good financial controls in both their systems and practices? Do they have any outstanding litigation?

What is the quality of their customer service? You also need to understand the fees they are going to be charging beneficiaries; are they charging extra for cashing out/toping up/checking balances? If so, this could affect your programming.


Service providers need to have the technology to connect to their beneficiaries. Assess the geographical area they can cover and how many customers they can reach. How will they transfer money, will it be physical cash, vouchers, e-vouchers or mobile money? They will need sufficient network access and coverage in the target area, this is critical for mobile interventions. The feasibility of e-transfers in a remote emergency context rests largely on service provider capacity, and that in turn depends on the reliability of key infrastructure such as banks, electricity, mobile phone and internet connectivity. It is also important to consider if the provider has an adequate response capacity, this is crucial during an emergency.

Once you have established that they have the sufficient technology you must determine how they intend to transfer money. Will it be in bulk payments or a number of payments? Do they have the capacity to do batch-processing?

What the provider’s procedure when the network goes down, do they have back-ups? This is imperative in post-disaster situations as infrastructure is often less stable. If they are providing a technology solution you also need to know how frequently they are performing maintenance or updates on their system and when these are happening, because this could affect your programming.  Also, do they have any evidence of routine staff training?


It is important to investigate if the chosen supplier is in compliance with local and international regulations this includes legal, data privacy and info-security regulations.

Do they understand what beneficiaries may or may not have to document their identity? Service providers’ Know Your Customer (KYC) requirements could make peoples’ status as project participants, location and phone number known to a government. It is, therefore, important to note that electronic cash may not be appropriate for beneficiaries in environments where they do not want to disclose their identity and data requirements are strict or inflexible. Additionally, weak data protection can result in wider ‘leaks’ and people without adequate ID may not be eligible to enrol for the service at all.

For more information check out The Red Cross Movement’s Cash in Emergencies Toolkit which contains a number of important questions that you should consider when looking at different types of providers.

Biometric technology

Biometrics, such as iris scans and digital fingerprints have been utilised to address the lack of identity information. Poor documentation is pervasive in a number of developing countries. Globally 2.4 billion people are not identified on official government documents. Biometrics present an innovative solution to this challenge, ensuring the secure and accurate identification of beneficiaries. Moreover, the price of biometric technology has fallen to levels that make mass enrolment into electronic identification systems a reality.

Using biometric identity verification also avoids many of the issues that can occur with bank cards. PIN codes can be forgotten and cards can be lost. Unlike biometrics, a bankcard can also be used by someone else.  Using, for example, iris scans, guarantees that the allocated cash reaches the intended recipient not just once, but every time money is withdrawn from the account. 

You’re also invited to discuss this further with your peers at the 2nd annual Aid & Development Africa Summit and explore how technological innovations and best practice can improve aid delivery and SDG strategy in Sub-Saharan East Africa.

When: 28 February-1 March 2017

Where: Nairobi, Kenya


Hear from 70+ expert speakers including:

  • Kimiaki Jin, Chief Representative, JICA
  • John Graham, Country Director, Ethiopia, Save the Children
  • Rishi Ramrakha, Head of Zone Logistics Unit, Africa, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)
  • Christopher M. Hoffman, Regional Humanitarian and Emergency Affairs Director, World Vision East Africa Regional Office  
  • Dr Sharad Sapra, Director of Global Innovation Centre, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
  • Barlin H. Ali, Program Coordinator, Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI), U.S Agency for International Development (USAID)
  • Andrew Rugege, Regional Director, International Telecommunication Union (ITU)
  • Stuart Worsley, Country Director, Ethiopia, Mercy Corps
  • Dr Feleke Tadele, Country Director, Ethiopia, Christian Children’s Fund of Canada
  • Sean Kerrigan, Global Head of WASH, World Vision International

Register your participation at to join over 300 senior representatives from regional governments, UN agencies, NGOs, development banks, civil society organisations and the private sector and discover game-changing innovations for humanitarian aid and development in Sub-Saharan East Africa.

Images: Humanitarian Futures and UNHCR

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