Mobile Salary Payments in Afghanistan

Researchers Michael Callen, Joshua Blumenstock and Tarek Ghani have implemented a randomized field experiment in Afghanistan to test the effects of a mobile phone-based salary payment system on performance outcomes in a private firm with approximately 375 employees.

Mobile payment systems hold the promise of both enabling entrepreneurship and increasing financial access for the poor in conflict-affected countries. But disbursing employee wages is a challenge for firms in cash-based payment systems like Afghanistan's. Such systems are vulnerable to indirect costs in the form of leakage and theft and involve significant direct implementation costs related to logistics and security.

The researchers plan to use a combination of face-to-face surveys, phone-based surveys, firm administrative data, and mobile phone transaction records to measure firm-level outcomes including leakage and human capital and employee-level outcomes, such as savings, consumption and intra-household transfers. Their nine-month study may be complemented by further research involving mobile salary payments for Afghan police officers and mobile savings accounts for private firm employees.


Research Questions: 
  • Where are savings realized and what costs do firms incur when adopting mobile salary payments?
  • Does the product meet the needs of employees? If not, how might it be designed to become an effective service?
  • Do mobile salary payments affect calling, SMS, internet and M-Paisa usage of employees?
  • How do mobile salary payments affect intra-household transfer behaviors, for example by enabling non-head of household wage earners to retain a larger share of income?
  • Do employees receiving mobile salary payments adjust consumption, formal savings, or informal savings behaviors?
  • Do employees receiving mobile salary payments adopt other mobile banking services, and/or substitute out of more traditional financial-transfer institutions such as hawalas?
  • What is the role of social learning via networks in the adoption of the mobile money system?
Data Notes: 

Survey Timeframe:

  • Beginning July 2012, approximately nine months of data collection

Survey Size:

  • 375 workers across seven Afghan provinces


  • Employees of a large private Afghan firm


  • Face-to-face surveys
  • Phone surveys
  • Mobile phone transaction records
  • call-level Call Detail Record (CDR) data


  • Half of the sample is randomly assigned to the treatment group and receives wages via mobile money payment. The control group continues to receive wages through the typical cash-based payment system.