Mobiles, Messages and Moutons

Last registered on August 07, 2014


Trial Information

General Information

Mobiles, Messages and Moutons
Initial registration date
August 07, 2014

Initial registration date is when the trial was registered.

It corresponds to when the registration was submitted to the Registry to be reviewed for publication.

First published
August 07, 2014, 7:51 PM EDT

First published corresponds to when the trial was first made public on the Registry after being reviewed.



Primary Investigator

Tufts University

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
World Bank
PI Affiliation
World Bank
PI Affiliation
Harvard School of Public Health

Additional Trial Information

On going
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
In the remote areas of sub-Saharan Africa, less than 20 percent of the population has access to any type of formal financial institution. Yet access to financial services is a key aspect of development, as credit and savings allow households to invest, save and respond to shocks. Households typically deal with limited access to financial services by using “at home savings” (i.e., under a mattress), saving with collectors (i.e., susu) or forming “rotating savings clubs” that allow each member to save a set amount on a weekly basis. Each of these strategies plays an important role in terms of promoting savings and helping households to meet different savings goals. Although savings groups provide a commitment to save and are often more secure, the savings can only be accessed when the group “shares out”, which might not coincide with the household’s needs. While savings “under the mattress” provide household with ready access to its savings, such savings is generally riskier (theft, loss and fire) and is more susceptible to “temptation” or “ceremonial” spending. Ceremonial spending is particularly important in countries where the entire village is expected to contribute to weddings, baptisms or funerals, or when a particular religious festival – such as the Muslim festival of Tabaski – requires purchasing livestock for household consumption and is a lumpy expenditure. In addition to spending on ceremonial festivals, most rural households report that spending on unforeseen health expenses is their greatest financial challenge.

Since the early 2000s, mobile phone coverage and services have grown rapidly in sub-Saharan Africa. As of 2012, over 376 million people had mobile phones, thereby allowing households to communicate more quickly and more cheaply over long distances. Mobile communication provides new potential to increase the financial inclusion of the world’s poor. In particular, m-money could be used to create a secure electronic savings account, where individuals can deposit their savings (interest free). In addition, by combining m-money with text message reminders, these dual technologies could encourage individuals to save for particular objectives, particularly addressing the issue of limited attention (Karlan, McConnell, Mullainathan and Zinman 2012, McConnell 2013) in savings. In particular, if individuals in Niger are more likely to forget future lumpy expenditures, such as spending on goats for religious expenditures, as compared with future income, then this can lead to present bias towards consumption (Karlan et al 2012).

This research seeks to understand how mobile phone technology can be used to promote savings in sub-Saharan Africa, focusing on the case of rural Niger. In particular, the purpose of this research is provide insights into whether: 1) SMS reminders about savings goals increase individuals’ ability to save, particularly in the face of pressures for ceremonial expenditures; and 2) whether access to a simple savings technology (a savings box) can facilitate savings goals, either by allowing individual members of savings groups to save, promoting particular savings objectives or providing a secure place to safe.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Aker, Jenny et al. 2014. "Mobiles, Messages and Moutons." AEA RCT Registry. August 07.
Former Citation
Aker, Jenny et al. 2014. "Mobiles, Messages and Moutons." AEA RCT Registry. August 07.
Sponsors & Partners

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Experimental Details


This experiment involves four different groups:

1. Individuals will receive text message reminders focusing on spending and savings for Tabaski or Ramadan (general reminder, health/education reminder control)
2. Individuals will receive access to a savings device (box)
3. Individuals will receive both the text message and access to a savings device (savings box)
4. No intervention

Within the second group and third groups, the information provided will vary at the individual level. Basic information will provide basic savings reminders, as well as savings reminders for a particular lumpy expenditure (ie, Tabaski), including date of Tabaski in 2013 and Tabaski 2014. The reminders will also include information about common savings goals, such as health and education. As Dosso includes areas of the Hausa and Zarma ethnic groups, each with very different socio-cultural practices, this will provide some insights into heterogeneous effects. In addition, in interventions #1 and #4, we will also send “placebo” messages out to a subset of individuals, in order to disentangle the “message” effect from the “content of message” effect.

Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
The study will measure the impact of the interventions on income and expenditures, expenditures for particular religious festivals, health, weddings and baptisms, and how they are financed; savings patterns and goals; mental health related to financial stability; asset ownership (including livestock) and knowledge of livestock prices.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
The target population will be villages that participated in a prior mobile phone adult education program (ABC), and hence have a minimum level of literacy skills. Villages will first be stratified by commune and previous ABC status before being randomly assigned to the savings box group, the SMS group, both or a control group. Within each SMS village, individuals are stratified by gender before being assigned to receive SMS messages or not, and the type of SMS message.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
The randomization was done by an office in a computer using STATA.
Randomization Unit
The unit of randomization is at the village level and individual level.
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
The number of clusters is 70 villages.
Sample size: planned number of observations
There are planned 1,400 units across 70 villages.
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
There are 35 villages with the lockbox treatment and 35 without any lockbox treatment. Within each village, individuals were randomly assigned to receive different types of messages.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
Tufts University Medford Campus
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number


Post Trial Information

Study Withdrawal

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Is the intervention completed?
Data Collection Complete
Data Publication

Data Publication

Is public data available?

Program Files

Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials

Relevant Paper(s)

Reports & Other Materials