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Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Rely on ATMs but Don’t Trust Them

Categories : Cash and Crises, Cash is a public good, Cash is the first step of financial inclusion
September 23, 2021
Tags : ATMs, Cash and Crises, Humanitarian, Lebanon, Syria
Recent research led by the Norwegian Refugee Council on how ATMs are used by Syrian refugees in the Lebanon once again demonstrates that ATMs play a crucial role in disaster response.
James Shepherd-Barron

Disaster Risk Management Consultant, Author, and Founder of The Aid Workers Union

This post is also available in: Spanish

ATMs play a crucial role

Recent research led by the Norwegian Refugee Council on how Syrian refugees in Lebanon use ATMs demonstrates that ATMs play a crucial role in disaster response. But it also suggests further collaboration between international aid organisations, ATM deployers and financial service providers is needed to make humanitarian cash transfers more efficient.

For ATM deployers, one aspect of the report stands out: As in other countries where ATMs are used to disburse humanitarian grants to those affected by crisis and disaster, the user interface is not sufficiently adapted to the needs of less literate refugees. In Turkey, Iraq and Jordan, international aid organisations support Syrian refugee families living in extreme poverty in Lebanon by providing monthly cash transfers to meet their basic needs. Assistance is loaded onto a debit card, and programme participants can either use these cards in selected shops or withdraw the cash from ATMs. Almost all choose to use ATMs despite having had no experience using ATMs in Syria before their displacement.

Nearly half (45%) of cardholders find using an ATM so stressful that they prefer to use third parties to go to the ATM on their behalf or help them once there. Their biggest fear is that either an input error or the length of time it takes to navigate the on-screen instructions will cause the ATM to retain their card, and “we’ll not be able to get the money we rely on to survive.”

Related to this is that the overly complicated inputs involved contribute to long waiting times. This can foster tension between the users and their host communities which sometimes spills over into violence.

The report clarifies that more could be done at the operational and functional level to customise on-screen options and make the user interface more intuitive, especially for those with lower literacy levels. Improved audio capability would also enhance the customer experience for many and speed up transaction times.

Overall, there is still much that could be done at the policy level by ATM deployers and the ATM industry to raise awareness of the potential for ‘next gen’ cash recycling, video-teller ATMs to help improve financial literacy and accelerate financial inclusion.



This post is also available in: Spanish