Explaining Smartphone Adoption in India (Job market paper)
Smartphones have become the primary device through which people in developing countries can access the benefits of widespread digitization. However, most mobile phone users in developing countries continue to use low-quality feature phones. This paper develops a structural model of consumer demand and supply to understand the main drivers of smartphone adoption. It then uses estimates of the model to investigate how to best design pro-adoption policies. I find that gains in device quality and changes in income distribution are the main factors behind the growth of smartphone sales in India. Given the central role of income in driving adoption, I simulate the impact of targeted subsidies for smartphones. I find that, compared to ad valorem tax reductions and uniform subsidies, targeted subsidies are the least costly for the government and are the most effective for redistribution, being (almost) fully appropriated by consumers.
Work in Progress
Short Term Cost of Cash and Mobile Financial Services : Evidence from a natural experiment in India
Joint with Helia Costa and Mauro Pisu
The use of digital financial services (DFS) in developing countries can be a tool for financial inclusion, curbing tax evasion, and the efficient delivery of public services. Using a unique event -- an un-announced and large scale demonetization process that took place in 2016 that increased the short-term costs of holding and transacting in cash -- we study the uptake of a specific form of DFS, namely electronic payment platforms, in India. We find that in states where the labour market is less formal, and so where workers are more likely to be affected by the demonetisation process, this shock led to an increase in the use of platforms larger than that of states where the labour market is more formal. The effect of this "forced experimentation" was, however, short lived. At the individual level, people who are more exposed to the shock are more likely to adopt digital payments and this effect persists over the next two years. Strikingly, women drive the persistence of this effect and not men. Our results contribute to understanding user behaviour and persistence of habits, with important implications for the design of policies aimed at increasing the uptake of platforms.
Interoperability and Digital Financial Inclusion
Joint with Milo Bianchi, Matthieu Bouvard, Renato Gomes and Andrew Rhodes
We connect various streams of academic literature to shed light on how the degree of interoperability in mobile payments affects market outcomes and welfare. We organize our discussion around four dimensions of interoperability. First, we consider mobile network interoperability (whether clients of one telecom can access another telecom's payment services) in connection with the IO literature on tying. Second, we discuss platform level interoperability (the ability to send money off-network) in light of the literature on compatibility. We also build on the behavioral IO literature to suggest how the effects of interoperability may be very heterogeneous across various types of firms and consumers, or even backfire. Third, we consider interoperability in the cash-in-cash-out agent network, in light of the literature on co-investment in network industries, and of more specific studies on ATMs' interoperability. Fourth, we discuss how the literature in banking and on data ownership can be used to understand interoperability of data. We conclude with some broader remarks on policy implications and on possible directions for future research.
Imitation of product characteristics in the mobile handset market
Joint with Luise Eisfeld
In this paper, we seek to understand the value of an easily imitable technology in an emerging market context. We study the introduction of dual SIM handsets in the Indian mobile phone market and quantify the value of this technology for consumers. We also quantify the impact on market outcomes of the quick imitation of this technology by competing firms. We find that the introduction of dual SIM handsets led to an increase in the consumer surplus of 3.1% to 8.9%, and an expansion in the total size of the market by 1.8% to 3.3%. We also find that while imitation reduced the innovator’s profit substantially, it also made the technology much more affordable. In the absence of imitation, consumer prices would have been 22% higher. Finally, we provide a lower-bound on the innovator’s cost of protecting intellectual property in an emerging market. We find this lower bound to be as high as 12% of the innovator’s observed profits ($ 29.5 million).