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Elizabeth McQuerry

Where Necessity Meets Innovation – Government Disbursement in the Time of COVID-19

Given the coronavirus pandemic and its pressure on governments and individuals alike, Glenbrook’s Global Practice has been looking into how emergency social disbursements can be made quickly to the most vulnerable populations.

This is not an easy task for a number of reasons:

  • Governments want to be certain that the intended person is indeed the receiver of the funds. Across countries and markets, availability and type of identity verification varies widely
  • Levels of account ownership are often lowest among the poor
  • Mobile phone coverage can be spotty in rural areas with internet and data also not uniformly available to all
  • Costs to deliver and access disbursements are a perennial issue

Time is of the essence when millions of people around the world are unable to work and have lost all other sources of income. Most every country is facing this challenge including the U.S.

In our examination, we found some exciting and hopeful examples of how governments and fintech players have mobilized to meet this need in both Brazil and Colombia.


Brazil’s responses include two efforts that caught our attention. The largest is from the government-owned bank Caixa. The bank has experienced an account opening blitz. Over a two-day period earlier this week, Caixa received 11 million requests to open a savings account where emergency assistance funds from the government will be deposited. The intended receivers of the funds are informal workers, the se

lf-employed, unemployed or micro-enterprise workers. They will receive between R$600-R$1200 reais (USD $115-$230) per household in each of the next three months to help cope with the economic effects of COVID-19.

Recipients will be asked to use the CAIXA Tem app on their smartphone to access the funds, make transfers, and pay bills. CAIXA Tem has only been in market for around six months but was created for receivers of government benefit programs. Talk about good timing. It is designed for ease of use, including voice command capability. With some 60% of the Brazilian adult population owning a smartphone (Pew Research, 2018 data) usage should be high.

The second initiative is from the State of São Paulo. Its goal is to deliver funds to the families of 732,000 students who cannot eat at schools now closed by social distancing requirements. The funds are through a program called “Merenda em Casa” (Lunch at Home) and the funds will be available in accounts provided by PicPay, a payment services provider. This effort will pay R$55 reais (USD $10.50) per month to most students while the poorest 113,000 will receive R$110 reais (USD $21).


To help alleviate the economic impact of COVID-19, the Government approved a USD $41 payment to around 3 million of the most economically vulnerable families. To reach them, the government is working with a handful of low-cost account providers made up of traditional banks and non-bank licensed financial institutions. Their job is to deliver the funds to those without an existing account. The target beneficiaries were divided up among the providers with each provider sending a text message to eligible  receivers. The images below show the translated text of the message sent to beneficiaries by MOVii, one of the newish electronic payment and deposit companies in that country.

Beneficiaries can make transfers from their account (typically without fees), request a debit card to spend them, or cash them out via an agent network.

Colombia is able to take advantage of prior regulatory action that created a truly basic account type with maximum balance limits and remote opening. With 56% of the adult population owning a smartphone (Pew Research, 2017 data), Colombia is a fortunate position to facilitate delivery of these emergency government disbursements.

We’d love to hear from you if you know of other innovative efforts to distribute social benefits to help alleviate the impact of COVID-19. Please leave a comment, reach out to one of the Glenbrook team members, or set up a meeting via our contact form.


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