Uncertainty characterizes the entire global Prepaid Economy and is the underlying driver for decision making.
Systems are unreliable
Inadequate infrastructure, variability in basic services (will we have electricity this morning?), obsolete or incomplete systems; all of these, and more, are part and parcel of life in the emerging regions of the world. Will we wake up to find the capital city grinding to a halt because riots have erupted over the price of onions? None can say.
All of these elements act together to create a far more volatile operating environment which adds up to an uncertainty around timing. Will an accident along the main artery cause hours long grid lock familiar to anyone from Lagos to Lahore?
Cash flow is irregular
For the vast majority employed in the informal sector, regular predictable paychecks are not the norm. Irregular unpredictable income streams from a variety of sources are the norm, and daily wage workers are not guaranteed that work will be available the following morning.
Even the farmer faces uncertainty, though her fields might be fruitful and ready for harvest. Seasonal ebbs and flows in cash flow are part of the rhythm of daily life outside of the formal economy’s calender year with its predictable regularity.
Smaller businesses too may feel less secure in cash intensive markets, dependent as they are on ensuring that incoming revenues must cover outgoing expenses.
Uncertainty is the only certainty
No one, however is immune from the larger uncertainties of their environment. Strikes, riots, power cuts or floods – these can bring entire cities grinding to a halt.
And the lower down the income stream you are, the greater the impact of this uncertainty. Without float, planning becomes a challenge and community is your insurance in times of need. Juggling to minimize the volatility between income and expense is an ongoing exercise in trade-offs.
Empowering oneself through control of time and money
In the prepaid economy, the greater the span of control you have over timing of a payment – its frequency and periodicity, and the amount to be spent, the greater your ability to plan and manage your finances. From chaos and disorder, one can find ways to negotiate and be flexible, whilst striving to keep one’s head above water.
This characteristic manifests itself in a wide variety of forms – purchasing patterns; choice of cooking fuel; social and flexible weights and measures; a wee bit of wriggle room to negotiate in case of the unexpected.
This is the second article in The Prepaid Economy Series. Here is a link to the Introduction. The next one will take a closer look at the importance of flexibility and negotiability – that wee bit of wriggle room, left for the unexpected.