I just got back from Myanmar and I talked with some people running Wave Money (one of the mobile money companies in Myanmar, and the only licensed one so far; not related to the Wave that Jeff mentioned which sends money to Africa).
Getting people to adopt could be a big challenge, depending on the country. In Kenya, the anecdotal story of why mobile money took off so quickly is 1) the need to send remittances, 2) preexisting methods for this being not very good for various reasons (insecurity is one); some also argue that Safaricom’s unusually high market share in the country played a role in speeding up adoption through bundling of services + network effects (telecommunication markets in other countries seem more fragmented). Mobile money has not taken off in some countries, e.g. Nigeria (this article argues it’s due to regulation https://iea.org.uk/blog/why-mobile-money-transformed-kenya-failed-to-take-in-nigeria). In Myanmar it remains an open question: the traditional hundi system for remittances works well for most purposes (being cheap, reliable, and not too slow), which may hinder adoption of mobile money.
Other potential functions of mobile money: other than through remittances (which is what Suri’s paper is estimating), it can also help poor populations by
Saving: providing a safe place to save. This may be important as many poor people seem “savings constrained” (e.g. see https://www.econ.uzh.ch/dam/jcr:5f6e818a-ad07-466a-8962-fdc77bb1dfc2/casaburi_macchiavello_dairy_20160731.pdf, http://www.simonrquinn.com/research/TwoSidesOfTheSameRupee.pdf) and bank are either scarce or expensive in many rural places—although it might be hard to convince people to adopt mobile money just for saving purposes.
Credit: e.g. the Mpesa-based mobile loan Mshwari. There are some startups (including one in Kenya, whose name I forgot) that creates credit scores for people based on their mobile money transaction history, mobile phone records etc. (Mshwari does a version of this but doesn’t seem very sophisticated; the startups probably use more “big data”) which may help the poor access credit in a way that’s much cheaper and sustainable than the traditional microfinance model. (In Myanmar I know one startup trying to do this and giving out small amounts of loan for shorter periods, basically competing with money lenders in slums—seems hard but could be really good if they succeed; they are quite early stage now.)
Sending government benefits, e.g. India is considering introducing universal basic income, and already have biometric identification for most citizens, but one of the remaining barriers is the scarcity of bank branches in rural places. If each village has a mobile money agent things would be much easier (and this has implications not only for poverty reduction but maybe also curbing corruption and improving local governance etc.).