Why Being Customer-Centric Is a Supply Side Strategy…
> Posted by Evelyn Stark, Assistant Vice President, Financial Inclusion Lead, MetLife Foundation, and Graham A. N. Wright, Group Managing Director, MicroSave
Financial Inclusion 2020 (FI2020) is a global multi-stakeholder movement to achieve full financial inclusion, using the year 2020 as a focal point for action. This blog series will spotlight financial inclusion efforts around the globe and share insights from key thought leaders in financial inclusion, with a specific focus on quality beyond access.
In recent years Human Centered Design (HCD) became a buzzword in the financial inclusion world. It focused financial service providers on the design of products and services based on customer insights. Design firms became part of the technical provider fraternity, servicing financial service providers in the quest to improve inclusion. At the same time, the network of financial service providers broadened to include mobile network operators and retail chains, in addition to microfinance institutions (MFIs), banks, cooperatives, and a myriad of microfinance suppliers. With new entrants come new ideas – and repetition of old ones. One consistent, but underrated idea, is to focus on the customer.
Customer-centricity is not a new concept in the microfinance and financial inclusion world. In 1998, MicroSave was set up (by UNCDF/DFID who were then joined by CGAP, the Ford Foundation, and the Austrian and Norwegian governments) to promote savings in the microcredit landscape of East and Southern Africa. Initial research in Uganda revealed that although microfinance institutions (MFIs) did not have a legal mandate to collect savings, they did have another problem: drop-outs as high as 60 percent per annum. Further investigation revealed that much of the problem lay in poorly designed credit products. Much of 1999 and 2000 was spent understanding the problem, re-designing products, and developing the “market research for microfinance” tools and training.
This past experience resonates with the current realization among proponents of financial inclusion that customers are not using products. This is evident in the GSMA research that found that 68 percent of registered mobile money customers do less than one transaction in 90 days. No frills accounts in India, and transactional accounts in many other settings, are mostly dormant (GAFIS, 2011, DNA, 2015). The market-led research approaches aimed at microfinance, and the human centered design approaches of the recent years, did not fully succeed in focusing provider efforts on the customer, nor did they help to increase the use of financial products and services. In the quest to understand this, we return to the unfolding story of the early years of market-led approaches, based on the MicroSave experience.
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