> Posted by Gino Picasso, CEO, GloboKas

Sendhil Mullainathan, Professor of Economics at Harvard

First and foremost I would like to thank all that were involved in organizing and sponsoring the FI2020 Global Forum. It was really an excellent conference.

Like all the others who attended this conference, I have attended dozens of conferences and they are all pretty much the same. I get to see old friends, make some new friends, and exchange some ideas, but usually there is very little that is fresh. The FI2020 Global Forum stands out in my mind because I walked away with a fresh perspective on the work we are all doing.

Dr. Sendhil Mullainathan’s presentation was a highlight because he provided a fresh perspective on what I consider the most important issue we touched on at the conference: we need to know our customer. I do not want to minimize the many other speakers and discussions, because all of these helped advance our work in some way. However, I think that a key takeaway is that we all must learn a lot more about the real needs, wants, and drives of our customers. We cannot talk about the BoP and forget that just like any other large demographic, there are many things that segment this group into differentiated consumer groups. And, like Sendhil taught us, some consumer behaviors are driven by factors that we are only beginning to understand.

In our work, too much is driven by suppositions of what might be attractive at the BoP. At the Global Forum we heard it said that of 140 mobile money deployments, only 14 are considered successful. Mobile technology offers a compelling medium to reach the BoP because it is nearly ubiquitous. Awesome! So why haven’t there been more success stories? I posit that the answer is simple: consumers buy what satisfies a need/want and these deployments have not addressed the real consumer need. Obvious! Marketing 101. But the results speak for themselves: in this space we are still tackling the very basics of marketing.

In my musing, I asked myself what I would do if I had $10 million to spare (think foundations with grant money)? I would foster a competition that would bring the freshest, greatest insight into what financial products consumers at the BoP most need, how they can be informed about these services, and how we can make them available economically. Hopefully, the results of this work would be shared and spawn many $10s of millions more that are better targeted to best getting consumers of different types that are at the BoP to obtain the financial products and services that they most want and need.

From the many discussions and presentations at the FI2020 Global Forum, (sorry for using an old English cliché!) I know that I am preaching to the choir. Though I for one, have come away recommitted to this goal. My resolution is that I will not assume that I know what consumers want, but rather I will find out ways of asking them. The billions of people in the BoP are entitled to no less.

Image credit: The Center for Financial Inclusion

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