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If digital financial services are so convenient and affordable, why are uptake and usage rates among individuals with lower incomes so low? Monique Cohen explores the mismatch between products and money management needs.

> Posted by Monique Cohen

This maxim governs much of our financial lives, rich or poor. Yet, we offer financial services to the unbanked and underbanked, largely ignoring it. The thinking around customer centrality as it affects financial services for the poor emphasizes appropriately responding to people’s needs and wants for financial services. But, as Kim Wilson pointed out, this is still not happening:

We have an agenda, which is this: please be our customer, have your needs, express them so long as they are about digital payments or failing that, using a bank account – a lot – and preferably, digitally. Else, we don’t give a damn. We don’t care about your archaic methods… We desperately want and need you to modernize, to become just like us. Otherwise we have no justification for all the work we do and all the money we spend.

Until now the perceived drivers of uptake of digital financial services (DFS) have been their assumed attributes of convenience, timeliness and affordability, relative to current formal and informal financial service offerings. However, with uptake and usage levels of only 30 percent for digital financial services, it is clear that this rationale falls short. Impediments to high usage continue to be overlooked.

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Insights from new CFI Fellows research on integrating human touch in Kenya’s digital financial services landscape.

> Posted by Alexis Beggs Olsen, CFI Fellow

Mbugua, owner of a restaurant, a butchery, and a dry goods store in Nairobi, Kenya has actively used financial services to grow his businesses from the meager beginnings of a small stall selling boiled cow heads. He is currently juggling four digital loans and two microfinance loans. Whenever possible, Mbugua prefers to interact with his financers digitally to save time. Yet, like most of the Kenyans my research associate and I spoke with as part of our CFI Fellows research project, Mbugua considers in-person interaction to be critical at certain stages. “Face-to-face is tiresome. There’s a time factor,” he said. “But it’s 100 percent perfect. Your questions will be exhausted. And you can’t negotiate with the phone.”

Our research seeks to understand when and why customers prefer human over digital interfaces across their financial services customer journeys – and vice versa. We focused on value-added financial services, including loans, savings, and insurance, and we chose Kenya because of the country’s deep penetration and market maturity of mobile phone-based financial services. We conducted in-depth qualitative interviews with 104 respondents.

We discovered that a “centaur” solution—one that unites the strengths of both tech and human touch—offers the most promise for both customers and financial service providers (FSPs) targeting the base of the pyramid.

Digital interfaces outperform human interaction in a number of areas: digital services are often more convenient (once you learn how to use them), more predictable and consistent (with the exception of loan approvals and rejections, which are often opaque), and less stressful for customers during collections. However, most Kenyans – even those who already use low-touch digital products – prefer to interact with a person face-to-face at key stages in their customer journey. We found that while Kenyans are very comfortable conducting transactions digitally, other key aspects of the financial service customer journey are not adequately handled by digital means alone.

Like most of our respondents, Mbugua wants to interact directly with a person to accomplish three critical tasks:

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AXA shares insights on and solutions to women’s unmet insurance needs in emerging economies.

By Garance Wattez-Richard, Head of Emerging Customers, AXA Group

Women-focused insurance solutions are a central part of AXA’s Emerging Customers work. In our SHEforSHIELD report, launched with the International Finance Corporation in 2015, we found that the market is growing quickly, as women become more risk-aware and willing to invest in protection. We conducted focus groups with women in Indonesia, Nigeria, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and learned that women have very specific, yet unmet needs when it comes to insurance. I am happy to share the stories of three of the women we met on our customer insights journey, diving into their fears and desires and the role that inclusive, women-focused insurance solutions could play.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion

The following post was originally published on NextBillion and has been re-published with permission.

Two books published this year, The Financial Diaries, by Jonathan Morduch and Rachel Schneider, and The Unbanking of America, by Lisa Servon, take on the state of financial inclusion in the United States. Given the professional standing of their authors, we can expect that these books will contribute substantially to the body of knowledge on financial inclusion. What is perhaps more surprising is just how broadly important their messages are. Both books examine what is arguably the top economic challenge in America today – the crumbling of the economic foundation for many working-class and middle-class families – and they do so through the lens of financial services, a somewhat unusual but very revealing perspective.

The Financial Diaries: How American Families Cope in a World of Uncertainty focuses on the variability of income and expenses, which makes it hard for an increasing number of Americans to maintain a steady standard of living. The weekly and monthly extent of this volatility eluded most national statistics until the Diaries project, with its unique methodology, which was developed initially to study financial behavior in low-income countries. During a Diaries project, researchers record every financial transaction made by participating families each week for a year. This detailing yields intimate portraits of families’ financial lives at a level of magnification not previously available.

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> Posted by Emma Morse, Project Specialist, CFI

Embed from Getty Images

Mavis Wanczyk, a staff member at Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts and a mother of two, recently became a multi-millionaire, revealing herself as the $758.7 million Powerball jackpot winner – the largest individual winner ever. Wanczyk quit her job of 32 years less than 24 hours later.

Reflecting on her decision, Wanczyk remarks, “I was just there to buy it, for just luck. Just go in, buy a scratch ticket, and say maybe it’s me, maybe it won’t be me. It’s just a chance, a chance I had to take.”

The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are 1 in over 292 million. In order to purchase all of the possible combinations, an individual would need to spend $584,402,676 on tickets. You are about 100,000 times more likely to be struck by lightning at some point in your lifetime than you are to hit this particular jackpot.

So why do Americans spend $70.15 billion on lottery tickets annually, while very few of us live in fear of being struck by lightning? Read the rest of this entry »

This post originally appeared on the IFMR Trust Blog and is re-posted with permission.

By Bindu Ananth

I was at an excellent behavioral finance conference organized by the Michigan University’s Centre on Finance, Law & Policy last week. One of the panels on investor protection debated issues including the impacts of disclosures, choice architecture and social norms marketing on investor behavior. There was also an interesting discussion on role of advice and advisors in de-biasing investors or exacerbating weaknesses.

In the audience Q & A, in response to a question on the role of financial advice for low-income investors, one of the panelists responded that failures in the market for advice were less of an issue here since by and large, the right answer in most cases is just “save more for the future.” I found myself disagreeing with this notion strongly and one more reminder that the field of household finance has failed to examine the financial lives of low-income families in sufficient detail. In this post, I attempt to share from our KGFS work what are some of the other important aspects where advice seems to matter.

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> Posted by Nadia van de Walle, Senior Research Manager, Financial Inclusion Insights, Intermedia

The State Bank of Pakistan’s (SBP) National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS), launched in May 2015, set an ambitious goal of expanding access to financial services from 10 percent of adults to at least 50 percent by the year 2020. Intermedia’s newly-released Financial Inclusion Insights (FII) data suggests that, as of 2016, Pakistan’s progress was not yet on a trajectory to get to 50 percent. It also suggests ways Pakistan could improve the rate of progress.

FII’s new 2016 Pakistan Annual Report and Survey Data finds that financial access rose only incrementally, from 15 percent to 16 percent, in 2016. More than 45 million more adults would need to take up a formal financial account for the country to achieve 50 percent financial inclusion as defined by the NFIS. Further, even if access is improved, registration and regular use of accounts may lag and prove a steeper climb. The percentage of adults holding registered accounts with a full-service financial institution did not increase at all over the last year, measuring 9 percent in 2015 and 2016. Similarly, active registered users over the same period remained unchanged at 8 percent.

However, these figures could be improved if the gap between the formal products on the market and Pakistanis’ actual, day-to-day financial needs and preferences is addressed, FII data indicates.

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> Posted by Hannah McCandless, Program Support Associate, Village Enterprise

Through its one-year graduation program, Village Enterprise provides business and savings training, access to savings groups, seed capital, and mentoring to rural East Africans living in extreme poverty. The program combines these grassroots interventions with linkages to financial institutions, increasing the financial capability of the extreme poor. In the second part of this series, Village Enterprise reflects on some of the learning gained through these interventions, focusing on amplifying progress made at the grassroots level through linkages to formal institutions.

The adoption of attitudes, habits, and behaviors needed for healthy financial decision-making is an essential first step in preparing individuals to be consumers of financial services. But just because households regularly save money or understand the risks of microloans does not necessarily mean that they are ready to evaluate and take-up formal financial services on their own. To be effective, financial inclusion interventions for those living in extreme poverty, at the base of the pyramid, need to both foster financial capability and facilitate healthy linkages to financial institutions.

Recognizing this need, Village Enterprise is working to establish linkages between our Business Savings Groups (BSGs, our version of VSLAs) and formal financial institutions. However, as we have learned, linking our BSGs to the right financial institution is easier said than done. We have found that creating healthy linkages is a multi-step process, rather than a one-time event.

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> Posted by Hannah McCandless, Program Support Associate, Village Enterprise

Through its one-year graduation program, Village Enterprise provides business and savings training, access to savings groups, seed capital, and mentoring to rural East Africans living in extreme poverty. In part one of this series, Village Enterprise reflects on some of the learnings gained through these interventions, focusing on facilitating behavior and attitude change to increase financial capability.

In a recent CFI blog post, Robert Stone of Savings at the Frontier reflects that technology can serve as a valuable tool, but not a silver bullet, in the quest to improve well-being through expanding financial capability. As tech-thinker Kentaro Toyama notes, “Even in a world of abundant technology, there is no social change without change in people.” Toyama’s words resonate with Village Enterprise’s approach to financial inclusion for the extreme poor. Stone argues that effective change will occur when interventions that create change in people are connected to systems that amplify the effectiveness of these changes. This is a good description of what Village Enterprise is about.

Village Enterprise’s graduation program instills behavior change in people by providing a package of supports that enable them to move forward: access to savings networks, an asset transfer, skills training, and mentoring. Then, we capitalize on these changes by connecting participants to formal financial services. The combination of these services dramatically increases financial capability–the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors needed to facilitate healthy financial decision making–in the extreme poor.

Capitalizing on behaviorally informed practices

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> Posted by Alexandra Rizzi, Senior Director, the Smart Campaign

The merits and pitfalls of mobile credit continue to be debated hotly in financial inclusion circles. Mobile products are making credit more accessible through branchless banking and alternative underwriting and business models. But experimenting with new ways of lending when your borrowers include those at the base of the pyramid brings steep risks and some models can be downright reckless. Which side of the fence are you on?

The Smart Campaign is seeking to assist the sector to develop a consensus about responsible online credit practice, and the good news is that these questions have recently become top-of-mind for a range of stakeholders. Quona’s Johan Bosini and Positive Planet’s Bezant Chongo gamely volunteered for an Oxford-style debate on whether mobile credit is good for its clients at the 4th Annual Mondato Summit in Johannesburg back in May.

The convenience and ease-of-access of mobile credit products are immensely beneficial to the unbanked, according to Bosini, speaking for the pro side. When juxtaposed to traditional lending products that take, for instance, in Benin, an average of almost 5 weeks to access (involving multiple trips), mobile credit seems supersonic, he emphasized. Using alternative data and analytics, mobile credit unlocks access for individuals without credit history. The reality for the poor, as elucidated by the Financial Diaries and other research, is that incomes fluctuate widely. Now with mobile credit, a person in a pinch can help smooth the inevitable bumps in income with a few clicks on the phone.

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Credit Suisse is a founding sponsor of the Center for Financial Inclusion. The Credit Suisse Group Foundation looks to its philanthropic partners to foster research, innovation and constructive dialogue in order to spread best practices and develop new solutions for financial inclusion.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog, except where otherwise noted, are those of the authors and guest bloggers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Financial Inclusion or its affiliates.