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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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> Posted by Brigitta Nyawira, Program Manager, Grameen Foundation

Alice is a smallholder farmer in Machakos, a semi-arid town east of Nairobi, where subsistence farming is prevalent. Most farmers in Machakos grow maize and other drought-resistant crops for domestic consumption and sell whatever little surplus they have at the gates of their farms and in local markets. Until recently, Alice struggled to make a decent living from her small plot of land and small grocery. She did not have the inputs required to increase her productivity, and her farming skills were basic at best, learned through season after season of trial and error. Farming was frustrating because it barely gave her enough money to feed her three children, take them to school, and pay hospital bills. But without capital and the requisite skills to expand her income sources, it was the only thing she could do.

Alice’s story is not uncommon. Smallholder farmers across Africa still face obstacles accessing suitable, affordable financial services. This is especially acute for women.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

Client of Akiba Bank in Tanzania

Around the world today, financial service providers, technology entrepreneurs and policy makers are engaged in building a financial system that reaches out to previously excluded people, such as lower income people, very small businesses, rural dwellers, and women. Although this work is carried out in the name of the consumer, all too often, scant attention is paid to the real needs and desires consumers and very small enterprise owners have.

With that in mind, here is a thought experiment. A thought experiment is an “exercise of the imagination used to investigate the nature of things.” The question for this experiment is this:

Imagine that consumers were the creators of the inclusive finance system. What would such a system look like?

What characteristics would emerge if the needs, desires and preferences of the target customers of financial inclusion were the driving force to shape their services? The observations here are drawn from consumer research conducted or commissioned by the Center for Financial Inclusion, including research in Peru, Pakistan, Georgia and Benin for the Client Voice project of the Smart Campaign, in Kenya and India for our project on financial health, in India and Mexico for our study of financial capability, and again in Kenya and India for two CFI Fellows’ projects on the role of human touch in the digital age. I offer ten propositions based on this research.

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> Posted by Akhand Tiwari, Bhavana Srivastava, and Vijay Ravi, MicroSave

Loyalty Programs

In today’s world, loyalty programs are a dime a dozen, with everyone from retail stores to luxury hotels offering membership for even the smallest of transactions. A publication from Smith School of Business suggests that the average Canadian household is enrolled in no less than eight loyalty programs. In this context, it is pertinent to examine if loyalty programs actually serve their intended purpose. If yes, how specifically do they impact a company’s business?

The premise of all loyalty programs is that they promote continued patronage. In a world where there is often little variation between competitors’ offerings, a well-designed loyalty program could make all the difference for your business. After all, a good loyalty program could very well decide which airline you choose for your next business trip!

We make an important distinction here – between loyalty programs and rewards. While loyalty programs aim to instill continuous engagement, the focus of rewards is on pushing specific action. Rewards are target-oriented and last only for a limited period. To illustrate this, think of offers, such as zero-processing fees, which are designed to increase adoption of a credit product, and higher interest rates on term deposits, which promote savings.

Based on MicroSave’s experience on how low-income households exhibit loyalty towards their financial service providers – we have some useful insights.

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> Posted by Alexis Beggs Olsen, CFI Fellow and Independent Consultant

Building the right channels to serve the financially excluded is one of the most important (and daunting) challenges facing senior executives, boards and investors in the financial inclusion space. They are not alone. As digital technology disrupts a wide swath of industries, leading global consulting firms have engaged in research to understand how best to help companies configure and prioritize digital and human-based customer engagement channels. While affirming the importance of digital innovations and ongoing investment therein, Accenture also sees a need for curbed enthusiasm. “Customers aren’t as predictable as we like to think,” cautions a recent Accenture Strategy paper. “Profitability resides in the digital / physical blur.” Verint also commissioned research in twelve countries that found customers want “a human element” to remain part of customer service and that “those who receive more ‘human’ or traditional customer service display more positive behaviors toward brands.”

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

At CFI we often talk about financial health as if it is a crisp, free-standing concept. Moreover, by connecting financial health to financial inclusion we imply – and hope – that we can affect financial health by offering the right kind of financial services and/or developing a person’s financial capabilities. However, while there is truth to this view, it is sometimes easy to overestimate the power of financial services. We need to think about how both financial and economic factors intertwine to create outcomes. If we compartmentalize financial actions, we ignore the very powerful economic factors that influence financial health.

As defined by the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) – and embraced by us at CFI – three elements must all be present to declare a person, family or microenterprise to be financially healthy:

  • Balanced day-to-day money management – outflows balanced with incomes over time.
  • Protection from shocks – ability to draw down, borrow or call upon resources to lessen the blow when bad things happen.
  • Pursuit of goals – ability to accumulate resources for medium to long-term purposes, whether personal or productive.

In speaking with low income people around the world, we find that many people intuitively define financial health in these terms, and nearly everyone tries to pursue financial health in their own lives. But achieving these three elements is not just a financial task. It requires both economic and financial actions. (It also hinges on personal choices and capabilities, but we will set these aside for now.)

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As soon as we solve the 6,000 languages problem

The following post is from Kas Kalba, President of Kalba International, Inc., a global telecom consultancy. It’s drawn largely from Kalba’s forthcoming book Mobiles We Don’t Know. In this post Kalba discusses three key obstacles impeding the proliferation of smartphones. To learn about how limited network coverage is hindering the utility of smartphones, check out CFI Fellow Leon Perlman’s recent report.    

Major languages by number of native speakers (click to enlarge)

When a highly reputable publication announces “Almost two-thirds of the human population is connected to the internet by smartphones,” it signals how loose our assumptions about technology adoption have become. This estimate, which implies roughly 5 billion users compared to the total global population of 7.5 billion, is not even close. The actual number is about 2 billion, when counting individual smartphone users—not the same as smartphones sold to date. So why is the smartphone still not in the hands of 5.5 billion potential users—or 4.5 billion if we discount a billion as under age?

If adoption of smartphones progresses at the same pace as the initial adoption of mobile phones, connecting 3 more billion people to smartphones could take 10 or more years. Even this rate would leave 2.5 billion of us without smartphones.

Based on Kalba International’s work in Africa, Asia and Latin America, we think there are three factors involved—the language gap, the income gap, and the recharging gap. This is in addition to extending internet coverage to many areas without it.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Senior Communications Specialist, CFI

Phones are making everything more convenient, but are they also reducing costs? That depends on which service and whose wallet you’re talking about. If it’s the consumer’s mobile money wallet, well, the verdict is still out. In a CGAP paper published last year, Rafe Mazer and Philip Rowen lamented that pricing transparency practices in mobile money services are wholly inadequate across payments, credit, and other product lines. They assert an urgent need for standards and policy to impose better practices on mobile money providers. It’s critical to know how prices are tabulated and what fees are incurred – for the betterment of customers and the industry.

In Kenya, arguably the world’s most robust and dynamic mobile money market, we’ve seen a few recent steps in the right direction.

As of May 2017, per a directive issued by the Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK), telcos and financial institutions providing mobile money services were required to ensure that their users are informed via real-time notifications of the price of their transactions – after they are initiated by the user, but before the transactions are completed and money is transferred. This order by the CAK was permitted to be carried out in stages: first, mobile money providers were asked to let users know the price of their money transfers and bill payments after their transactions occurred; then, providers were required to provide pre-transaction pricing for these two services; and finally, this pre-transaction price disclosure was extended to “value-added” mobile money services like micro-loans and micro-insurance. The new rule applies to mobile money services offered through apps, USSD codes, and SIM toolkits.

You might not think that getting notified about relatively small fees is a big deal. After all, mobile money services in Kenya like M-Pesa are used so often that users probably have a strong grasp on pricing. But this is unclear. When CGAP queried mobile money users in Kenya on M-Pesa pricing changes in 2014, despite claiming to be aware of current pricing figures, many respondents in fact were not.

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> Posted by Sarah Rotman Parker, Director, the Center for Financial Services Innovation, and Sonja Kelly, Director, the Center for Financial Inclusion

The following post was originally published on the CGAP blog. 

Over the past year, the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) and the Center for Financial Inclusion (CFI) have explored financial health in emerging markets. We wanted to understand whether the concept of financial health, promoted widely in the United States by CFSI, could be used as a relevant framework to understand consumers. Financial health is defined as coming about when your daily systems help you build resilience and pursue opportunities. Our working hypothesis was that financial health could serve as a method of tracking progress in emerging markets since it is what people strive to attain, and therefore is one of the core aims of financial inclusion.

Our work took us to rural and urban areas in Kenya and India. With the help of the Dalberg Design Impact Group and funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we asked consumers in these markets questions about their financial lives. These questions ranged from how much money they could come up with if they liquidated all of their assets to whether their friends would help them financially in the case of an emergency (and about a hundred other questions in between these two ends of the spectrum).

The aim of the research was to identify the key indicators of financial health in a developing world context, similar to the eight key indicators that CFSI had identified for the U.S. market. We found that while financial health as a concept holds in countries like India and Kenya, the indicators to define and measure financial health look somewhat different from those in the United States. The resulting framework can be summed up as follows (and the full report is here).

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> Posted by Kelsey Truman, HBS-Accion Program Coordinator, CFI

Domestic abuse and violence against women (VAW) are pervasive and shocking. According to the World Bank, 38 percent of murders of women globally are committed through intimate partner violence. Globally, one-third of all women have experienced domestic or intimate partner violence. The World Health Organization even went so far as to call VAW a “global health problem of epidemic proportions.” Could financial services possibly play a role in improving this situation?

One of the largest hurdles in combating VAW around the world is women’s inability or unwillingness to seek help when they find themselves in abusive situations. In conjunction with fear, one important reason many women don’t seek help rests on their degree of financial dependency. That is, they don’t have enough money or economic resources necessary to establish themselves independently, much less pay for legal fees and so forth. Furthermore, women’s vulnerability to violence has been shown to increase with their relative level of poverty. If women are given options to easily and discreetly pursue financial options and open bank accounts independently of their husbands and other male family members, it could very well save their lives one day.

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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.