Robert is a mobile money agent in Ghana. He tries to teach his customers how to use their cell phones to perform seemingly straight forward transactions: check account balances, deposit money and transfer cash. But unfortunately, Robert ends up exactly where he started: with the client’s cell phone in his hand performing transactions on behalf of his clients.
Robert’s clients are far from alone. In 2010 and 2011, Microfinance Opportunities conducted market research in India, Philippines, Zambia and Malawi with low-income consumers to identify the challenges they faced in adopting mobile money. The qualitative market research study consisted of focus groups with over 450 active and non-active clients and 75 individual in-depth interviews with agents, merchants and bank staff. Trust was the major common hurdle—consumers had limited trust in the technology to keep their money safe. Asked to leapfrog into a new financial world, consumers also lacked the confidence to use this technology correctly and a limited understanding of the full range of mobile money products on offer or their associated benefits.
Consumers apprehension with the “paperless” nature of the technology was a key obstacle. Without a physical receipt for a mobile money transaction, customers worried about the safety of their money. Moreover, without a clear understanding of the safeguards in place for mobile money, e.g. PIN and SMS confirmations, and who is accountable should problems arise, the perceived risks outweigh the benefits.
A second key challenge was customers’ reluctance to conduct transactions themselves. They worried that a simple error in transacting could be a costly one for them. Clients who attempt a transaction and fail may stop using the service altogether. Alternatively, clients who rely too heavily on agents to perform their transactions, in some cases, supplying the agents with their PINs, are vulnerable to theft.
Consumer education can play a role in bridging the gap between the lack of consumer trust and adoption of mobile money. One answer lies with educating clients about how mobile money works, its safety features and how to use the service themselves.
A second answer lies in providing institutions with the information they need to address customer challenges, in particular to respond to the question why people do or don’t use mobile money. By mapping transaction procedures and “kicking the tires” from a client’s perspective, consumer education can pinpoint where customer headaches can occur.
Consumer education can also help to document in a systematic way how transactional procedures should be, so both agents and customers know what to expect during a transaction and are on equal footing. Agents, who received training primarily on back-office systems, can also gain a keener awareness of the low-income consumer’s viewpoint and the challenges they face. Training in consumer education gives agents the knowledge and the tools to communicate more effectively with customers, leading to better customer service.
Consumer education can in this way add value not only for clients, but also for mobile money providers and for their financial institution partners. It shines light on client behaviors and challenges, and identifies ways to address them, either through information to the consumer, or by helping providers to look inwardly for solutions.
Microfinance Opportunities has designed and implemented consumer education strategies with partners in India, Philippines and Zambia to address the challenges to uptake and usage. Integral to the implementation of these strategies are the following components:
- Consumer education must be embedded into the operations of the organization rather than a separate stand-alone intervention. Existing resources can be leveraged by deploying the consumer education messages and tools through the key customer touch points that the organization already has, such as agents, merchants, foot soldiers or bank staff.
- Clear and concise messages need to speak to the reality of the low-income customer . Use research to identify their financial needs and craft messages so that they resonate with the financial reality and everyday experience of that customer and explain better how mobile money can address their financial pain points.
- Consumer Education Tools need to help deliver consistent and accurate messages throughout the organization’s communication channels. Make it easier for the network of agents to deliver these messages by developing simple, quick, illustrated guides for agents to use with the target market and eliminate information gaps.
- Connections need to be built between the new concepts of mobile money and consumers’ current knowledge and experience . For example, teaching clients how to read an SMS confirmation and showing them how the information that it contains is just like the information they would receive in a paper receipt can help transition clients to relying on the safety features of the technology.
The issues raised here and the steps that must be taken to develop quality financial education will be the topic of MFO’s Branchless banking training program at the forthcoming SEEP Conference. Learn more about the training and register here.
For more information about Microfinance Opportunities’ work in consumer education on mobile money and how partner organizations are incorporating it into their operations, please visit us at www.microfinanceopportunities.org or contact us at email@example.com.