Advancing Global Financial Inclusion
The World Bank / Consultative Group at Assist the Poor
Advancing Global Financial Inclusion
The designers had a good eye to uncover an issue and finding some opportunities to create impact. The solution was simple, and it remained at an abstract level in our opinions. However, it showed potential by revealing good insights that can be leveraged upon to craft relevant bank experiences to rural Indians.
Advancing Global Financial Inclusion
The Consultative Group to Assist the Poor tasked us with identifying new product opportunities that served government-to-person beneficiaries in Pakistan. Our solution was an experience overhaul. Clear, easy-to-understand literal pictures replaced words and abstract diagrams. We worked to create more transparency in their interactions, and designed and tested both mobile, ATM and Agent receipts the women could read. We also developed new financial products that the beneficiaries’ could understand and actually use. The outcome was a set of solutions built on the beneficiaries’ current behavior that drastically improved the ability of the women to directly interact with the financial system.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
The Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), part of the World Bank, sought human-centered innovation to engage a hugely underserved population: poor women in Pakistan. About 5 million low-income families in Pakistan receive government-to-person (G2P) payments as part of the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP). CGAP and HBL, one of three Pakistani banks distributing the payments, sought to improve payment delivery by better understanding Pakistani women and their needs. BISP recipients are very poor and live day-to-day, or at best, month-to-month. The varying time intervals between BISP payments caused confusion among the beneficiaries. Illiteracy and the women’s inability to interact directly with the system was the biggest barrier to financial inclusion. The beneficiaries could not read and many had difficulty understanding symbols, icons and illustrations. Ideas like “savings” and “loans” were abstract concepts that the women did not comprehend. These realities left many women without consistent access to their money, and as a result women did not trust the system or have confidence that they could get their money when they needed it.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
Our goal was to apply product innovation techniques to finding ways to help G2P beneficiaries in Pakistan. The insights from this research provided a nuanced understanding of the difficulties of providing financial services to the very poorest in a society, specifically the barriers that come from extreme illiteracy. The research is applicable not only to other G2P payment providers and government ministries, but also to any financial provider that seeks to design a product that meets the needs and the capabilities of low-income clients. Ultimately we sought to discover how G2P payments could be used to build financial inclusion.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
We compiled a multi-national, multi-disciplinary team including five translators, two designers, and two facilitators. The project focused on helping impoverished women in Pakistan who depend on these small BISP payments to learn how to use a bank: how to get their money out of the bank, but also how to keep some of their money in the bank as savings. We hypothesized that women who were part of the banking system would be able to save more safely than by storing cash in their home and would be able to make payments more conveniently. The project involved working closely with Habib Bank Limited (HBL)—one of the distributors of BISP payments.
BISP recipients live in stark poverty: the family income of the people we met was typically less than $4 per day. The way these families think about and interact with the world is different from the way we do. We needed to get close to the recipients to understand their lives and build empathy with them so that we could find ways to help them to connect to the banking system. We spent about five weeks in southern Punjab, talking with women in poor areas around Lahore and Multan and looking for ways to help them.
In-depth interviews with 30 BISP beneficiaries in the Punjab province helped us gain knowledge about their lives, their perception of banks and their financial needs. Our solution is an overhaul of the G2P experience. Clear, easy-to-understand literal pictures replaced words and abstract diagrams. We worked to create more transparency in their interactions, and designed and tested both mobile, ATM and Agent receipts the women could read. We also developed new financial services products that the beneficiaries’ could understand and would actually use. When we tested our solution with 10 additional BISP beneficiaries, the response was positive.
Our work is paving the way towards greater financial inclusion, in Pakistan and around the world. Despite significant barriers, we worked to ensure G2P beneficiaries could better manage and save their money. Four key recommendations from our project demonstrate its value. (1) Ensure BISP payments follow a regular, published schedule; (2) use photographic instructions to teach BISP recipients how to use an ATM or an agent; (3) increase transparency in the system by making it easier for BISP recipients to know how much money they have in their accounts and understand how much money was withdrawn, for example, by providing receipts with simple, large text of only the most relevant information; and (4) offer simple savings products and a loan product that provide options for BISP recipients. These recommendations are a natural extension of how recipients are thinking about their interactions with the bank today. With these changes in place, the BISP program could be an effective stepping-stone to fuller financial inclusion. And with the ability to control their money, perhaps these women will develop a greater sense of personal agency.6. Outline the steps of the service; what are the intended behavioral patterns or “scripts” for the actors interacting with the service?
Having discovered the icons and verbal instructions were not effective with BISP recipients, we looked for a way to communicate without words, diagrams or icons, or verbal instructions. The answer was simple: we used photographs. Photographs are literal ways to communicate—there is no abstraction. We found that BISP women were confident and eager to use an ATM after they were shown a series of photographs showing each step of the process. The photographs should show exactly what the person has to do on exactly the same device that they will use. We prepared a short design guide to help banks in Pakistan and BISP to communicate with their customers on how to use the system, increase transparency, and improve trust.
BISP recipients play an important role in reducing corruption. But to do so, they need to understand what is going on and be able monitor the checks and balances in the system. By making the numbers on receipts large and with no other distracting characters or symbols around them, for example, it is easier for BISP recipients to monitor their payments and more difficult for them to be victims of fraud. If banks and the government use the right approach, BISP recipients will learn how to use ATM and agent systems, make sure that they get the payments owed them, and protect themselves and the system from fraud.
Because systems should be designed to work for the user, the onus is on the designer of the system to make sure users can access the system. Needless to say, the challenge of communicating with BISP recipients was extreme.
Being illiterate is not limited to not being able to read. Research has shown that learning to read helps to develop a person’s ability to use language in general and to deal with abstraction. To determine the dimensions of illiteracy among BISP recipients, we developed some simple tests to find out what they could and could not do.
Two obvious solutions to the literacy problem are to use icons to simplify communication or to use verbal instructions. We tested these ideas with BISP recipients and learned that what was simple to us, did not work for them.
Icons. Some have proposed using icons as a way to communication to illiterate people. The BISP instructions that came with the card included diagrams and icons that were intended to help the overwhelming majority of women who could not read the text. But icons are essentially shorthand for something that is already understood. Like acronyms, they make things simpler for those in the know, but are incomprehensible to the uninitiated. For example, to us the icon taken from an instruction sheet looked like a fanfold of five 500 Rupee notes, but to BISP recipients who were not used to icons it looked like a poorly drawn hand.
Verbal instructions. Another obvious option is to provide verbal communication. However, in testing instructions for how to use an ATM, BISP recipients struggled with making the translation from verbal instruction to manual action. Abstractions such as “top, right” or “the square” were confusing. Many literate people are used to dealing with abstractions and translating from one domain to another, but illiterate people are not practiced in this skill.
So, having determined what does not work, we looked for a way to communicate without words, diagrams or icons, or verbal instructions. The answer was simple: we used photographs. Photographs are literal ways to communicate—there is no abstraction. We found that BISP women were confident and eager to use an ATM after they were shown a series of photographs showing each step of the process.
The photographs should show exactly what the person has to do on exactly the same device that they will use. We prepared a short design guide to help banks in Pakistan and BISP to communicate with their customers on how to use the system, increase transparency, and improve trust.