So…What Does HCD Mean for Financial Inclusion?

07 January 2015

More than three years ago, CGAP embarked on a journey of experimentation with human-centered design (HCD) for financial inclusion, with a focus on digital financial services. Those of you who have followed our ongoing blog series on Applied Product Innovation in Branchless Banking already know about our seven projects spanning eight countries around the globe. In the course of these projects, we talked to hundreds of low-income people, generated 175 concepts for new financial products and tested 30 prototypes. At the end of all this, what have we learned? What is HCD most useful for? Should everyone be trying it?


Photo Credit: Biswajit Patra, 2014 CGAP Photo Contest

Our answers to these questions and many more can be found in our recent interactive publication, Insights into Action. But, as a quick teaser, we think HCD can have high impact for four key reasons:

  1. HCD is a process that brings the customer’s voice into the boardroom. With all the current emphasis on being customer-centric, we think HCD is one of the most tangible processes that can be applied to a multitude of areas to truly understand the customer perspective and bring it into the boardroom in an effective way. There is something powerful about sitting down in people’s homes and listening to them, hearing about their day, their work and their family. HCD forces managers to address customers’ needs as well as respond to institutional requirements.
  2. The combination of a collection of customer insights and actionable design principles is very powerful. In our last blog post, we shared some of the key insights we found consistently across projects. In our experience, even where there was no single “aha!” insight that was completely new for the provider, the collection of insights together was presented in a way that was new and extremely useful. Among the most useful outputs from HCD projects were actionable design principles to help organizations formalize their knowledge about customers and apply it consistently across branches and departments.
  3. HCD can be applied to any aspect of the customer experience. We started with a strong focus on developing new products but HCD touches on every aspect of the customer experience. The entire process or even just a part of it, such as prototyping, can be applied to areas as diverse as customer acquisition, agent training and user interface. For example, in Pakistan we wanted to test a concept of having talking ATMs guide illiterate customers through the process of making a withdrawal. We tested whether customers preferred instructions read aloud or printed in clear, simple instructional posters and the posters won hands down. HCD techniques were used to test very specific aspects of the customer experience and quickly and cheaply yield important learnings.
  4. HCD is transformative. As managers left the comfort of their offices, we took them into the field where they learned HCD firsthand. The process itself inspired managers so much that some of them wound up taking design courses and ultimately teaching them. In other cases, the firms are planning on creating internal HCD units. This was not an initial focus of the projects but as we realized the potential of HCD to transform organizations and managers, we worked towards more explicitly building provider capacity in HCD.

We can now say with confidence that HCD is a powerful tool in the hands of the right organization with the commitment and leadership support to maximize its impact. It’s not a magic bullet, but it is a fantastic process to help managers understand their customers creatively, iteratively and effectively.

So do you feel ready to get started? Flowcharts in our interactive publication can help you figure out whether HCD is right for you and how to get started. Although the full process with a top tier design firm is expensive, there are other ways to start to experiment with HCD on a lower budget.

Although this first chapter of CGAP’s experimentation with HCD is coming to a close, we will continue to incorporate HCD into our work, for example in our work with Customer-centricity and in understanding smallholder farmers better. Most important, we look forward to hearing from the organizations we worked with (as well as others who are trying HCD) on the long-term impact that HCD has had on staff, managers and customers of their organizations.

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