Designing Customer-Centric Branchless Banking Offerings

20 December 2013
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Understanding the customer experience is critical, but focus groups and surveys may not be well-suited to understand customer needs.

Branchless banking services have taken on a significant challenge: developing new channels through which to provide financial services to customers who have mostly used only cash before. Understanding the customer experience is critical, but focus groups and surveys may not be well-suited to understand customer needs in an environment with so many new and unknown dimensions. Intrigued by the success of design research in other industries, CGAP set out to explore how human-centered design (HCD) could be applied to branchless banking and its unique challenges.

Most financial service providers do not launch branchless banking services based on well-defined insights about low-income clients. Instead, they go to market with a one-size-fits-all mobile wallet that customers sometimes struggle to understand and use. Several customer-centric research and product development methodologies have been used in financial inclusion work for some time with mixed success. Because of its track record in other industries, CGAP has been exploring how HCD may help branchless banking providers understand their customers more deeply and develop offerings better suited to their customers’ needs. The HCD process is centered on learning directly from customers and delivering solutions that work in specific contexts. Through careful listening and observation of customers in their own environment, designers understand the needs of the people they are designing for. Rapid prototyping and real-world tests with customers are then used to quickly validate (or invalidate) early designs and iteratively improve the final solution.

This Brief describes initial experiences using HCD to help five branchless banking providers understand their customers better and design offerings to meet their needs. Partners include large banks in Brazil, Mexico, and Pakistan; mobile network operators (MNOs) in Ghana and Uganda; and several leading design firms. Three lessons from early experiences include the following:

1. In each project, the process uncovered critical aspects of the customer experience beyond the product that needed to function correctly for customers to trust and use the product. HCD was a useful tool to understand and improve the entire customer experience.

2. Although the HCD process helped develop innovative product concepts arising directly from customer needs, it did not solve implementation challenges, which can be just as difficult if not more so than concept generation.

3. The HCD process helped bridge the gap between senior managers and customers. Many senior managers engaged deeply and directly with customers for the first time and are adjusting organizational processes to ensure customers continue to have a greater voice in the organization.