Among a pioneering breed of mobile financial services gaining ground in Latin America, DaviPlata stands out for its innovative approach to reaching the low-income and poor. Through a freemium model, customers can transfer money across wallets, cash in and out, and request their wallet balance from their phone at no cost. Gaining a critical mass of customers has been a key priority for Davivienda, the issuing bank. In its quest to build scale and to expand into lower-income segments, Banco Davivienda won a government contract to use DaviPlata to distribute government-to-person payments to more than 900,000 recipients of Familias en Accion, a social safety net program including subsidies to families who provide children with healthcare and enable them to stay in school.
One could imagine this to be the perfect combination to drive adoption of digital payments – DaviPlata benefits from additional customers, customers benefit from more reliable services, and the bank and government benefit by issuing payments more efficiently. Indeed, DaviPlata grew significantly through this process. But the journey to get there had many twists and turns, and shed many lessons on what it means to go mass-market with a digital solution. Some of the key lessons were:
- Digital delivery involves more than the product. Providers need to develop a full service model that can be effective in communicating with customers, creating proximity (e.g., with the right language), and listening and solving complaints. Transactional data coming from this model provides a window into the behavior of customers.
- Freemium is difficult. Small events can trigger a high volume of customer transactions which can lead to network congestion. Providers need a mechanism to proactively manage events that trigger customer response. This includes promotions, as well as operational glitches.
- Viral marketing works. Incentivizing signup of friends through rewards proved that people did not require training to sort out and use the mobile wallet leading to high volumes of new accounts.
- Staggering G2P payments eases liquidity management. Concentration of payments in time and geography causes a significant demand for cash that the traditional mobile wallet operation can’t absorb. Staggering payments in time makes operations more manageable.
- The bank, MNO, and platform are inextricably linked. Payment events require coordination across multiple actors. Changes in transaction pricing between an MNO and the bank can affect the commercial viability of the overall service.
Beyond these challenges, one also wonders about the more fundamental question – did the channeling of Familias en Accion payments had a multiplier effect in the overall growth of the business? The answer is yes. Before the Familias en Accion payments, DaviPlata had reached more than 500,000 customers, but further expanding the client base required significant investments in infrastructure (including building an agent network and ATMs). The contract with Familias en Accion facilitated Davivienda’s investment in building an expanded agent network, and as a result, by June 2014 it had grown to 2.2 million wallets. Excluding the 937,000 Familias en Accion beneficiaries, DaviPlata’s customer base grew from 500,000 to 1.3 million. Today, customers participating through Más Familias en Acción still account for 79% of the $43 million channeled through the wallet monthly, and the safety net beneficiaries represent approximately 80% of all customers who conduct monthly transactions and hold a cumulative balance.
DaviPlata’s wallet is primarily used as a mechanism for accessing cash, and most customers withdraw their funds almost immediately. This rings true with previous CGAP research on this topic. However, it is estimated that about 12% of the clients have savings balances, indicating the potential for a future link to increased financial inclusion.
A new paper from CGAP describes the key challenges faced by Davivienda through this complex journey:
- How did the service delivery model adapt to effectively work for untrusting, often illiterate poor customers?
- What did Davivienda do to guarantee availability of cash in the access points?
- What did viral incentives teach DaviPlata about links between marketing and operations?
- What were the challenges in scaling up the capacity of the messaging and mobile infrastructure to process large volume of payments?
Moving forward, DaviPlata is well positioned to continue expanding. It has a virtual delivery model proven to reach and engage poor customers effectively. Additionally, it can be scaled to serve a large part of the population. Its customer base is reaching critical mass in Colombia, and thus can begin driving network effects to boost usage – as more people take up and use the service, the more useful it will become. Taking advantage of these assets to drive the business’ growth is not simple. However, doing so could unlock the real value of DaviPlata, a platform that connects many of the poorest, to a broad range of financial services.
Developing the value proposition of this solution is the crucial part. Formulating sound delivery strategy helps to establish the model and nd maintain the service.
Bassel Nadim - Tanmia Capital