My PIN Is 4321

There, I’ve told you. So what do you think of me now? Am I: (a) illiterate, (b) ignorant, or (c) irresponsible?

I am frequently subjected to anecdotes about how some people who are new to banking or mobile money share their PINs, or soon forget them. That is taken as prima facie evidence that PINs may not be appropriate as an authentication mechanism for the poor. In the same breath in which we marvel at how the poor are sophisticated portfolio managers per Portfolios of the Poor, we question whether they can handle four digits. 
There may be two other reasons why people share their PINs. (d) is because it may be entirely harmless to do so, for instance because the account may be used very seldom and there is rarely any money in it anyway. When the account is no treasure, the PIN will not be cherished. The implication is clear: you want your customers to treat their PIN more seriously? Give them more reasons to value your service.
Every winter people from all over Rajasthan travel to the Great Pushkar Fair, known as the Cattle Fair, to buy and sell camels, horses, and bulls. Every winter people from all over Rajasthan travel to the Great Pushkar Fair, known as the Cattle Fair, to buy and sell camels, horses, and bulls.
Photo Credit: Sandipan Majumdar
A further reason why people share their PINs is (e) because it may actually be useful for them to have someone else know it. For instance, because they use the account only to collect G2P payments and instead of everyone having to go to a distant ATM or agent to collect their cash, they take turns and collect payments for each other. Why not?
When people do something with your product that you don’t want them to do, the reaction shouldn’t be “educate!” but rather to see what about the product can be changed to accommodate the behavior of the customer in a better way. Take case (e), and start from the premise that it’s entirely legitimate for rural or aged customers to cash out money for each other. How about if, under the ‘withdrawal’ entry in your mobile phone service, in addition to specifying the amount and confirming it with your secret PIN, you could choose between an ‘in person’ and a ‘through a friend’ withdrawal? The latter would generate a code (one-time password), and that’s what you share with your friend or neighbor who is going to fetch the cash for you. (Imagine that the cash-out fee is charged at this point, and the actual collection of the cash –which needs to happen within, say, 12 hours— is free.) It’s similar to how ‘sending money to non-customers’ or ‘ATM withdrawals’ work on many mobile money systems, so the concept is hardly new. But now I have a way of asking someone else to collect my money, without that forcing me to be irresponsible with my PIN.
This product feature may or may not be a good idea; for starters, one would need to find ways to minimize the P2P cannibalization risk. But I’d like to stress three broader points. First, it’s risky to infer people’s capacity from their modalities of use of your product, because the problem may be with your product. Second, some things that might seem like a small feature in some contexts may be core to the proposition being marketed in others. This nifty ‘withdraw through a friend’ capability might be absolutely core to a mobile money platform that is targeting G2P payments as a driver of transactional volume. Third, biometric solutions to the PIN-sharing issue are an over-reaction, not only because of the costs they entail but also because they work only by eliminating choice. Once the money is in my account, why can’t I decide how it gets picked up?


17 September 2012 Submitted by Akhand (not verified)

Very well articulated.

Another aspect to the PINs are their alien nature. In various instances customers are not comfortable with english digits, rather local language numerals. If there is an option to choose a pin in vernacular language, am sure the forgotten instances will be lesser.

17 September 2012 Submitted by Michael Joyce (not verified)

One problem is that the P in PIN stands for "Personal", when in fact people do live shared lives. Family relationships, obligations and responsibilities are complex, but mobile money only ever offers personal accounts. Banking can offer joint accounts or small business accounts with joint authorities, but there is no such concept in mobile money.
While there are some tangible benefits to giving individuals control (especially women), this becomes a problem for G2P payments (usually paid to a household), lending (often done in groups) and small business payments (which might sometimes be delgated to staff members).
Banks are more likely to come up with solutions than telcos, but Neil is right that it requires a level of product ownership few providers have.

18 September 2012 Submitted by mulanga (not verified)

A very good piece here. Another option could be to have an option for having a PIN in name form. Majority of the rural folks are old and/or illiterate and hence can easily remember names rather than numerals

25 September 2012 Submitted by john Gitau (not verified)

Behavior is difficult to change. It makes time and economic sense to create products around conditioned behavior. But most of the time, we want products to change behavior from limit to empowering. The low income households don't take privacy the way the others do. They wonder what the big deal is to send a friend or relative to draw money on their behalf. They wonder why pin should be so private yet almost everything else( resources) is shared.Integrity is one big resource that the low income try to safeguard as their biggest asset since without it, sharing resources with others becomes impossible. That's why social collateral in microfinance has worked so far. It may not even arise that a person sent by another to withdraw for him or her money from an ATM would want to withdraw more ( or steal for that matter). That is why I agree with Ignacio that it might actually be better to think of products that match existing behavior.

30 September 2012 Submitted by arponroy (not verified)

mobile is a poor man bank now-a-days in some poor we should preserve it.

03 March 2014 Submitted by Michiel Wolvers (not verified)

I just read this old post from Ignacio, but I think the issue is still very important and underestimated.

Both Ignacio and Michael Joyce make excellent points. In the Portfolios of the poor we did learn that the lives of the economic poor are complex and we also learned that social circles are key to manage household finances. Debts are never really repaid and close friends know where the household´s savings are kept.

What I would like to add is the (lack of trust) in new products and the need for a trail period - such as Freeware. When something is new, the first phase is about discovering. People can be sceptical at the beginning. Questions emerge: how does it work?, how can I use it? and how do I benefit? People can sign up to answer these questions and start with for example an easy password. Afterwards, when these questions are answered, a more complex password can be created to secure their (individual or household) benefit.

I think this behaviour is not strange, I do the same. For instance when I initially sign-up for a website I don´t know, the first password is quite simple to guess: a standard password (similar to 4321). Then when I pass the trail phase and understand my personal benefit of using it, I will use the service more personal and perhaps even enter a more secure password.

So yes: social circles and adaptations are important for product adaptation. Nonetheless, I think that when people get really exited about using a product, behaviour change will occur.

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