Source: Harvard Kennedy School and Center for Financial Inclusion
“Know your client” is a popular phrase in conversations about financial inclusion and business in general. But where does such knowledge come from? Does it end with your client’s expressed needs and desires? Can it also incorporate behavioral research insights or consumer protections that the client may not even demand?
Shawn Cole of Harvard Business School opened the second day of “Rethinking Financial Inclusion” – a one-week program offered by Harvard Kennedy School Executive Education – with a question all providers might ask themselves when modifying existing products or developing new ones: “If you were the customer, would you go for that deal?”
Cole pointed out that products meant to “bank the unbanked” (i.e., first-time users) must be designed differently from products meant to tempt new customers away from competitors. He described the experience of First National Bank of South Africa in responding to government calls to encourage savings among the poor and draw black South Africans into the predominantly white formal banking sector. First National Bank decided to offer a lottery with large prizes to new depositors.
In debating whether a lottery would attract customers, participants cited examples from their own work, such as a mobile money account offering free insurance to savers who maintain a sufficient balance in their accounts. Recognizing that the poor are already saving, informally, the challenge is to develop products that draw them into the formal sector safely and responsibly. Another provider warned against complicated offers. “Structured products can be very esoteric.”
The concerns participants voiced fell into two categories: ones that apply to anyone (e.g. for nearly everyone a flashy new product loses its luster after the third page of terms and conditions), and ones that are specific to the poor (e.g. how do you draw people into banking, when even walking into the building itself is intimidating?). Both sets of concerns underline the need for financial capability development and customer-centered product innovation. The potential interest in formal financial products may be there, but uptake is obstructed by consumers’ lack of confidence, or poor understanding of the products’ components, or inability to surmount intimidating “barriers to entry” such as small print.