THE CHALLENGE

Help us redesign a mobile financial services ecosystem around the realities of rural life in Uttar Pradesh

In 2015, we partnered with the Grameen Foundation to redesign a mobile payment solution for one of the region’s largest micro-finance organizations. The organization had piloted a solution with one of India’s largest telcos and seen very little traction with borrowers. Our goal was to redesign this program in order to get more borrowers to pay their bills using their phones: this would help the bank save money on admin costs at branches and save borrowers the time they currently spend traveling into town.

Propellerfish-Innovation-Financial-Inclusion-2

We spent time understanding existing program through the eyes of each party and then headed into field to understand our challenge in the real world. We spent a week traveling through 9 villages in Uttar Pradesh, each situated between 1-5 hours from the town of Lucknow. Along the way, we met a mix of existing mobile money agents, prospective agents, lending agents, borrowers and their families. All in all, we spoke to 122 people, spending time in their homes, communities and places of business.

We were designing a solution for the wives as borrowers, but the mobile phone was in the hands of the husband.

Propellerfish-Grameen-Foundation-BOM-Innovation

THE OUTCOME

A shift towards assisted payments and a telco agnostic mobile payment partner.

That level of closeness brought our challenge into very clear focus. For example, most the women we met didn’t own phones and were largely illiterate. As a result they were unlikely to adopt a mobile payment solution on their own. Finally, the existing program asked borrowers to acquire SIM cards from the participating Telco – no easy task for a community of people who often lack the literacy and documentation they need to get a SIM card in the first place.

Propellerfish-Innovation-Financial-Inclusion

We worked together to pivot the program in three key ways. First, we recognized that getting borrowers to make mobile payments on their own was unlikely to happen, at least in the near term. We pivoted the program to rely more heavily on agents as payment points rather than ask people in villages to make the payment on their own.

Second, we decided that a pivot away from an ecosystem built around a single telco was key. As a result, the team shifted to a telco agnostic solution which could work regardless of which network our users were already subscribed to.

Finally, without agents in place who agreed to serve as payment points, this program’s chances of success were zero. Incentivizing agents at the last mile is tough, especially given that this service required the liquidity to pay out balances topped up onto a mobile wallet. Despite this, we noticed certain remote areas had very dedicated agents. With a bit of work, we figured out that local telco agents had unofficially granted exclusivity to these shops.

As a result, offering mobile money services suddenly became a huge selling point, bringing them customers that otherwise might have gone to competing shops.

We decided to turn those unofficial deals into a key selling point, giving agents exclusivity for their area, making agent shops more competitive, creating the necessary incentive to serve as a payment point in our ecosystem.

The program, now in pilot is showing some promising results. Just as importantly, it has served as an important learning ground for how to make similar transitions in other borrower communities more successful in the future.

This project has been covered in the Wall Street Journal as part of its Financial Inclusion Challenge 2016.