Emilia Klimiuk and Joel Muhumuza

More Than Just Good Advertising: Challenges and best practices in driving digital financial services adoption

Editor’s note: This is the fourth post in a series by Grameen Foundation on what it takes for institutions that provide microfinance services to go digital. You can read the first post here, the second one here, and the third one here.

Despite the large sums of money being poured into digital financial services around the world, enrollment and usage remain low. Few services reach those who need them most. When Grameen Foundation, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, partnered with two institutions offering microfinance services in Uganda to connect bank accounts to mobile money, we were keenly aware of this challenge.

We conducted extensive research to understand both the customer needs and the existing branch operations of our partner institutions, Centenary Bank and Pride Microfinance Ltd. (MDI). Armed with our findings, we worked with these partners to maximize adoption.

In the process, one thing became clear: Increasing the adoption of digital financial services requires a lot more than just good advertising. We’ve compiled in this post a few of the challenges and best practices we identified.

Challenges in marketing digital services

While traditional above-the-line marketing approaches (usually mass media promotions) build awareness, they often have limited ability to influence usage. This is especially true in areas where the benefits of digital financial services are the strongest – rural communities, where branches are far away and transportation is costly. Limited resources, low education and inexperience with technology, however, make many of the rural poor risk averse. Consequently, they are often the last to adopt new technology. To reach the poor, financial institutions must engage in below-the-line, experiential techniques (direct-to-consumer marketing) through personal interactions, and by gaining early support from community influencers.

There are also challenges to consider within the institution. For example, an engaged staff is key to educating customers about the service. However, existing employee incentive structures often don’t cater to new services, which is an especially significant deterrent when the service requires more staff time to “sell.” Additionally, because mobile services are co-branded and require work across partners, at times, it can be difficult to see where the role of the mobile network operator (MNO) ends and that of the financial institution begins.

Best practices to drive adoption

To address these challenges we focused on streamlining each institution’s operations to improve service delivery and enhance the customer experience at the branch. We also refocused their marketing efforts to communicate with the target customers more directly. We’ve included a few examples below.

Improve service delivery: Popularizing digital financial services requires full staff buy-in, so staff members must be properly incentivized. Branch staff won’t push a service that they don’t understand, or that falls outside of current performance agreements.

For example, at Pride MDI, constraints in time and resources made it difficult to train all the staff on the new service. As a result, many knew about Pride Mobile, but didn’t know how to use it and could not actually explain it fully. Instead of trying to train everyone, we asked each branch manager to select an especially motivated staff member at the branch who could serve as a champion for Pride Mobile. We trained those individuals and relied on them to train others at their branch. With only 31 champions, we were able to conduct a highly immersive, motivational, two-day training that covered details about the product as well as tips for training co-workers.

Enhance customer experience at the branch: How the customer interacts with the service is critical to initial usage and uptake. Financial institutions should make the enrollment process as speedy as possible, especially because customers may need to register with both an MNO and the institution itself. One option could be to collaborate with the MNO to make this a single step by having MNO staff present at the branches or during special events. Financial institutions could also make mobile banking part of their regular account opening application process.

Communicate with customers more directly: Below-the-line and in-person touch points are hugely important in helping a customer use digital financial services for what might be the first time. Whenever possible, find ways to have branch staff explain the product directly. Take advantage of long lines in queues to show customers product demos. When considering messaging, generic concepts such as “take your bank everywhere” (see the photo from an unpublished ad concept at the top of the page) do little to explain the service. Use real-life examples (like those from Centenary’s actual campaign, shown in the images below) to make the product resonate for different customer segments.

By focusing on improving the service delivery, enhancing the customer experience and communicating with target customers more directly, our partners together saw nearly 2,000 transactions per day within the first week of launch.

A full review of the lessons learned on go-to-market strategies for digital financial services can be found here.

Emilia Klimiuk is a researcher, designer and strategist working with Grameen Foundation in East Africa to develop mobile financial services for the rural poor.

Joel Muhumuza is the commercial lead for Grameen Foundation’s financial services initiatives in Uganda, where he worked on developing viable business models for digital financial products.

financial inclusion, marketing and advertising, microfinance, mobile finance