Michelle Kaffenberger

Practical Insight: Studies support mobile money decision making

Contextual, demand-side research can make all the difference when mobile money providers make decisions about what products and services to offer and how to attract and keep customers. In many developing countries, however, such research is often in short supply. Recent studies conducted by InterMedia shed light on the mobile money markets in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Tanzania, providing insight that is not always intuitive. Basing decisions on research like this, rather than solely on supply-side data and assumptions, helps mobile money providers succeed and financial inclusion expand.

Our study on financial needs in DRC (conducted with GSMA) highlighted the importance of identifying the nuances of a country’s market. From the outset, the DRC market looks similar to those in East Africa, with sending and receiving money transfers the most common financial activity. This would imply that a mobile money approach similar to those in East Africa, focused on transfers, would be effective in DRC. Our research showed, however, that unlike in other markets, the Congolese are highly satisfied with the transfer services currently available to them, and consider current options both convenient and affordable. Yet they are highly dissatisfied with their options for bill payments and salary payments, indicating that these would be better points of entry for mobile money providers.

Qualitative research provides another useful perspective, one that neither supply-side nor demand-side statistics can produce. In our study tracking mobile money in Tanzania, we learned that many Tanzanians think there is a charge for registering a mobile money account, even though no mobile money services have registration fees. We heard from focus group participants and mystery shoppers that agents had been charging non-official “registration fees,” and word-of-mouth about such experiences was turning others away from trying out mobile money. This indicates that providers need to crack down on agents charging inappropriate fees and educate consumers so that they don’t pay these fees.

Combining research methods adds additional angles for viewing the market. In the Tanzania study mentioned above, we used interviews with mobile money agents, focus group discussions and mystery shoppers to gather a holistic perspective on the customer experience. Triangulating the three, we saw that focus group participants complained that agents were impatient and often unhelpful in explaining the services to them, and mystery shoppers said agents were often unknowledgeable and unable to explain the services. When we spoke with agents, however, they said customers come to them with so little knowledge of mobile money that educating customers is filling their whole day. They weren’t purposefully being rude, they just didn’t have time to both teach customers and attend to their business. The agents suggested that mobile money providers should do a better job of educating potential and current customers.

We’re currently in the beginning stages of a two-year, seven-country study on digital financial services on behalf of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to gather similar demand-side data. A study of this scale will provide a wealth of information on the financial lives and needs of individuals in many countries. The hope, though, is that the end result is not just “information,” but rather practical insight that can improve decision making and lead to better-tailored products and services to expand financial inclusion.

Michelle Kaffenberger is research manager at InterMedia and is experienced in quantitative research, data analysis, project evaluation, and project management.

financial inclusion, research