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Address Existing Pain Points Instead of Only Providing Digital Alternatives in Financial Services

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Jacqueline Jumah, Digital Financial Services Market Specialist and Managing Director at Intermarc Consulting

 

October 2018

Digital channels can drastically drive presence and scale when offering financial services, opening doors to the unbanked and underserved populations. Financial regulators around the world have realised the tremendous role that digital financial services (DFS) can play for financial inclusion and have sought to unlock this potential by creating evolving enabling environments. Financial inclusion, at its most basic level, starts with having an account (financial institution account or mobile money wallet), but it doesn’t stop there, people can only fully benefit when there is regular usage.

In recent times, we have witnessed incredible innovations in products, and initiatives to support the delivery of financial services, promoting the uptake and usage of products and services and showcasing the business case for financial inclusion. The advent of fintech has also propelled developments in the industry, where solutions have come with alluring ‘convenience’ value propositions, translated to accessibility, immediacy, affordability, security, reliability, among others.However, after closely working with low-income people it is critical to explore how comprehensible the convenience is, in the eyes of customers. The convenience perception is a key influencer in the adoption and regular usage of these solutions by customers. Perhaps, we would understand how to develop better products and services and hence experience higher customer activity rates in DFS.

My experience places me in the contextof the financial behaviour and mindsets of the low-income segment people. They are involved in multiple informal money management activities, which work for them, and which form archetypes to evaluate any new offerings by financial service providers. Reflections on the accounts of Portfolios of the Poor and What do Low-income People Know About Money?is that low income segment people have money management mechanisms that work for them and are content, even when these mechanisms could be improved, as Ignacio Mas exemplified in the Digital simulations to digitising financial access for the poor.

DFS has so far mostly achieved to replicate the traditional offerings provided by conventional institutions and the informal financial services workarounds. Here, ‘sign up with us for your convenience’ is the overarching value proposition by a good number of leading providers and which now seems somewhat imperceptible by this segment.For most providers, the inclusion effort of providing these products and services to the bottom of the pyramid customers has not been effectively considered. Providers are offering products and services in pre-determined three main categories – savings, credit and insurance which have been derived from mainstream or traditional financial services. Think about it!

In order to understand how best to address the existing pain points of typical low-income households, through providing improved digital alternatives, I set out to find typical personas and engaged one couple in Kenya on how they manage finances.

Adhis is a woman in her mid-thirties living in Kibera – a slum area in Nairobi, Kenya. She is married with five children, all of whom are still in primary school. Adhis’ husband,Mr. Obende works as a casual labourer at construction sites in the Langata area in Nairobi, while she runs a chapati (some form of local bread) and porridge business, providing meals to the construction casual labourers. Adhis earns an average revenue of USD 4 per day. Her business is involving, as she has to wake up at 3 am in the morning from Monday to Saturday to cook chapati and porridge for purposes of selling to the construction workers.

The construction site jobs are quite unpredictable, sometimes the workers are dismissed after arriving at the site, citing no work. Both Adhis and her husband are often affected by the irregularity of the construction jobs and are forced to go back home where Adhis sets up a stall to sell the chapati and porridge – experiencing lower returns. Sometimes she never clears her stock,therefore, converts the stock to the family meal of the day.

Adhis stores away some money ranging from USD 0.2 to USD 0.5 every day in an old BlueBand margarine tin in her house, for rainy days. Every Sunday, she visits her “chama” (women savings group) and contributes USD 0.5,where she from time to time borrows money for her upkeep and school fees payment.  Unlike Adhis, Mr. Obende prefers borrowing funds from Mr. Otonglo the local money lender even though there are higher repayment interest amounts. On rainy days, he would pledge valuable household items,for example, the radio or Adhis’ Kitenge (african fabric) against some money from Mr. Otonglo ranging from USD 5 to USD 50.

These are basically the couple’s day to day money management mechanisms as they heavily depend on the Mr. Obende’s construction site income, profit from Adhis’ business, savings collected over time from their little BlueBand margarine jar, loans from Adhis’ chama and from the local money lender – Mr. Otonglo. Some key insights into the perceptions and challenges of this household, as regards formal financial services are as follows.

The feeling of discrimination and judgement

People in the low-income segments often want to manage their finances in the most comfortable way possible. They hope to do so without feeling like they would be judged in anyway, and that they will be treated with dignity. They may feel intimidated by the formal structures or even agents who are their neighbours and somewhat know them. In Adhis’ case, she prefers accessing and juggling her money without feeling the need to dress up in her ‘Sunday best’ clothes and shoes, or to remove her usual head gear (old stockings she frequently wears to protect her hair from smoke and roadside dust, as she performs her daily business operations) to go to snazzy looking buildings. She is uncomfortable with prim and proper looks which she feels is for the rich. Adhis compares the immediacy and flexibility value proposition from digital financial services to her experience saving money in the BlueBand jar at home.

While accessing her funds from the jars in the house, she does so discretely and feels that no one would judge how she looks. She also believes there is no judgement when she decides to switch her savings goals or even go against the saving period plan. Adhis admits that although she has an M-Pesa wallet, it is not her preferred financial management medium so she rarely does anything on M-Pesa. This is because she feels she would be opening herself up to the nearby agent, who happens to be a woman, and who she feels may judge her or tell other women about her money usage.

How can providers leverage technology to mimic Adhis’ savings plan and improve on it? How might technology be used to instill confidence in Adhis by creating a perception of privacy when she is depositing or withdrawing funds at the agent location? The answers to these questions would inform some design thinking for financial services propelling innovation and the development of highly usable products and services.

Money in formal systems is not multipurpose

Money in formal systems is deemed not to be as flexible as cash. At any point in time, cash can be exchanged to instantly access goods and or services as opposed to e-value which is not easily accepted. This is because to some extent,at the moment, the focus is on the interconnectivity of systems to promote functionality. Digital channels are more of bridges to money, enabling funds to move from one point to another, with high preference to conduct cash out transactions among customers. The micro level payments ecosystem has not been adequately tapped to enable the likes of Adhis to make payments digitally for their day-to-day needs, hence the perception of money in formal systems being inflexible. Adhis talks of the hurdles in having funds in her M-Pesa wallet when she wants to make payment for the chapati flour or sugar. Her supplier only accepts cash and so this means she has to find an agent to conduct a withdrawal, and at the same time gets charged for the transaction. Withdrawal charges reduce her working capital amounts, discouraging her from holding funds into her M-Pesa wallet. She argues that funds in the M-Pesa wallet are not equal to funds in her purse.

Customers should be able to access their funds whenever there is need. They compare accessing funds from their social groups and other informal borrowing avenues to the formal processes and make decisions basis the ease of access and usage. Flexibility in the availability of funds can be created by driving the acceptance of digital currency. This may be done by providing incentives for electronic transactions and waiving charges in the short-run. In the long run, when e-value is highly acceptable in the low-income segment, minimal charges could be re-introduced.

Perceived confusing, beguiling or hidden conditions pegged to formal financial solutions

The liquidity features commonly known as terms and conditions and other fees for digital financial solutions are not clear and, in many cases, not known to many households. During customer registration to digital financial services, very little information on product features is passed on to customers leading to low trust levels to formal systems. Adhis does not fully trust bank accounts or mobile wallets because she feels that she does not have adequate information regarding operating the said accounts. She reported that she is also not clear on the funds transfer pricing structure and is therefore scared of getting charged hence prefers to keep her money in the house, where she can access the money for free. She also expressed that the fees fluctuate without notice to her and that she would only realize the change upon sending funds. Despite there being measures to help in price transparency in Kenya, awareness among users is still low.

There is need for the introduction of product features that give users a sense of control over when they need the go ahead to sign up for solutions, when they want friction – not to sign up or even how best they could use the solutions. A situation where products are driven by real use cases.By so doing the perception around these solutions, their uptake and eventual regular usage would improve.

The friction in this case is critical too as it empowers users to think of the consequences, plan and make choices on the basis of how these solutions would address their daily pain points. For example, digital credit solutions are exuding a myriad of challenges mostly because the providers have focused in making them readily available and not to address real problems among users. If well considered and structured, digital credit solutions can promote financial inclusion, dignity of users and poverty alleviation. Could providers introduce digital credit solutions that mimic traditional hire purchase arrangements for both goods and services? Asset financing? Instead of easily issuing funds to users, could they identify the need for these funds and create customized impact-oriented credit solutions? Maybe, as an industry, we need the doctor and patient perspective where every patient’s symptoms and treatment prescriptions are treated as unique. Here, users’ pain points would be uniquely addressed.

Saving in formal systems is deemed inoperative

The low-income segments deem formal savings as for those with surplus money. The people in this niche want to see their money working for them or to engage in animating money. Adhis prefers belonging to a savings and credit group to “help others” with the money as she feels this is a wiser way of managing finances and that she will in turn access loans whenever she is in need. She also prefers storing her money in the house to cater for the unanticipated payment for security whenever the vigilante groups from neighbourhood groups knock at her door. Basically, funds saved in formal financial systems are regarded as idle funds.

Providers may pitch savings products as futuristic payment solutions. Such that these products would be perceived as developmental milestones towards future payments. There are already a number of goal-oriented savings products across markets, maybe some repackaging and messaging customization can improve user perception and ultimately regular usage. This way they would seem favourable and aligned to working for the users to achieve their future payment needs.

Conclusion

My interactions with this family shed some light on some of the true perceptions and challenges they face in embracing formal financial services. It is not just about providing digital alternatives; the digital solutions would be meaningful if they are perceived as superior to informal alternatives. Understanding these perceptions and challenges will go a long way in generating daily relevant financial solutions to the low-income segments, those that seem to be better than existing alternatives to encourage regular usage. Some offerings that might seem obvious to other segments seemed imperceptible to this household. Quite some room to improve today’s solutions!

 

Author: Jacqueline Jumah

Digital Financial Services Market Specialist and Managing Director at Intermarc Consulting

Technology

Cloud Storage vs. Cloud Computing: What’s the Difference?

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Cloud storage (Image Credit: DepositPhotos)

Cloud storage and cloud computing have become fairly ubiquitous terms. The chances are that if you’ve done any sort of remote correspondence over the last few years, you have probably come across these terms countless times. 

Even if you don’t fully understand the concept, you are probably engaging in some sort of cloud storage, file sharing, or computing. Cloud technology has become such an important part of modern computing, to have no experience with it is incredibly doubtful.

What is “The Cloud?”

Before delving deeper into the differences between cloud storage and cloud computing, let’s make sure we know exactly what we mean when referring to “the cloud.” 

The cloud, ominous and mysterious as it may sound, refers to a remote server system where a user’s or business’ data is stored. If you own an Apple product, you have probably been prompted endlessly to set up your iCloud account. This service allows you to back up files, such as photos, music, and documents, on Apple’s proprietary server. This takes a lot of the heavy lifting off of your personal computer, creates backups of your files if any system failure occurs, and makes your files available through any computer with an internet connection.

The Difference Between Cloud Storage and Cloud Computing

Now that we have a better idea of what the cloud is, we can look at what cloud storage and cloud computing are and how they are different.

What is Cloud Storage?

Cloud storage is the computing process in which files are stored remotely on a network of external servers. By doing this, cloud storage allows users to accomplish various things that would otherwise be impossible, one of which is cloud file sharing.

If you run a business where the bulk of your employees are working remotely or even just involved in some manner of correspondence that necessitates the swift transfer of files, being able to store and access important documents from wherever you are is a huge convenience. Essentially, your office becomes anywhere you can access the internet. 

Another reason you might consider cloud storage is if you are dealing with high traffic and large file sizes. Your resident computing infrastructure may be unable to cope with such demand. And the cost and upkeep of additional on-premise equipment, not to mention the toll of an expanded IT team on your payroll, may prompt you to look for the best cloud storage providers to implement a hybrid cloud solution.

By outsourcing some of your storage to a cloud provider, you can rest assured (in most cases) that your data is in good hands. These providers, be they Apple, Google, Carbonite, Bitcasa, etc., devote vast amounts of resources to making sure your data is safe from system failures as well as hacking.

What is Cloud Computing?

Cloud computing comes in several different forms, ranging from the everyday to the very complex. In its simplest terms, cloud computing allows users to access and use a cloud hosting provider’s software services. It takes data that is already stored in the cloud and enables certified users to access and manipulate that data from wherever they are.

Think, for example, a shared document on Google Docs. The software used as the medium for the data is hosted by Google, as it is not stored in the users’ computers, and data can be added, removed, changed, and tracked in real-time. This allows for greater collaboration and transparency between users. This form of cloud computing is called software as a Service (SaaS).

Cloud computing also comes in the form of workflow management apps like AirSend. AirSend, and its competitors, provide an interface for real-time communication between individuals in a company. It allows file sharing, cloud storage, general and private chat, video and audio calls, and software integration.

In COVID, where users are predominately operating remotely, cloud computing has experienced a considerable increase in popularity. Using standard software that interconnects everyone involved in a project, individual users can collaborate and communicate in real-time. It has drastically reduced the need for people to be in the same room as one another.

Another form of cloud computing is concerned with harnessing a remote computing system’s processing power or specialized applications. For example, a company that is inundated with a vast amount of data may purchase the services of a cloud computing provider to process the raw data into whatever form they need. This takes the load off their local computing infrastructure, which may not handle such a massive influx of information.

The Difference in Cost Between Cloud Storage and Cloud Computing

Comparing the cost of cloud storage to the cost of cloud computing is tricky because there are so many different services provided through cloud technology, and the degree to which they are offered varies based on each client’s needs.

Cloud storage allows you to only pay for what you need, whether five terabytes or 5 petabytes. The critical thing to remember about cloud storage costs is that it is a passive service. One does not have to actively engage with cloud storage for it to provide any benefit. By simply storing your data safely and making it retrievable when needed, cloud storage fulfills its duties.

The same does not go for cloud computing. Cloud computing is only worth the money put into it if its services are being used. In cases where you are utilizing another system’s processing speed for raw data rendering, you often pay for a small time frame of maybe a few hours. This situation should be pretty self-explanatory. However, for services with monthly subscription fees, if cloud computing applications go overlooked, you will be hemorrhaging money for no reason.

For cloud storage and cloud computing, one must also look at the costs they are offsetting. By employing a cloud server to store data, you are reducing the costs of keeping and maintaining local servers. As with cloud computing, you may occasionally need the processing power of a highly sophisticated computer system but not on a regular basis. In this sense, while still costing a fair bit, cloud storage and computing are far less expensive than housing and expanding local systems.

The Future is Cloud

Cloud storage and cloud computing are ubiquitous in today’s business world, but the degree to which they are used is another question. At their most rudimentary levels, their cost is either free or negligible, and they offer great convenience to both the personal user and small businesses. However, as needs increase, cloud services such as cloud storage, cloud computing, and cloud file sharing become more costly and serve a greater purpose in the makeup of a well-functioning company.

Author: Abhishek Bakshi 

 

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Caching and Why it is so important

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Image: Hubspot

Have you ever noticed that when you frequently visit a website it loads a lot faster than the first time? That is due to a little something called caching. This is the process of storing copies of website files into a temporary storage location (called a cache), so that future requests for that data can be loaded faster. Web browsers such as Google Chrome or Firefox and the webserver make a cache to ensure the website performs faster.

If you’re implementing caching properly your website visitors will not only love the faster experience but this improved performance comes with improved conversions. A conversion for example is an online sale, a booking confirmation, a lead generation request or a general enquiry, depending on the website and what they’re selling. 

Let us dive into the two types of Web Caching: 

  1. Browser Caching

Browser caching, (also called client-side caching), is where the web browser application performs caching processes. When you visit a website, the web browser doesn’t just need to retrieve all the content on the page that you are seeing, like images and text, it also needs to download other things, such as Javascript files, CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), fonts, etc. Browser caching works in a clever way by storing many of these resources / files for a time period (which can be configured) so that they don’t need to be downloaded again when someone visits your website for a subsequent time. This means that the first time someone visits a website it will be slightly slower (we’re talking seconds here) as the web browser is requesting and downloading these needed resources.

  1. Server Caching 

Websites and web applications are hosted on servers. On these servers, we can also take advantage of technologies and settings to set up server caching. Server caching is another technique to make your website or web application faster. In a nutshell, this is how it works: when website visitors request to view a specific page on a website, the webserver then processes this request. After the first request is completed by any user, the server will then remember this request so that next time it gets the same request it can deliver the same result or data to the website and much faster.

Benefits of caching

The clear benefit of caching is that we’re able to provide users with a faster loading website and provide the user with a great user experience (quick loading time) This applies to websites that are loaded both on desktop devices and mobile devices. Another big benefit that many people overlook or aren’t aware of is that search engines such as Google and Bing also give preference to websites that load really quickly when it comes to ranking higher Search Engine Results Pages. The improved speed contributes to the improved SEO score of your website. This can be crucial to obtaining higher traffic to your website and ultimately better conversions and more money to your bottom line.

Is caching effective?

People often question the effectiveness of caching and if it should be implemented on their website. Its aim is to speed up your website and reduce load speeds, for both your website visitors and search engines. This is a clear advantage and therefore definitely effective. The shaved offloading time can have a direct impact on your website’s performance, especially with heavy traffic loads and improve your SEO rankings. It’s important to remember, caching needs to be implemented correctly and properly for it to be effective. Applying caching rules on the web browser or implementing the technology on the server in the wrong way can also be counterproductive and detrimental to your website and business. Only experienced web developers should be trusted with the implementation of caching solutions on websites and web applications.

Is there a downside to caching?

If the website goes through a lot of changes then there is a chance that the user will see the old version instead of the updates. With client-side caching the browser might load an old version of the CSS, Javascript or images. What we do to get around this is to append a query string after the filename which is normally used to pass extra information to pages. So this tricks the browser in thinking that it’s a different file and loads it. 

For example:

/css/style.css?v=2

Anything after the question mark is the query string. Putting any random text after it would work as long as the end URL looks different: So “/css/style.css” is not the same as “/css/style.css?v=2” and the browser will load the updated style.css file. Alternatively, the user will have to do a cache refresh (ctrl+f5 on windows) or wait for the cache to eventually expire. Server-side caching all depends on how it’s implemented and where it’s stored. It might take a script to clear the cache, deleting a folder on the file server or clearing a database table. If the website is on a CDN then you have to use that service’s control panel to force each endpoint to update with the latest files and clear the cache.

When should caching NOT be used?

There’s no reason not to use client-side caching because why redownload the assets if it’s going to remain the same? Server-side validation on the other hand means you have dynamic content and you want to be careful what exactly you cache. You could be caching complex statistics and graph data that only change once a month. This could take several minutes to generate, which you don’t want your user to wait for, caching this makes sense. But what if that data is updated frequently then caching the end result is not an option because some users will see the outdated results. In this scenario, caching isn’t the solution and you’ll have to find a different way to present this to the user. We’ve seen in different projects that we’ve taken over that many inexperienced developers rely on server-side caching far too much. This is because they can’t efficiently write queries and source code to solve the problems, but turn to caching the data on the server to make it load faster (but not correctly). 

But what if my content changes? 

We know what you may be thinking: caching has many benefits to make my website load in a super-fast response time, but what if I have caching enabled and I publish new items or my content changes, then what? Will these new changes not be cached and therefore not unseen to website visitors? Caching systems that are set up properly are able to deal with these types of scenarios. Not only does caching systems consist of ways to store data for speedy display but they are also capable of emptying the cache when certain criteria are met. The cache can then be regenerated once the cache has been emptied.

Last but not least…

Caching is a very sophisticated technology that increases the speed at which your website or web application can load, without requiring additional processing power. Implementation of caching can be tricky and needs to be done properly. Once done it will result in faster load times and reduce the strain on your server. A faster website or web app means that your users will love browsing around and Search Engines will also appreciate this loading speed, giving you a boost on your SEO score.

Article by: Angelo Zanetti

 

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Ericsson Mobility Report: Sub-Saharan Africa to reach 70 million 5G subscriptions by 2026

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Ericsson South and East Africa Head and VP, Todd Ashton (Image: Ericsson)

Ericsson projects that 5G mobile subscriptions will exceed 580 million by the end of 2021, driven by an estimated one million new 5G mobile subscriptions every day. The forecast, which features in the latest Ericsson Mobility Report, confirms the expectation that 5G will become the fastest adopted mobile generation. 5G is expected to surpass a billion subscriptions two years ahead of the 4G LTE timeline for the same milestone.

The report features breakout statistics from Sub-Saharan African markets where around 15 percent of mobile subscriptions were for 4G at the end of 2020. Mobile broadband subscriptions in Sub-Saharan Africa are predicted to increase, reaching 76 percent of mobile subscriptions by 2026. However, 5G volumes are not expected to grow in the region for 2021 but are likely to reach around 70 million 5G subscriptions in 2026.

Separately, the Global Telecom Market Report (GTM) also known as “The Future of Urban Reality Report” was also recently launched by the Ericsson ConsumerLab, to assess the penetration of 5G and the tremendous potential it holds to markets around the world.

The latest Ericsson ConsumerLab report is Ericsson’s largest consumer study to date, revealing key insights about what Sub-Saharan African consumers believe will happen beyond the pandemic, into the year 2025, through surveying a sample of 1,000 to 2,000 respondents between the ages of 15–79.

The report found that, when entering the “next normal”, consumers in Africa will have added an average of 3.4 online services to their daily online activities, while also increasing the time they spend online by 10 hours per week by 2025, in comparison to their pre-pandemic habits.

This move is also expected to bridge the gap between moderate and advanced online users, with the more moderate online users having introduced more online services in their daily life over the course of the pandemic.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the implementation of online education at schools and universities as well as remote working has increased to 87 percent and 63 percent respectively. Going forward online education and remote working are collectively expected to remain at a level of 51 percent.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the amount of online shopping stood at 28 percent out of the total number of all shopping events, both online and at physical stores. During the COVID-19  pandemic, this figure increased to 47 percent. Consumers anticipate their habits around online shopping will remain at a level of 37 percent after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.

Todd Ashton, Vice President and Head of Ericsson South and East Africa says: “The recent reports have demonstrated the success of setting #AfricaInMotion. Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to see continued growth in mobile broadband thanks to the young population, increased coverage, and more affordable smartphones. By 2025, we will be looking at a new normal with online activities becoming more common daily. 4G will become more pervasive and 5G will start to grow. As a result, we will definitely see increased economic growth and an acceleration in Africa’s digital inclusion.

Ericsson has found that despite the uncertainty caused by COVID-19, service providers continue to switch on 5G, and more than 160 service providers have launched commercial 5G services.

 

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