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For Smallholders, Blend Personal Support with Digital Products

Digital finance offers great opportunities for the world’s 450 million smallholder families, but this approach to expand financial services should not come at the expense of in-person support, according to CGAP’s new human-centered design research.

Using human-centered design (HCD), CGAP and its partners – design firms and financial institutions - determined that in order for digital financial solutions to work for smallholders, financial service providers need to minimize the perceived risk of trying new technology and build personal support into financial products.

Smallholders traditionally lack access to formal financial services and digital financial services are a logical and promising solution. However, smallholder farmers and their families face a number of challenges when it comes to discovering and using digital financial services, including poor mobile network connections, low penetration of mobile devices, and low rates of mobile literacy. For digital finance to work for these customers, the products and services must be tailored to their needs and combined with personal support.

The research, based on the results from projects in Cambodia, Rwanda, Senegal and Zimbabwe, provided compelling insights:

  • Smallholders want financial services that support their full-range of household needs. Meeting the non-agricultural needs of smallholders, such as paying for school fees, with digital services can offer a powerful value proposition for these customers.
  • Minimizing the perceived risk of trying digital financial services - by designing products that are flexible, familiar and tangible - will be key to driving smallholder adoption.
  • Incentives are more powerful than penalties, which often discourage smallholders, when seeking to drive good financial behavior and continuous engagement with digital products and services.

Working with two human-centered design firms (IDEO.org and Dalberg’s Design and Impact Group) and four financial institutions (Econet Wireless, myAgro, Urwego Opportunity Bank, and Amret Microfinance Institution) CGAP interviewed hundreds of smallholders in the four countries. The research assessed factors like how much they trusted financial institutions, what their goals and aspirations were, and how comfortable they were using mobile devices to access their money.

For many of CGAP’s partners, using HCD represented a radical shift in how they approach designing products and services. Said Max Mattern, Financial Sector Specialist at CGAP and co-author of the publication, “Some financial service providers assume what their customers want instead of actually listening to them. Including human-centered design approaches in the product development process can result in better products and more engaged customers.”

The research also sheds light on how to create effective financial products for this important yet, underserved group. Michael Tarazi, Senior Financial Sector Specialist at CGAP and report co-author shared, “Previously, financial services for farmers has been focused on credit products, but we know now that smallholders have a whole range of financial needs that must be met. By designing portfolios of products that are flexible, familiar and tangible, we believe we can engage smallholders in formal finance over the long-term and help them improve their day-to-day lives.”