Design and Financial Inclusion: A Designers Approach to a Tough Issue

Most people don’t think about design principles when they’re wrapping their heads around the problem of financial inclusion. This is why I was so intrigued by a recent article written by Anke Schwittay and Paul Braund. Together, they analyzed the principles of good design and how it can make financial inclusion achievable in Latin America.

women of peru

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Applying the following humanitarian designs advocated by the IMTFI can eradicate poverty by making it easier and more appealing for people to access and utilize formal financial services:

  • Earmarked Income Outside of Rank – Savings systems should be designed to make it possible for individuals to meet their financial commitments regardless of their position in society.
  • Design for Rank – Rank (class) distinctions can be leveled via products that make it possible to break free of societal barriers. However, this may not be advisable in cultures where rank provides a sense of security and order.
  • Flexibility with Sanctions – Those living outside the formal financial system often rely on informal methods of ensuring payments and financial obligations are honored. Thus, new systems replacing the informal ones must take this into consideration.
  • Structured Illiquidity – Savings accounts should be structured so that individuals can more easily meet their obligations towards cultural and religious institutions.
  • Change in Iconography and Local Values – Including recognized and accepted symbols of wealth and stability is strongly advised. Doing so helps attract those who may cast a wary eye towards formal financial services.
  • Design for Convertibility – Cash isn’t king in every culture, and while Western economists consider money to be a method of payment, a tool for exchanging goods/service and a store of value, that’s not the case in all cultures.
  • Calculate Convertibility – Standardized exchange rates make it possible to intermingle currencies and standards of value.
  • Design for Volume – Systems should take into account various scales of value and utilize them, so customers can quickly understand their savings and financial picture.
  • Lucky Numbers – Numerology is paramount in multiple cultures and these “lucky” numbers should be included as frequently as possible.
  • Trenches and Tiers – Ritual, harvest and religious cycles should be accounted for, and financial systems should be structured around them.
  • Design for Cycles – Reward people who meet their savings goals at each cycle.

This is definitely interesting research. I started working on financial inclusion in 2005, with lots of technical background but little design experience. I learned quickly how the user design was key to success. Now, new innovative financial services companies like Juntos Finanzas, are being started by CEOs who are well trained in design. Ben Knelman, CEO of Juntos got his Masters in Engineering at Stanford which included courses from Stanford’s prestigious Design Institute (d.school). Juntos’ product success is part technology and part design. This is especially important for financial inclusion because the traditional banking products just “don’t fit”.

I’d love to know what you think about these recommendations by posting a note on my Facebook page and sharing your thoughts.

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About Carol Realini

Serial Entrepreneur, Mobile Payments and Banking Pioneer, Author, Board Member Carol Realini is a successful Silicon Valley executive and expert in financial service innovation. She has worked with leading financial institutions including MasterCard and Citi, as well as numerous multinational and regional banks, to change the way banking is conducted. In 2011, as a Technology Pioneer attending the World Economic Forum, she led discussions on alternative banking at their meeting in Davos. A serial entrepreneur, she has been recognized as one of the 50 Top Women in Technology by Corporate Board Member magazine. Carol is a huge believer in the potential of mobile banking and payments to create financial inclusion - where everyone with a mobile phone has access to affordable financial services that empower their life and work. To understand Carol's vision please watch the WEF video (click on the weforum.org link below). Carol also mentors entrepreneurs providing wisdom and lessons learned from her four successful startup experiences.
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