Human Centered Design

Human Centered Design

Human-Centered Design!

Human Centered Design

Human-Centered Design!

By Sabine Mensah, Regional Technical Specialist, Digital Finance
April 28 , 2017
Dakar, SENEGAL - 

What is hidding behind such a savant word? Driving new behaviors into designing products or solutions starting with the consumer in mind. I was fortunate enough to have experienced the human-centered design (HCD) approach from start to end with Innate Motion, PHB Development and the national Treasury of Senegal. So what was the issue we wanted to solve?

About 30.000 retired civil servants collect their pension in cash every month at the Treasury agencies in Senegal. Typically this means for five days towards the end of the month, long lines for thousands of pensioners coming from all areas to make it to the payment centers distant by all means (walk, taxi, bus) to collect their pensions. Are there other ways for these people to receive their pension payments? Certainly, but this is not the right question. The right question is whether the retired civil servants would like to be paid differently for their pension.

In an effort to provide an HCD response to the question, Innate Motion and PHB Development organised immersion sessions in the home of select retired pensioners for MM4P and Treasury teams. The objective of the immersions sessions was to better understand the pensioners' lives and the current pensions payments process - walk a mile in my shoes and you will understand a glimpse of my reality!

The key insights that came out of the immersion process were the desire and need of the pensioners for recognition and dignity throughout the transition from being active contributors to the society to being in a position of dependency with retirement.

The second step in the process was co-creation: bringing select pensioners to focus group discussions with MM4P and the Treasury to create with them the payment process that would work for them. This new step led to one of the biggest learning from the HCD approach: the power of smart segmenting.

In the pensions project, the team came up with four different profiles of pensioners and looked at the different payment options and the capacity and appetite of each type of pensioners against the proposed medium. This exercise was very useful to understand: (1) that not all pensioners are the same, (2) which group would most likely consist of first adopters and (3) the importance of smart communication/campaigns and training of pensioners during the pilot phase to improve adoption of the different payments mechanism that will be offered. So are the pensioners for the digitisation of the pension payments? Yes. Is it true for all pensionners? No, not for everybody.

The digitisation options range from receiving payments over-the-counter through agent network to getting them directly in their own mobile wallet or a card. However there will still be a subset that will prefer to go to the Treasury to receive their payments. And that is OK.

We are currently at the stage of planning a pilot for the different payment options. The strategy being to invest up-front in communication and training of the different payment options, and offer pensioners the opportunity to opt in for their selected payment mechanism.

Working with the first adopters and ensuring their transition to the new payment options should be smooth, and it should facilitate them becoming the embassadors of change within the retired civil servant community in Senegal.

How will this participatory approach impact the ecosystem of digital finance? To be continued...

For more information, please contact
Sabine Mensah
Regional Technical Specialist Digital Finance
Additional Information
Sabine Mensah
Regional Technical Specialist Digital Finance

Human Centered Market Research to Develop the First Mobile Wallet in Lao PDR

Human Centered Design

Human Centered Market Research to Develop the First Mobile Wallet in Lao PDR

March 29 , 2017
Vientiane, LAO PDR - 

Lao PDR is a greenfield environment when it comes to mobile money. Some mobile banking initiatives have been implemented, but there are no mobile money wallets as such – yet! UNCDF has been supporting Star Telecom (Unitel), a mobile network operator in its efforts to launch the first ever mobile money wallet in the country. 

Unitel is part of the Viettel Group, with operations in many countries with millions of mobile users. They have developed mobile wallets in several other markets, but always when they were entering after other providers and in some cases when the digital financial services ecosystem was well developed. In early discussions with UNITEL, UNCDF identified the common risk that Unitel or their vendor could replicate the services from these other markets without specific attention to the differences of the Lao environment.  

It is important to frame the project to specifically fit the cultural context and needs of the Lao people in order to trigger service adoption and usage.

While the MNO’s team began shaping the product and processes, UNCDF and its Fund for Inclusive Finance structured a performance based grant agreement and support for a team of consultants to carry out a Human-Centered Design (HCD) research study.  The objective of the research was better understanding social and financial behaviours of Lao people, their goals and aspirations in life, as well as their needs and priorities. These insights would give the MNO an overview of its potential mobile money users, and a basic segmentation of its clients.

PHB Development was selected by UNCDF and Unitel to carry out the project. Ultimately the research involved 65 participants, with 18 in-depth interviews and 6 focus groups conducted in the regions of Khammouan, Xayabouli and Vientiane Capital. The research mostly focused on ‘early adopters’, i.e. people between 18 and 45 years old, from the urban and peri-urban areas. Although the clear objective is to reach the rural population, where 2/3 of the people live, the first wave of adoption – as demonstrated by other examples around the globe- is generally led by young and technology-fit people living in (semi) urban districts.

66% of respondents in this research were women.  The research clearly underscored that in most households, women are in charge of money management and are responsible for family expenses. In some cases, business management decisions are also guided by women, as indicated by this male respondent, “I used to work in the tourism sector. Then I met my wife, and she decided we had to pursue my father’s small shop business so that is what we did"

The research’s main output has been to build personas and identify the factors that influence a certain persona’s choice to use or reject a product. Using personas nurture empathy for the specific users we are designing for, and gender awareness is a key component. The approach helps break away from the attempt to design for everyone, so the MNO can build a strong and inclusive value proposition for all of its different client types.

“Unitel is in a good position to support financial inclusion with our new services due to our network, distribution and large customer base” said Ms Latsamy Thammavong, Chief of Business Department at Unitel. “Through this HCD approach we can now understand the aspirations of our customers - which is very important when building a trusted financial service.”

Overview of the personas

Five distinct personas were identified. Each persona was characterized partly by their financial and technological habits – but more intimately by their personality, goals, challenges, values, passions and a motto which encapsulates this character.

  1. The Entrepreneurs: Business owners that are driven by the goal of growth. They are careful opportunists: they go forward little by little, without rushing into things. They are from different age groups, but committed to make life better through a successful business.

"Successful people are not gifted; they just work hard then succeed on purpose”

  1. The Tech-savvy: The youth (18-25 years old) who are growing up with technology. Tech-savvy people are well educated (students or young graduates) with a natural understanding of technology developments, but sometimes without budget for the technology they so enjoy.

“I cannot live without technology”

  1. The Resilient: The working-class people with low education levels. They come from poor and rural families to work in the city, and live in modest houses without many amenities.  They work hard – mostly in the informal sector - to support their extended families living in the village.

“A bitter life leads on to a better life”

  1. The Safety-seekers: Educated people working in government offices or government related-organizations. Their life choices are predicated on a need for security and stability. They are trusted and respected people. 

“One day I would like to have my own company and do something I really like. But today, security for me and my family is more important than passion”

  1. The Old-school: Elder people (>40 years old), born before the ‘digital revolution’ of the 2000s. They have a long-life journey and plenty of experiences to share. They have worked hard to get where they are and are now dedicating their life to their family.

"Electronic payments are not for me. Maybe my children will do it, but me, I’m too old to learn that"

With these personas clearly in mind, the consultants worked with the Unitel team and identified the key influencing factors for each group to adopt and use mobile money. This will have impact when deciding what the MNO should propose/communicate to the different customer segments.  Finally, the different personas were ranked according to their adoption and usage potential (ecosystem potential, early adoption potential, outreach potential, and literacy towards digital). The Entrepreneurs and the Tech-savvy were identified as the most relevant segments to focus on in this first phase of adoption. 

Integrating HCD Research into Marketing and Product Design

Integrating HCD findings into such a fast-moving environment can be challenging. UNCDF recommended this HCD approach because the leap from research findings to actionable ideas is very short and natural. For product development, the marketing and management team all received very concrete actionable recommendations on what steps to take.

Throughout all phases, the increased understanding of the importance of gender awareness became evident. Rather than a “one size fits all” approach, Unitel has acknowledged the role of women in the finances of the family and therefore the relevance of the Unitel mobile money service for women.   For example, early marketing materials lacked a human element while later versions were not only more human centric - but also addressed women directly.  Unitel’s integration of approaches to reach specific personas will continue to guide their marketing strategy.

With respect to product and USSD menu design, the outcomes of the HCD research informed some of the language used and elements of the menu. Notably, the Lao language menu was revised to reflect true meanings rather than simply a translation of words. This approach will be carried forward in all communications with customer facing materials and agent training.

Perhaps most significantly, Unitel management’s willingness to engage in the new level of customer awareness started from the recognition that customers - the actual users of the service - are individuals with specific aspiration and habits.  Willingness to engage in direct qualitative research regarding marketing and product has been directly evidenced by Unitel’s reiterating several similar activities and focus groups as they move through the iterative process of developing materials and services.

As a next step, Unitel is considering leveraging their mobile usages data to market specific personas.  The ability to identify sim cards who maintain a balance, use data, and access certain domains (I.e. Facebook) may be indicative of a Tech-savvy persona, a likely early adopter.

The challenges of research in such a greenfield environment were not what we anticipated!

Before starting the research, it could be assumed that it would be difficult to discuss something that people don’t know about – like talking about snow with someone who has always lived in the desert. But that is not the case in Lao PDR. Even though mobile wallets do not yet exist in the country, mobile banking is rising, with mobile apps like BCELOne becoming increasingly popular. Furthermore, the Lao PDR Finscope 2014 survey indicates that 25% of Lao people (even at that time) were aware of mobile banking.  Hence it was easy for the people we met to imagine what mobile money could be –assimilating it to mobile banking operations. The challenge of making people understand and accept ‘virtual’ money was not as important as we thought it would be (this depends, of course, on the client segment considered). Additionally, in Lao PDR, many people travel periodically to Thailand, a close neighbour, where mobile money is available. These people could relate to what they have seen there and are interested to see that happen in their own country. Bearing this in mind, it appears that the targeted personas of the people of the Lao PDR are ready to try and use mobile money.

Introduction of HCD approaches and methodology in a new environment

Lao PDR is a very diverse country, with a literacy rate of nearly 80% and with more than 80 living languages.  The local language is very strong and English speakers are rare. PHB Development teamed up with a local research firm, Enterprise & Development Consultants (EDC), composed of Lao speaking consultants. This partnership has been a great experience to reinforcing local capacities in HCD approaches. Qualitative market research is not a frequent practice in Lao PDR – which was confirmed by the local consultants and by some clients’ surprise while diving into the HCD discussions. After initial reluctance, the team got comfortable with the methodology and could develop a high degree of empathy for the participants, trying to understand their aspirations and challenges as they were theirs. A debrief session was organised at the end of the two-week long field research, to share insights and start building personas. The debrief session has been a break-through for local consultants to really understand the benefits of using an HCD methodology. Ms Buakhai Phimmavong, Managing Partner and Consultant at EDC commented,  “There is no doubt that bringing the remote researchers together for a debrief session was a real awakening to the power of HCD. Through the personas that we identified together, we could see the evidence of our work and the power of this HCD approach.” 

The Unitel team is on an aggressive timeline to roll-out services and agent network through a six-month pilot slated to begin in Q2.  With the research and personas in hand, the team will test product and marketing materials through a series of focus groups and interviews with the addressable personas to make sure they are well aligned with real customer needs and anticipated use cases.  As the first mobile wallet in Lao PDR, it is sure to bring change to the financial services environment and to have an impact. Watch for future news about how digital financial services are being used for the first time by the Lao people.

For more information, please contact
Jaspreet Singh
Technical Specialist Digital Finance
David Kleiman
DFS Expert
Additional Information
Jaspreet Singh
Technical Specialist Digital Finance

PFIP Focuses on Service Design with HCD Innovation Labs

Human Centered Design

PFIP Focuses on Service Design with HCD Innovation Labs

By Mark Flaming, PFIP Programme Manager
March 24 , 2017
Suva, FIJI - 

Human Centered Design (HCD) is providing South Pacific financial service providers with new motivation and tools to tackle the problems that have frustrated their initial attempts at mass market finance. Most of South Pacific financial service providers have invested in digital infrastructure, launched cash merchant networks and signed up customers.  But few customers have adopted the services and the providers have yet to build commercially scalable business models.  The providers themselves acknowledge that their systems are not producing satisfactory results, but at this point they lack the confidence that additional investment would produce better results.  In this context, HCD has helped restore confidence.

The core problem in these cases is in fact to define service-related challenges.  Our assessments of these implementations quickly reveal significant ground to be gained with improvements to transaction functionality, pricing, marketing, products and agent network management.   Our customer-centered diagnostics reveal very specific features that are undermining the customer experience.  And this defines the problem in a way that it can be addressed.

Senior managers are also finding inspiration in the project structure of these HCD-inspired initiatives.  PFIP-funded projects are structured as “innovation labs.”  They are isolated from the providers’ core business and resourced with core staff, outside design experts and funding to test variations of services, pricing, transaction channel functionality and marketing until they achieve a commercially sustainable level of customer adoption.  For the senior manager who knows from experience that the dynamics of the core business tend to undermine new initiatives, the HCD innovation lab model is a compelling new approach.

PFIP’s innovation lab projects are still early stage.  At this point, our confidence in the outcome builds on the early success of BIMA.  Our partnership with BIMA is the oldest and has produced the most impressive results to date.  BIMA entered the Papua New Guinea (PNG) with a product concept they had developed in other markets.  They adapted the product to the local context and they designed product features, pricing, sales channels and payment instruments completely new to the PNG market.  Once they validated the demand, feasibility and profitability of their product, they convinced a local insurance company to underwrite the products, and then quickly issued over 500,000 policies to low income customers, an unprecedented achievement in South Pacific markets.  After validating the business model, PFIP partnered with BIMA again to replicate the model in Fiji and three other South Pacific markets.  BIMA is well on its way to replicating the PNG success.

We have ambitious expectations as well that come from seeing our other service provider partners work deliberately at creating a better customer experience. PFIP just launched a project with the Westpac innovation lab in the highlands of PNG.  Our service design specialists helped Westpac identify quick first generation solutions for improving the customer experience with the enrolment process and with the in-store cash merchant network.  The innovation lab team is reengineering and testing, and this is building genuine excitement as they prepare to scale.

The unique look and feel of the BIMA customer experience, and the robust customer response, are compelling validation of HCD methods. And the market took notice.  PFIP now has eight innovation lab projects underway, experimenting with mobile money, branchless banking, micro pensions, agricultural value chains, and savings groups to build a commercially scalable service that makes the daily financial life of Pacific Islanders better.  We’ll keep you posted as we move forward.

About PFIP

PFIP is a Pacific-wide programme helping low-income households gain access to financial services and financial education. It is jointly administered by the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and receives funding from the Australian Government, the European Union and the New Zealand Government.

PFIP aims to add one million Pacific Islanders to the formal financial sector by 2019 by supporting policy and regulatory initiativesfunding innovation with financial services and delivery channelsdisseminating market information, and empowering consumers.

PFIP operates from the UNDP Pacific Office in Suva, Fiji and has offices in Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Solomon Islands.


For more information, please contact
Mark Flaming
PFIP Programme Manager
Additional Information
Mark Flaming
PFIP Programme Manager

Product design tools to boost customer uptake: Human-centered design and iteration in digital financial services in Zambia

Human Centered Design

Product design tools to boost customer uptake: Human-centered design and iteration in digital financial services in Zambia

This blog post was written by Nandini Harihareswara from UNCDF and Camilla Zanzanaini from 17 Triggers as part of the UNCDF Mobile Money for the Poor Programme
January 10 , 2017

Image #1 below: Target Persona created with civil servants during Focus Group Discussion in Kabwe, Zambia.

Image #2 below: A sample section of Zoona’s customer journey. The red dots represent current ‘headaches’ in the journey.

Lusaka, ZAMBIA - 

Understanding your customer is the key to any successful marketing venture. However, too often, products are designed with little knowledge of end users. In this blog post we describe how human-centered design and iterative testing can support DFS providers in their efforts to improve customer experience and develop products and services that are aligned with customers’ needs.

A wooden cane rattled on the grilled window of the mobile money booth. Elina, the teller, completes her transaction with the customer in front of her and then turns to the old man standing at the side window.

Oh…she thought, it's the blind beggar. He often lingers around the booth, asking people for spare change, usually with two children in tow. But today is different. Today he has something to offer.

"Can I deposit some money into my account?" he asks.

Surprised, Elina begins the process on her mobile phone. "Of course sir, how much would you like to deposit?"

"5 Zambian Kwacha." The equivalent of USD 50 cents.

As she begins to process the transaction, she feels a mixture of pride and shame. Shame, to have cynically assumed that this man had dropped by to be a nuisance. Pride, to be part of launching a new digital financial service in Zambia called SUNGA. This new service launched by Zoona is an account where customers can keep their money safe. SUNGA is accessible to all, including this man, a man who lives on the side of the road, a man who despite his meager means manages to scrape together a few coins each day to save.

This is what financial inclusion is about. Where else would such a customer keep his money? Certainly not at the bank whose account conditions would not allow his entry.

Even though this man is among the two billion unbanked people worldwide, who every day, keep their change in a box, in a pouch, or under the mattress; few financial institutions would consider him a potential customer. However, in many countries, like Zambia, things are changing – and the question to ask now is how can DFS providers design products and services that truly meet the needs and aspirations of all customers and in particular those of the poor and financially excluded?

In Zambia, to broaden the access to digital financial services, UNCDF has chosen to invest in innovation by working with partners such as Zoona, a mobile money provider, and 17 Triggers, a firm that uses human-centered design (HCD) to create new solutions and improve customer experience. The tri-partnership sought to improve the “keep account” SUNGA, by working to better understand customer needs using HCD methods and iteratively testing solutions with real customers in the context of their daily lives.


From 17 Triggers point of view, the process of understanding the customers better begins by working together with the product stakeholders (in this case, Zoona, and UNCDF) to determine who we want to target and what we want them to do. Together, we developed a Target Persona ‒ a character that represents the customer we are trying to reach. We draw this persona on a large piece of paper and try to come up with concrete contextual information about them i.e. their age, living conditions, income level, their spending and savings needs.

Drawing is critical to this process because it often reveals insights that are otherwise overlooked, such as something that influences the customer or what they might be saving money for. To validate assumptions, this persona exercise is completed by a reality check interview with real customers. We have found that using the personas makes it easier for customers to be more open and honest about their habits and capabilities, particularly when discussing sensitive issues such as money.

In Zambia, target personas helped us uncover the fact that some women have secret hiding places for their cash, to prevent their husbands from misappropriating such funds. This information helped us refine our messaging to encourage users to create what we called a “keep account” to enable them “prepare for the unexpected.”

Returning to the homeless man in our story, we have found that it is valuable to also interview customers whom we refer to as Extreme Users—people who do not quite fall into your usual target group. In the case of mobile money, it might be a truck driver who cannot drive into town to access the bank, an old woman whose poor eyesight and low literacy makes the use of mobile money seem intimidating, or the homeless man who does not have a regular income. These are people with financial needs as well, and if we eliminate obstacles that financially exclude Extreme Users, our products suddenly become relevant to a much wider pool of people.

In Zambia, Extreme Users helped us think outside the box and consider how to create more meaningful products that customers could easily connect with. Why not a keypad with giant buttons so that old women can actually see the PIN they are typing in? Or the ability to deposit small amounts of money so that men are not tempted to drink their savings away? To be able to deposit even small change into an account – that’s a big deal for many people.

Addressing these specific needs helps focus on the “services for what purpose” question, that makes financial services actually address the client needs – which is one of the major barriers to the advancement of financial inclusion in Zambia.


Once we understand our target persona needs and behaviors, we walk through their customer journey. What is it like to hear about, access and use the product provided?

Using small white squares of paper to draw each step, we visualize how the customer might learn about, sign up for and use the product. Visualizing allows us to make the experience concrete and detailed. In this way, we can pinpoint precisely where there might be a barrier to entry, or where the product or service might ‘break’. We call these ‘headache’ points.

As 17 Triggers helped us draw the Zoona customer journey, we discovered how big of a headache the process of registration and choosing a password was. This prompted us to brainstorm ways to simplify the process for both tellers and customers. Visualizing also helped humanize the experience for software developers. It highlighted how what seemed like a small step to product developers, could actually be a really difficult step when viewed from the user’s perspective.

This is one of the most critical components of 17 Trigger’s “secret sauce” – their visualizers are able to become be fortune tellers in a sense. By visually depicting Zoona’s customers journey, their concerns, and successes, it engaged the stakeholders in a very interesting way that could otherwise be dull and not successful in getting the necessary feedback on these products.

The ultimate goal is to make the journey easier for our persona. And often, even small tweaks to a journey can open up a world of possibilities for users.

The coins exchanged hands, and Elina added the 5 Kwacha to her cash box. They made a soft clinking sound as they hit the metal. The man smiled — he might be blind, but his hearing did not fail him. Transaction completed, he lingered by the window for a while, his demeanor changed. It was as if by depositing his money, he had earned a right to be there as a legitimate customer, a contributing member of society.

"Just a little bit every day," he said. "At least then at the end of the year, I’ll have something to show for it."

"It is very good that you are keeping money, sir", she said in English. "Don't worry, we will keep it safe for you."

The man nodded, took his grandchild's hand and slowly walked towards the bus stop to get on with his day. Step by step, mobile money accounts, such as SUNGA, are helping to pave the way to financial inclusion.

You can find out more about 17 Triggers here, and steps to using Extreme Users in IDEO’s Design Kit

MM4P is a programme launched by UNCDF in partnership with the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida), the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The MasterCard Foundation. MM4P provides support to digital financial services (DFS) in a selected group of least developed countries (LDCs) to demonstrate how the correct mix of financial, technical and policy support can build a robust DFS ecosystem that reaches low-income people in LDCs. For more information, visit, follow @UNCDFMM4P and check out Mobile Money for The Poor.


For more information, please contact
Nandini Harihareswara
Technical Specialist Digital Finance
Additional Information
Nandini Harihareswara
Technical Specialist Digital Finance

Customer profiles to improve reach of MTN mobile savings and loan product in rural Uganda

Human Centered Design

Customer profiles to improve reach of MTN mobile savings and loan product in rural Uganda

By Judyth Engels, PHB Development, and Joanne Oparo, Mobile Money for the Poor
July 25 , 2015

# 1: Focus-group discussion with rural men in Apac
# 2: Focus-group discussion with rural women in Oyam
# 3: Agent in Bundibugyo. Photo courtesy of Judyth Engels/PHB Development

Kampala, UGANDA - 

Since the introduction of mobile money in Uganda in 2009, the country has not gone beyond basic mobile products like airtime top-ups and bill payments, which offer little incentive for continued usage and new subscriber uptake. That should not be the case anymore: Mobile Telephone Networks (MTN) is pushing Uganda into a new era with a more advanced and unprecedented mobile savings and loan product to be launched this month.

The MTN mobile savings and loan product results from a partnership between MTNand Commercial Bank of Africa, and is inspired by M-Shwari in Kenya and M-Pawa in the United Republic of Tanzania.[1] It aims at encouraging savings while improving access to microcredit for the unserved and underserved, thus bridging the savings and credit provision gap in Uganda.

The product features an opt-in procedure that can be initiated and completed with a mobile phone. The tiered interest rate for savings can reach 5 percent per month, whilst loans ranging from U Sh 5,000 to U Sh 1,000,000 (roughly US$1.50–US$300.00[2]) are offered with a 9-percent facilitation fee for a period of 30 days. The basic requirements to sign up are the following:


The MTN mobile savings and loan product aims at encouraging savings while improving access to microcredit for the unserved and underserved, thus bridging the savings and credit provision gap in Uganda.

  1. A mobile money account
  2. At least six months of voice, data or mobile money usage
  3. An acceptable identification document[3]

Adoption of mobile products in rural areas has been set back by challenges arising from the extensive geographical distribution of sparse populations and an unmistakable divide between the urban and the rural. Compared to urban areas, rural geographies are plagued by weak infrastructure, lack of sufficient network coverage and agent availability, low incomes and higher illiteracy levels that render mass market product approaches ineffective. In short, the one-size-fits-all approach just does not work.

In view of the fact that 84 percent (31 million) of Uganda’s population lives in a rural area and more than 50 percent is a low-income earner,[4] the Mobile Money for the Poor (MM4P) programme in Uganda provided technical assistance to MTN Uganda to help them design a market strategy with the rural end user in mind. This work resulted in an MM4P-funded quantitative demand-side study carried out by PHB Developmentto understand saving and lending behavioural patterns in Uganda.

The study involved 24 focus-group sessions with 202 participants and 17 one-on-one agent interviews in 14 locations across Uganda. From Lira to Fort Portal, Kapchorwa to Lambu, and Bundibugyo to Oyam, an unmistakable pattern began to reveal itself: saving and borrowing behaviours were deeply influenced by cultural and religious beliefs and values so deeply entrenched that they are difficult to change.

Most profound of all, a natural categorization and profile of three main customer groups emerged based upon distinct saving and lending habits and future needs:

  1. Rural women
  2. Small-scale farmers
  3. Micro-entrepreneurs

Rural women

The rural woman aspires to adequately provide for her family and secure family members’ future in the long term. Considering Uganda’s high literacy levels (74 percent of the adult population[5]), she is literate but cannot speak English or Luganda (one of Uganda’s major languages) and is more likely to share ownership of a phone—or even not own one—than her male counterpart. Only 14 percent of the rural women participants are banked. Rather, their main methods of saving are through saving groups (25 percent); mobile money, if they have a mobile phone (23 percent); keeping money at home (15 percent); and purchasing livestock to resell when there is need for funds (6 percent). Mobile money is particularly valued due to PIN security and convenience of access to money at any timeThe major reasons for saving are to provide for the family’s basic needs, to assist family members and relatives, to pay school fees and to cover medical and other family emergencies.

The rural woman is credit averse and fears consequences of defaulting on payment, more so with formal institutions. Only 27 percent take loans, mostly from saving groups or from family/friends, and 5 percent borrow from banks/microfinance institutions (MFIs). The main reasons for taking loans are family and medical emergencies, school fees and daily household expenses. 

The rural woman perceives the following benefit from the MTN mobile savings and loan product: the ability to save small amounts frequently, effortlessly and privately, because her sources of income are varied and generally of low value. The loan recovery process for the MTN mobile savings and loan product is therefore ideal and preferred over methods used by other financial service providers.[6]

Direct engagement, through market activations and community forums at marketplaces, religious gatherings and saving-group meetings, should be effective in driving awareness and usage with this customer group.

Small-scale farmers

Small-scale farmers’ aspirations are financial security and stability, particularly when their crops are off season. Their levels of literacy vary, but men are more likely to be literate than women. Estimated to total 2.5 million in rural Uganda,[7] they are dedicated to farming and diversifying their crops to ensure year-long yields; a few engage in other income-earning activities. 

Of those assessed, 36 percent save through mobile money, 28 percent save through saving groups, 11 percent keep their savings at home, 9 percent prefer to buy livestock and 8 percent save in banks/MFIs. Savings are mainly used to offset expenses related to farming, emergencies, school fees and bills.

Of the farmer participants, 42 percent take loans mainly from saving groups because they can get them quickly and without paperwork while 6 percent borrow from banks/MFIs (this group cites collateral requirements as a drawback to these loan products). Loans are taken to boost agricultural productivity, pay school fees and cover medical and family emergencies.

Considering that farmers have seasonal income and may sometimes suffer crop failure, valued attributes of loan products are repayment periods pegged to harvest times, attractive interest rates on savings and ability to easily access funds when required.

A combination of awareness campaigns and engagement activities targeting farmer meetings and agricultural events will drive awareness and adoption.


Micro-entrepreneurs who participated in the study aspire to expand and diversify their business enterprises, which are typically informal. They are mostly literate and are the most diverse of the three groups, situated in rural, peri-urban and urban areas.

Principal saving methods are mobile money (36 percent), banks/MFIs (35 percent), saving groups (15 percent) and home (12 percent). Mobile money is mainly used for saving small amounts for shorter periods because of its simplicity and ease of access. Savings are mainly for big purchases, future use, education (school fees), bills, transportation and family emergencies. Extra income is reinvested in the business.

They mainly acquire loans from saving groups (23 percent), banks/MFIs (20 percent) and money lenders (3 percent) to expand their business, purchase supplies and pay for emergencies.

Valued attributes are quick loan processing, longer loan duration to realize returns on investment (three months and above) and tailored loans for entrepreneurs with lower interest rates.

Micro-entrepreneurs are knowledgeable about financial service products at their disposal, hence awareness drives action.

Expected outcomes of customer profiling

The MTN mobile savings and loan product is oriented to the mass market, and the profiles identified are subsets of broader MTN market segments: Youth, Mass & Emerging, Traders, High Values and Progressives. Though the MTN mobile savings and loan product is in its nascent stages, the following outcomes are anticipated:

  1. Insights from the three profiles will guide initiatives towards improving customer experience and create a better understanding of customer saving and credit needs, which will in turn influence future product refinements and marketing communication for subsequent project phases.
  2. Messaging and experiential engagement for the MTN mobile savings and loan product will be clear and direct, targeting media and occasions with the widest outreach and utmost relevance to the three profiles. Messaging can be geared towards the ideas of ‘extra cash’ or ‘cash advance,’ which resonate better with these profiles.
  3. Radio was identified as a medium that reaches all three profiles and so will be used to communicate in languages customers understand. Other mass communication channels such as television, print and billboards can include elements that resonate with the three profiles to widen reach.
  4. Customer acquisition will be more specific, targeting the three profiles at specific gatherings through the use of community influencers, ambassadors and testimonials to cause a ripple effect.  

Identifying the three customer profiles is a major step towards gaining a deeper understanding of potential barriers to adoption for rural users and identifying scalable solutions. Feedback obtained will form an important framework for future engagement in rural areas alongside other planned marketing activities.

The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of UNCDF, the United Nations or any of its affiliated organizations or its Member States.

[1] M-Shwari and M-Pawa are saving and lending products offered by Safaricom M-PESA and Commercial Bank of Africa – Kenya, and Vodacom Tanzania and Commercial Bank of Africa – Tanzania, respectively.

[2], ‘XE Currency Converter’ (accessed 13 July 2016).

[3] Acceptable ID types include passport, national ID, voter card, driving licence, local council card and employer’s ID.

[4] World Bank, ‘Uganda.’ Available from (last accessed 13 July 2016).

[5] Country Meters, ‘Uganda Population.’ Available from (last accessed 13 July 2016).

[6] The loan recovery process entails notifying the customer regularly on loan details, facility fees and due date; reducing the loan limit; setting up auto-debit on savings and mobile-money accounts; and listing the customer at CRB Uganda.

[7] Advameg, ‘Nations Encyclopedia: Uganda – Agriculture.’ Available from (last accessed 13 July 2016).

MM4P at a glance

Mobile Money for the Poor (MM4P) is a programme launched by UNCDF in partnership with the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida), the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The MasterCard Foundation. MM4P provides support to digital financial services (DFS) in a selected group of least development countries (LDCs) to demonstrate how the correct mix of financial, technical and policy support can build a robust DFS ecosystem that reaches low income people in LDCs.

For more information, visit or follow @UNCDFMM4P and Mobile Money for The Poor.


For more information, please contact
MM4P in Uganda
Additional Information
MM4P in Uganda

Walking in the shoes of digital financial service customers

Human Centered Design

Walking in the shoes of digital financial service customers

October 26 , 2016
Kampala, UGANDA - 

On Day 3 of the #DFS4Women event, important insights started emerging about how to leverage the digitization of high volume payments to build a digital ecosystem in which people feel at ease using mobile money and second generation financial products. Significant emphasis was placed on behavioural changes and on what drives individuals to reassess their saving and spending practices and adopt new ones.

In one session, ‘DFS and High Volume Payments,' Innate Motion and PHB Development led a discussion focusing on the emotional and structural factors that help induce this change in the session ‘DFS and High Volume Payments.' The first category of factors includes the identification of people’s needs; the creation of a value proposition, keeping in mind that each stakeholder (whether mobile network operator, client, agent or aggregator) needs a specific business case; and especially the cultivation of confidence in the reliability of the system through recourse mechanisms that allow customers to address concerns, doubts and questions. The second category includes phone penetration, network coverage and telecommunication infrastructure, agent networks, cash float distribution, and availability of rebalancing options and favourable regulation/interoperability. The combination of these factors provides the background against which potential customers would ask themselves, do I really want to shift to digital means of payment? And, if so, can I do it?

The two questions are interwoven. As Innate Motion and PHB Development suggested, the role of digital financial service (DFS) providers and local financial institutions is to set the stage for this behavioural change to happen through a roadmap that includes these steps:

  • Building an ECOSYSTEM involving all players;
  • Creating an EDUCATION path for clients;
  • Creating TRUST through ambassadors chosen from local leaders;
  • Providing MULTIPLE CHOICES, eschewing binary contraposition between cash and mobile and, instead, granting the user the possibility to choose on a case-by-case basis;
  • Creating STAGED introduction of digitization;
  • Making technology that is as inclusive as possible for people with low-literacy skills and particularly that involves the vernacular;
  • Relying on specialists; and
  • Aligning commercial and public interests due to the involvement of donors, state institutions and private partners.

The core message laid out by Innate Motion and PHB Development was, ‘If you want change to happen, focus on driving behaviours—not on the next hi-tech gadget.’ To this end, they started by identifying the main streams of bulk payments: government to person, or G2P (civil servant payments, social protection payments); government to business, or G2B (loans to businesses, subsidies to farmer organizations/cooperatives); person to government, or P2G (tax and fine payments, utility bill payments); and development organization to person, or D2P (cash transfers, cash for work [C4W], emergency transfers).

Then, they invited participants to play a game: different small groups, divided by country, had to craft a fictitious identity of a prospective female DFS user. Participants were asked to bring to life a character, to imagine her life trajectory needs, dreams and aspirations. In creating the profiles, group members had to ask themselves these questions:

  • Who are they?
  • What really matters to them?
  • What drives them in everyday life?
  • What are their aspirations and goals?
  • What are the obstacles they face?
  • What are their fears?
  • What would be their motto?

Different scenarios were played out, such as a widowed pensioner from rural Senegal who made a living through small commerce and sometimes received money from her son who had migrated abroad, and a single mother of three who made ends meet by combining income from street hawking with small contributions from the state. Discussion of financial services was left in the background while participants fleshed out the biographies of their characters, and yet dreams and fears appeared clearly entangled with financial practices as key instruments to achieve the former and rein in the latter.

In another session specifically focused on clients, 17 Triggers took a different tack on the same challenge—through an exercise of rapid ideation. In the process of rapid ideation, they used NAPS 100+, a technique based on non-judgment of ideas and piggybacking or iterating of each other. The room of a few participants was able to generate 100+ ideas for ways to empathize with customers in just a few minutes.

With rapid ideation and the elaboration of distinct customer personas, the work of developing these services becomes much more intimate. However, in a 90-minute session, it is compressed if not contrived and that had been and has to be acknowledged.

  • Research is fundamental: Developing a persona based on character attributes that are assumed from past experience rather than from direct research associated with a specific product may well lead to a product that is as much of a fiction as the persona.
  • All ideas are not equal: In the process of rapid ideation, it is essential to not judge (in particular to not judge one’s own ideas or to self-censor), but while all ideas are good, that does not mean there are no bad ideas. The goal is to then identify and develop those ideas that are best suited to the local context.

The introduction of these techniques and methodologies is nonetheless valuable and it is hopeful that the participants will be able to devote the time needed to integrate these lessons into their own product designs.

The bottom line of all of these exercises was this: only by walking in DFS users’ shoes—to have a glimpse of their lives and to put at the centre not the technology but real human beings with their complex mix of feelings and logic—can DFS providers make a value case for different types of customers and drive the change that may have a real impact on people’s livelihoods.


October 2016. Copyright © UN Capital Development Fund. All rights reserved.             

The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of UNCDF, the United Nations or any of its affiliated organizations or its Member States.

For more information, please contact
Additional Information

Data, big data and economic development in Uganda

Human Centered Design

Data, big data and economic development in Uganda

UNCDF partners with the Belgian Development Cooperation
October 03 , 2016

Internal UNCDF/MM4P

Kampala, UGANDA - 

Making financial services more accessible to the unbanked requires making the right evidence-based decisions, monitoring impact and reconsidering earlier decisions. Each step involves data.

Where can this data come from? Meaningful data trails are left by anyone, including low-income people in least developed countries, as they interact both offline and online. When financial-inclusion efforts are carried out through digital financial services, leveraging data analysis can be automated, cheap and fast.

Data analysis can be a game changer because it does not only simplify the process of having the traditionally underserved customer say ‘yes’ to a financial product or service, but it can also convince providers or financial institutions to stop saying ‘no’ to a profile perceived as too risky and not profitable.

Qualifying for loans or being insured can become viable options for those who have been excluded from the financial system. Identifying individuals through data analysis can mean solving the know-your-customer (KYC) headache that is too often still a barrier to account-opening.

In many countries, good use of data has the potential to drastically change how a product is designed and marketed. Additionally, financial service providers could benefit from improved operations and risk management as well as reduced costs from avoiding product failures.

In Uganda, where the market for digital financial services is relatively mature, the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) recently signed an agreement with the Belgian Development Cooperation at the local Belgian Embassy to test the use of mobile data analytics for achieving better development results in specific areas: traffic management, financial inclusion and food security.

The project will result in a range of data analytics that will assist UNCDF, its public and private partners and other international organizations to recognize windows of opportunities in services that reach the ‘last mile,’ particularly rural communities and women.





UNCDF is the UN’s capital investment agency for the world’s 48 least developed countries (LDCs). With its capital mandate and instruments, UNCDF offers ‘last mile’ finance models that unlock public and private resources, especially at the domestic level, to reduce poverty and support local economic development. This last mile is where available resources for development are scarcest; where market failures are most pronounced; and where benefits from national growth tend to leave people excluded.  

Get in touch

Check out our website:
Follow us on Twitter: @UNCDFMM4P

Join our LinkedIn Group: MOBILE MONEY FOR THE POOR

For more information, please contact
Karima Wardak
Knowledge Manager Associate
(+32) 2 274 10 25
Anna Ferracuti
Knowledge Management Consultant
Additional Information
Karima Wardak
Knowledge Manager Associate
(+32) 2 274 10 25

Know and love your customer: Leveraging Zambian consumer insights

Human Centered Design

Wed, 07/06/2016 - 05:44 -- mm4p

Informal financial services still play a crucial role in Zambia. Consumers use them to hedge against uncertainty and smooth consumption because they often are more accessible than formal financial service providers, including those offering digital financial services.

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