Simple Usability Issues Impede the Reach of Mobile Financial Services

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February 26, 2014 by Camilla Nestor

Financial service providers see great potential in using mobile money to drive outreach and scale.  Mobile operators have aggressive strategies to increase market share by capturing new subscribers, which requires deeply penetrating the three billion people who live on less than $2.50 a day.  Yet, many of the services on offer are not designed around the needs, behaviors and capabilities of the poor.  We see the effects of this in low usage rates, preventing services from reaching scale and commercial viability.  In particular, services do not appear to be designed around the needs of poor women, excluding them from participating fully in the mobile revolution.  

New research conducted by Grameen Foundation in Uganda, India and the Philippines reveals low-hanging fruit that providers could incorporate to significantly improve the usability and awareness of their services.  While user-centered research can be helpful in uncovering challenges with existing services, it’s even more helpful to use early on in the development process so these challenges can be avoided.  Many of our findings were not surprising and if addressed, could be quick wins for service providers. For example:

  • ScreenshotNavigation can be streamlined and made more intuitive.  Mobile money offerings in India require 12-16 steps to complete simple transactions like a balance check, creating ample room for error.  In fact, the India study participants – new to mobile money -- made an average of 25.5 errors in attempting to complete a single transaction on the leading mobile money services.  
  • Small improvements to syntax could dramatically increase usability.  Font size on-screen and in service booklets was too small for most study participants to read.  Uneducated Indian users were not able to understand the decimal point, creating significant confusion about transfer amounts and balances.   
  • Language and content is not suited to local literacy levels.  Menus are often in English vs. the local language.  As a result, users try to memorize the steps to complete a transaction – often unsuccessfully, given how many steps there are.  Even when local language is used, the terminology is often not clear to participants. 

A second area for improvement is increasing the awareness of mobile money offerings. The research revealed a significant gender divide, given that in many countries women receive information through a more limited number channels than men. They are often more house-bound than men, with fewer daily sources of information.  Most current marketing efforts ignore the traditional channels by which women access information. 

The research results reveal an immediate opportunity for mobile operators and mobile financial service providers to make modest changes that could result in greater uptake and usage.  Grameen Foundation is applying a user-centered approach to designing mobile services for the poor in partnership with financial institutions and mobile operators.  We help providers to deeply understand their users, putting ourselves into users’ shoes. Create awareness by tapping their sources of information.  Use their numbers. Use their words. 

Download the research here.

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