Mobile Financial Service Providers Must Factor Local Differences in Access & Usability

February 19, 2014

Usability Tests in India

Mobile Financial Services (MFS) has received much attention as a way to further financial inclusion. But as we’ve written before, the mobile phone is not yet accessible enough to reach significant portions of the “unbanked”. Our research found that poor women in particular are left behind. Access, familiarity, convenience and security are significant issues.

At Grameen Foundation, we believe that these barriers can be addressed. We recently expanded on our initial research around gender and mobile financial services, taking a two-pronged approach. The first—which we’ll discuss here—was a partnership with InterMedia to utilize a mixed approach of qualitative and quantitative research methods in India and the Philippines. The second—which we’ll discuss in a separate posting next week—was a qualitative usability study in partnership with CKS in India, the Philippines, and Uganda.

Our biggest finding was the high degree of variations in comfort levels and usage patterns among these poor, rural women. Global assumptions and generalizations cannot be made. It’s important that financial service providers (FSPs) and mobile network operators (MNOs) understand the local nuances associated with the use of the mobile phone as they decide to bring mobile financial service offerings to these women.

In India, the cultural norms within the household are very different from the Philippines.  Indian women tend to rely on others (husbands, children and relatives) to use the mobile phone. This greatly impacts their ability to build comfort and confidence in the use of not just the mobile phone, but financial services. Women in the Philippines, by contrast, have a relationship with the mobile phone on a par with their male counterparts. Many poor women are aware of mobile financial services and are comfortable using these services independently.                           

This is just one finding of many in the study; here are a few more of the highlights.

Categories India Philippines
Age Younger women more likely to own a phone and know how to use it and more likely to transact All ages comfortable using the phone for many applications, but younger women tend to use MFS
Gender Disparity High Does Not Exist
Literacy Low High
Mobile Phone Literacy Rely on children for even simple tasks like making/receiving phone calls. Women were comfortable using the phone for calls and many other applications
Transactions Assisted, over the counter ATM preference
Awareness of MFS Little knowledge Majority had knowledge
Usage of MFS Agents and husbands transact Women directly transact or use an agent
Knowledge on how to use MFS Received training from a mobile provider or other person. Learned without the support of the mobile provider.

For the full study, click here.

The second prong of our approach, which we’ll discuss in a separate post next week, was conducting in-depth qualitative usability research with a small number of women in India, the Philippines, and Uganda.


As the 4th largest country in the world, I find it quite disconcerting that nothing of substance is being done in Indonesia in the area of financial inclusion. The programs I have been involved with suffer of tunnel vision in that they are too focused on certain aspects of financial inclusion rather than looking at the broader issues. It seems to me that those managing contractors that have been given the responsibility by investors/donors/funders to manage their funds are more interested in quick wins and applying themselves for the duration of the project/ program in question only. Now that may be an unfair assessment of the current situation because I am sure that there are many NGOs and institutions that have done a fine job in Indonesia, but that is how I see it.

Furthermore, if I compare what is happening in the African countries; in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh; as well as in Thailand, Philippines and even Cambodia then we are still miles behind. Maybe it is the government regulations here or lack of them or even the economic and cultural climate that make Indonesia less attractive but I have a very different opinion on it having been involved with microfinance and agricultural projects for the last 5 years and in ICT the last 20 years.

To me, it is not enough to just focus on mobile/ digital financial services or agri-finance or mobile money or gender or mobile ICT solutions especially in the sector that really requires an all encompassing solution - namely, the agriculture sector. In Asia especially, where agriculture is the backbone of the economy in many of the countries, focus must be put on ensuring that the base-of-the-pyramid people can enjoy the benefits of financial services which in turn strengthens the country's economy as a whole.

To cut a long story short, I would ask that the Grameen Foundation take the chance and grab the opportunities that can be found in Indonesia to help the unbanked, underbanked and underserved.

Regards, Richard Maramis (richard.maramis [at]; profile on LinkedIn)