Financial Inclusion is not just about Financial Access but Behaviour Change
Financial inclusion is hard because behaviour change is hard
Financial inclusion is critical to Nigeria’s development because on it rests the development of our human capital.
Our nation’s growth requires people to be equipped with the tools and information they need to plan their financial lives and make good decisions which will influence their financial health.
A financially healthy population automatically translates into a healthy nation and economy.
Since 2012 when the NFIS was launched, the focus has been on the titular “unbanked” and “underbanked” segments of the population. This has been followed over the years by major financial inclusion campaigns albeit with mixed results.
The recently released Customer Segmentation Framework (CSF) report pointed to the fact that, even without a bank account, people are running businesses, making purchases, saving for a rainy day and getting on with their day to day activities. That is to say, people have figured out a way to live day to day without a bank.
The argument could be made, that financial exclusion is mostly due to lack of access. Which is true.
However, exclusion also persists in urban areas where we have an abundance of financial service points. This suggests that financial exclusion is not solely due to lack of access — there are other factors at play, and if not properly tackled, would frustrate our efforts.
Consider the latest Global Findex Report; while it was revealed that there was an incredible spike in number of bank accounts worldwide between 2014 and 2017, it also reported an uptick in the number of dormant accounts. In other words, we may have gotten people to open bank accounts but they are not using them.
As we approach the universal access deadline of 2020, it is encouraging to see the conversation extend beyond just financial access to account utility. In the financial inclusion discourse, access is critical, yes, but so is utility of these accounts. Otherwise, why bother?
We need to ask ourselves — why are people refusing to utilise their bank accounts despite having access and how can we fix it?
At its core, financial inclusion is about behaviour change on a massive scale. It involves moving people out of informal and unregulated financial service systems into the formal sector. However, behaviour change is hard, and facilitating it is time consuming and expensive. Such efforts are also not guaranteed to have the desired effects.
We know that for our target market — the unbanked and underbanked — formal financial services are the alternative, not the primary choice. So it is not surprising that attempts to move them away from their already established primary providers may be faced by some resistance and friction.
How do we encourage the utility of formal financial services, while mitigating resistance and friction?
For one, there must be a strong use case for formal financial services in the lives of our target consumers. This can be achieved by figuring out ways to adapt formal services into their lives through already existing value chains within the informal economy.
For example, take women in rural areas who have very little income and struggle to pay their bills. We need to consider, in what ways can formal financial services be relevant in their lives? If they already have a history of taking loans from informal providers, then the formal sector needs to offer them better rates and limit the hurdles they need to overcome in order to get the loans. Incentivising and rewarding active use of accounts would also lead to increased use of these accounts.
Basically, we have to replicate the perceived advantages of the informal sector and layer that on the advantages of the formal sector in order to see the new behaviors we desire.
Of course, perceived benefits differ across consumer groups and segments. Different consumer groups have differing pain points and challenges they face.
This is why resources such as the recently launched Customer Segmentation Framework are critical in guiding financial inclusion efforts. Although the six personas identified and presented in the report are in no way exhaustive, the report successfully highlights the diversity which exists across the Nigerian financial service consumer base. Those six personas revealed the gradient of needs and pain points facing different customer segments across the country.
By keeping the consumer at the center of the conversation, product development, delivery mechanism, communication and messaging, everything will be designed to reach and satisfy the target consumer.
Financial access is good but it is not an end in itself. Losing sight of this can short circuit financial inclusion efforts, leaving us with vanity metrics like number of bank accounts opened, while exclusion persists.
Our focus needs to remain on the reason why people need accounts in the first place — to plan their financial lives, and make good decisions while having all the tools to do so in an affordable and sustainable manner.
If we can do this, we can begin to see not only adoption but also frequent usage of formal financial services by the underbanked and excluded.