Do the right thing, design with the user in mind. UX is the way to your users hearts.
The potential of smartphones to drive innovation in product and user experience (UX) design, and even to support a transformation of the mobile money business model has been on our radar since 2014. Offering smartphones as a mobile money access channel does not mean mobile money will take off in markets where providers are struggling, but simple, intuitive apps can help to encourage use and greater customer engagement. For instance, research by CGAP showed that in a focus group in Kenya, low-income, first-time users learned how to navigate a smartphone on their own in just 20 minutes.
The capacity of smartphones to hold more content in more accessible, user-friendly ways can significantly increase a provider’s ability to share information and educate customers. This, in turn, creates more engaged users who do not have to rely on physical channels such as agents or call centres for basic information on how to use the service or to reset their password.
Smartphones also eliminate other barriers, such as character count limitations (182 on a USSD menu and 160 with SMS) when sending information to customers. This is crucial when engaging and onboarding customers and sharing information on the terms and conditions of more sophisticated financial services such as credit, savings and insurance.
Better access to smartphones is making it easier and more affordable to create and disseminate locally relevant content. For example, mobile money providers can offer their services in local languages, which is less feasible with USSD or SMS. Wave Money in Myanmar currently offers its users the option of three languages: English and Burmese, which both use Unicode, and Zawgyi, the non-Unicode Burmese typeface. Smartphones can, therefore, narrow the access gap to mobile money services for those in markets where English is spoken as a second language. There are also clear cost savings for providers: one SMS in English would be roughly equivalent to between three and six messages in Burmese.
Beyond offering mobile money services in local languages, providers are also leveraging the rich UX of smartphones to customise services to their local market. For example, Wing Money in Cambodia and Wave Money in Myanmar both have agent locator functionality, but they use it differently based on the needs of their customers. While Wing Money uses the usual map to show the proximity of agents to the user, Wave Money’s agent locator feature only shows the address of the closest agent, accounting for the fact that customers in Myanmar tend not to utilise map reading.
Smartphones also have the potential to simplify more complex mobile money use cases. For instance, using a smartphone camera to scan a QR code – a feature not currently possible on USSD – simplifies the merchant payment experience, eliminating the need for customers to manually enter the merchant number. Using QR codes also enables providers to expand their acceptance network or merchant network to retailers that do not have access to a smartphone, as they can use the printout of the merchant’s QR code identifier instead.
QR codes have been spreading fast across China, using offline experiences to bring transactions online. China’s two biggest tech giants, Tencent’s WeChat Pay and Alibaba’s spinoff Alipay, which control almost all the country’s $16 trillion mobile payments market, both rely heavily on QR technology. It has even gained traction among low-value merchants like small retailers and street vendors. In Cambodia, Wing Money has integrated a similar feature into its mobile money app called QR Pay. This feature allows Wing Money users to scan a QR code with their smartphone and make payments to local merchants and MasterPass merchants worldwide.
Safaricom in Kenya has gone a step further, using the smartphone channel to integrate its M-Pesa mobile money service with a conversational social platform. By analysing customer behaviour patterns, Safaricom identified the social interactions that occur once payments are made. With this knowledge came the development of ‘Bonga’, which, according to Shikoh Gitau, Safaricom Alpha’s Head of Product, is focused on “pay, play, and purpose… the three main things our research found people do on our payment and mobile network.” Bonga is still in the test and pilot phase, but it shows the potential of smartphones to encourage greater engagement and interaction among mobile money users.