This is part 2 of a guest blog by Chloe Gueguen, former Market Insights Manager, GSMA Connected Women.
Mobile money has shown its potential as a powerful catalyst for financial inclusion, yet, a gender gap persists. Part 2 of this blog provides recommendations for operators launching mobile money group savings products, based on a case study from Chad.
Considerations for operators launching group savings products
The following recommendations are based on our Tigo Chad Paaré research, as well as previous work on Airtel Weza in Uganda  and various expert interviews:
- Understand the local nuances. It is important to dedicate on-the-ground resources to better understand your customers’ views of mobile money and how they use and benefit from traditional savings groups, as this will vary market by market.
“The number one priority is to spend time with your target customers. The product manager needs to spend time with groups on-the-ground to really understand who they are, and not only rely on research papers” – Christian Pennotti, Director Access Africa/Financial Inclusion at CARE
- Build on established financial behaviours and understand the use cases and needs behind these. Aim to design a product that addresses the most pressing pain points and unmet needs of traditional savings groups, such as the lack of transparency or security. In Chad, having a dedicated Tigo Cash Paaré product manager was key to understanding local behaviours and gaining the trust of local women.
- Keep the product simple. Ensuring the product interface is accessible and can, where possible, mimic the flexibility of traditional mechanisms is key. Women generally have lower levels of digital literacy and tend to be used to traditional saving groups, which are, by their informal nature, fluid, flexible and forgivable of late or indirect payments, for instance. In order to successfully mimic the flexibility of a traditional savings group, incorporating user-testing into the design process is key; this was pivotal to the launch of Airtel Weza, for instance. And in order to overcome the menu complexity (and long USSD codes), providers could consider developing a voice-guided menu, available in local language.
“On the technology; you have to make sure your USSD menu works on site and not only in the lab. Testing with real prospective customers on site, in their home and in the village is key”– Christian Pennotti, Director Access Africa/Financial Inclusion at CARE
- Target the easy to reach first before aiming for mass scale. Consider building, testing and optimising your product in targeted locations first, before scaling it. Our research in Chad identified that urban, literate women were the easiest to convert, especially women who have already been exposed to mobile money (and could then help reach non-mobile money customers by word-of-mouth). Focusing on areas where you have an existing mobile money agent network and your brand is already strong can foster initial uptake of the product.
- Ensure your agents can support and promote the service. Making sure agents are well-trained, accessible and able to communicate the benefits and use cases of the product is key. Aligning agents’ incentives to product performance metrics, and encouraging female savings groups’ members to become agents should also be explored.
- Drive awareness through targeted, relevant communication channels. In Chad, our research showed that: radio, SMS, agents and word-of-mouth were the most effective channels to reach women.
- Find cost-effective training strategies to convert indirect users into direct, active users. Our research in Chad revealed that women tend to prefer face-to-face teaching methods, and to be trained by people they trust. Alternative teaching technologies, such as social messaging apps and chatbots  could also be explored as scalable training solutions.
‘The problem is that when the agents came they trained only the leaders and not the members. We are almost 600 women so when only two are trained it is not enough’ – Female Tigo Cash Paaré user, N’djamena
- Ensure a positive and smooth user experience. Ensuring all functions of the product are operational and available is key to maintaining customer trust. For consumers who are new to mobile money, reassurance is key, and any dysfunctionality (connectivity issues, low e-money liquidity, non-operational functions) could not only negatively impact customers’ trust in the product and mobile money, but also in the operator.
- Carefully consider pricing to encourage greater and more sophisticated mobile money usage. Building a pricing structure that appeals to women’s price sensitivity and encourages a transition from payments into the group savings wallet to other mobile money use-cases (e.g. P2P transfers, bill or merchant payments) will help maximise the value proposition for customers. Linking group savings to other financial products (e.g. digital-credit or insurance) could also be explored. Ensuring you have reporting mechanisms in place and reliable transactional data should not only help track your group savings product’s performance but also its potential for driving other mobile money usage in the long run.
“The most excluded are very willing to pay for the services. But when you start putting high transaction costs is does not make sense for them, there is not value-added proposition. What customer are ready to accept in terms of pricing and how price is communicated to them is very important”- Christian Pennotti, Director Access Africa/Financial Inclusion at CARE
- Consider partnerships from the outset. Identifying organisations (e.g. NGOs or microfinance institutions) in your market that are already liaising with local women’s groups will not only help you to understand customer’s needs and design a relevant product, but can also be helpful to drive awareness and understanding through training and harnessing word of mouth. This is the reason why Tigo Chad recently engaged in partnership discussions with CELIAF  to help drive awareness and uptake of Tigo Cash Paaré. Partnerships with other businesses can also help offset costs for consumers while driving revenue for the provider. For example, an Egyptian fintech, MoneyFellows, built an affiliation program that allows their customers to receive their group savings’ payout by purchasing items from MoneyFellows’ commercial partners, while also receiving discounts. Using this partnership approach, MoneyFellows receives commission from partners, and there is no cost for customers.
- Encourage mobile phone ownership among women; because this is the first step in mobile money adoption. Our study ‘Accelerating affordable smartphone ownership in emerging markets’, while focused on smartphones, provides recommendations to overcome the affordability barrier of phone ownership that can be tailored to basic phone purchase as well.
Products such as Tigo Cash Paaré demonstrate that there are many opportunities for the mobile ecosystem to improve the relevance of mobile money services for women through the understanding of traditional financial behaviours. While there is no ‘silver bullet’ to close the mobile money gender gap, mobile group savings products can be one avenue to encourage mobile money uptake among women, and accelerate their path toward financial inclusion.
 Airtel Uganda: a mobile money solution for savings groups, 2015, https://www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Case-Study_Airtel-Uganda-1.pdf
 Chatbots, such as Arifu and Juntos Global, are conversational user interfaces, which are increasingly used to support the understanding of digital finance.
 CELIAF (Cellule de Liaison et d’Information des Associations Féminines) is a network of over 450 non-governmental organisations dedicated to promoting women’s rights in Chad.
This initiative is currently funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), and supported by the GSMA and its members.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also supports the GSMA Connected Women programme, funding research to better understand where along the mobile money customer journey women tend to drop off more than men and identify opportunities for addressing key gender gaps in specific markets in Africa.