Designing for Financial Inclusion

A little while back, I was interviewed by someone getting her MBA with a focus on financial inclusion. She asked me how I designed differently for financial inclusion projects as compared to designing for other projects. I did my best to explain that it’s not different at all.

Low income, bottom of the pyramid, the poor, whatever label you choose, you are still talking about people. People are not all the same, but the way to best serve them is the same.

You understand your customers’ needs and then design for those needs — at least for those needs that you or your company can serve. Applying proper user research, human centered design principles, and a clear user experience is the way to design for financial inclusion. It’s the way to design for any market and any industry.

She didn’t follow what I was saying. It’s possible that she didn’t understand design, design thinking, or the design process. It’s also possible that she was caught up in technology constraints.

It’s true that technology is a factor. The ever growing digital divide does make the gap between rich and poor greater. However, every project has constraints (tech and otherwise). As a designer, you work around those constraints.

Every country is different. There may be less access to cell phones or the internet in some countries. There may be less access to even electricity in others. These are things that absolutely need to be factored into design. However, they are constraints, not barriers, and they are not universal.

When you are designing a product for the poor in a developing nation, it’s not a matter of excluding smart phones or tablets. While interfaces may be predominantly USSD based, there is still a place for smartphone apps and it’s getting bigger. It’s not a matter of dumbing down or limiting functionality. That’s an elitist view.

A good designer, and a good development team, will create the functionality and flow needed regardless of interface. Again, you do the research to see what is available and what your customer needs. Then, design for it.

You still serve your customer — and your customer could be anywhere, even in the realm of financial inclusion. I have a feeling my interviewer’s view was that financial inclusion is limited to developing nations. That is a narrow-minded opinion.

Financial inclusion isn’t only about developing nations. There are disenfranchised people everywhere. Take a look at, produced by American Express, to see how financial inclusion is needed even in seemingly rich America. There is also, by Urban Ministries of Durham, that gives you an idea of what it’s like to be poor in America. (Here’s a link to the sources that fed into

The need for financial inclusion is global. While constraints vary, as will customer needs, the heart of the issue is the same worldwide: bringing the disenfranchised into the greater economic fold.

It doesn’t require special niches of product development. It certainly doesn’t require designing differently. It simply requires following best practice design principles and having some empathy, which any designer should always practice.

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