Omidyar Network
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Omidyar Network

How Listening to Consumers Can Help Bridge the Digital Divide and Build a Currency of Trust in Financial Services in India

By Anamitra Deb and Tracy Williams, Intellectual Capital, Omidyar Network

Vikas is a vegetable farmer and trader in rural Maharashtra, India. Every day, before heading to the market, he takes photos of his daily yield of produce and sends them to a few wholesalers using WhatsApp. The buyers usually respond in minutes with their orders, sending photos of spreadsheets that lay out prices and quantities. However, the transactions take place in cash. Although he is comfortable using a few mobile apps on his smartphone, he doesn’t use mobile banking, because the app seems too complex to him.

Vikas is among hundreds of India’s consumers surveyed in a new research report by Omidyar Network, titled “Currency of Trust: Consumer Behaviors and Attitudes Toward Digital Financial Services in India”. The report focuses on understanding the current context and behaviors of Indian consumers from 30 communities across urban, semi-urban, and rural areas, regarding their digital consumption and readiness for digital financial services.

We believe this is a crucial time to bring the voice of the consumer to the forefront of the discussion around design adoption and usage of digital financial services in India. In the last five years, the country has made tremendous progress in setting up robust infrastructure and government policies to drive digital financial innovation. Aadhaar has provided 1.2 billion people with a digital identity, which can be used by programs such as Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojna (PMJDY) to help unbanked consumers to open an account for the first time. Since 2014, nearly 200 million new bank accounts have been opened, driving banking penetration from one in three Indians to one in two.[i] In addition, smartphone ownership is booming, with over 250 million people carrying smartphones in their pockets and more than 1 billion mobile subscribers in the country.[ii]

Though the march toward digital has been continuous, it is also widening the country’s “digital divide”, given large segments of the population still have little or no access to the mobile internet and its benefits. Due to a range of factors — including unreliable network connectivity, high data costs, and sociocultural norms that hold back specific groups, notably women — this “digital darkness” greatly impacts the adoption and growth of digital financial services in the country. Currently, less than 1 percent of transactions (by volume) in India are performed digitally. This is by far the lowest rate among BRICS countries: Brazil averages 20 percent, Russia 11 percent, China 4 percent, and South Africa 11 percent.[iii]

Stakeholders across the digital financial ecosystem face numerous challenges in promoting wider adoption. Among the key barriers is the failure to recognize the complexity and variety of Indian consumers’ needs, desires, and behaviors. Many consumer segments have been neglected as they’re generally seen as having a high customer acquisition cost combined with low willingness to pay, or they’re seen as lacking interest in digital financial services. Others appear readier to explore such services but have not had an opportunity to test them and provide feedback to providers. Yet the potential addressable market for digital financial services in India represents approximately 720 million individuals — a massive business opportunity for innovators who can design products that effectively meet the broad range of consumer needs, especially as banking and mobile penetration continue to grow.

We believe that listening to the hopes, aspirations, and real needs of the broad range of consumer segments across the country will unlock tremendous opportunity for both providers and consumers. That’s where the “Currency of Trust” research comes in. In partnership with Dalberg Global Development Advisors, we conducted in-depth interviews and held human-centered design prototyping sessions with nearly 400 people across the country. We also analyzed macro-level data sets and trends and spoke with dozens of industry experts, to generate ‘heat maps’ of data availability and cost across India.

“Currency of Trust” showcases many hidden insights that we only discovered by directly listening to, and working with, these consumers. For example, though willingness to pay is limited, our research found that if certain consumers have a compelling use case, they will employ incredible creativity to find cost-effective ways to access data. For instance, they will travel long distances to access free Wi-Fi connections through publicly available networks or to take advantage of a short-term mobile offer. We met one consumer who told us about his journey to another city to obtain a Reliance Jio SIM card, knowing it would allow him free 4G access for a limited period of time. We also met young men in the slums in Mumbai who were pooling resources to set up shared Wi-Fi hot spots in order to download music, chat on WhatsApp, or access Facebook cost effectively. We used such insights to generate five key consumer segments, or “personas”; in each case, we talk about how to identify them, what they want, and how to reach and engage them to unlock digital financial services adoption.

Even when consumers are trying to connect, adoption levels of digital financial services can remain low. Consumers struggle with overly complex financial apps — which are full of jargon and rarely translated into local languages — and are concerned with security and fraud. They are concerned about the reliability of digital services and, critically, lack trust in their own ability to use those services to manage their financial lives digitally. Reaching these consumers means not only investing in making technology more accessible — through friendlier interfaces, easy-to-trial services, and improved on-boarding — but also earning and sustaining their trust through continuous reinforcement during their journey.

“Currency of Trust” surfaces 10 key behavioral insights that drive consumer behavior with respect to digital financial services and presents five distinct consumer “personas” that help us understand on a more granular level the variations in attitudes, behaviors, and needs across consumer segments, which are often intertwined with socioeconomic and demographic status. We hope that shedding light on peoples’ behaviors and aspirations helps to unlock higher usage by consumers and to catalyze innovation by service providers, paving the way for greater digital financial inclusion that meets the needs of diverse Indian consumers.

The full report can be downloaded here:

An infographic on the five consumer personas can be downloaded here:

[i] The Global Findex Database 2014, World Bank Group.
[ii] The Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicator Report — TRAI, September 2016; Forecast of mobile phone users in India,
[iii] Digital Finance for All: Powering Inclusive Growth in Emerging Economies, McKinsey Global Institute, September 2016.



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