Senegalese Agents Building Comprehension And Driving Usage Of Digital Finance Services
Digital financial services (DFS) agents play a critical role in customer uptake of DFS in three major ways: agents increase product exposure and connect the product to customer needs; they create a positive initial product experience, helping to eliminate any fear or lack of confidence a customer may feel about using DFS; and they serve as the go-to resource when transaction complications arise.
This role is especially important in Senegal, where over half of the adult population (55 percent) has used some form of DFS. Most DFS activity in the market (52 percent) is through over-the-counter (OTC) money transfer services (e.g., Wari, Joni Joni) and therefore happens through the assistance of a registered agent operating on behalf of the money transfer service. These OTC money transfer services do not require the customer to maintain a financial account to make transactions. Instead, the customer goes to an authorized agent and presents the amount of money he/she would like to transfer, along with some form of legal identification, and the agent transfers the money to a recipient.
What perpetuates OTC use—and what can bring consumers to DFS—drove Mobile Money for the Poor (MM4P) to partner with InterMedia, a global research consultancy, to execute large-scale customer-facing research initiatives to shed light on these topics. The objectives of the research are to both build the evidence base surrounding customer behaviours, attitudes and interests, and enable smart, targeted strategies for market stakeholders looking to recruit new audiences, including the underserved section of the market.
The customer research included two main components: a nationally representative quantitative survey of Senegalese adults, age 15 and over, and individual targeted studies focusing on what brings a customer to use DFS and what, in particular, brings a customer to OTC transactions, which are such a big part of the market. It also included an up-close look at gender barriers for women. The targeted studies took the form of focus groups and in-depth interviews (qualitative research) amongst new DFS users, prospective DFS users and OTC users.
The research findings are abundant and will be presented by MM4P in full on 7 September 2016 at the DFS Working Group meeting in Dakar, Senegal. The DFS Working Group provides a platform where government agencies, regulators, mobile network operators, banks, microfinance operators, aggregators, consumer associations and others stakeholders working in the area of DFS in Senegal engage for the development of a sustainable DFS ecosystem. As such, the DFS Working Group provides an ideal forum to share learning on customer needs and pain points in developing viable products that will drive wide uptake of services.
Amongst the findings, the research shows that agents are at the centre of both the male and the female customer’s relationship with DFS—facilitating awareness, building comfort and problem-solving—and there are good reasons for that.
- Customers need more information about DFS.
Newly registered mobile money users shared that it was an agent that ultimately prompted them to open an account (currently, 8 percent of Senegalese consumers recall owning a registered mobile money account while 15 percent recall having some type of registered financial account). Mobile money accountholders might have seen or heard an advertisement, and perhaps had a friend or family member who also had an account, but it was agent outreach that had meaningful impact. Registered users recounted how an agent transformed the concept of mobile money from something that felt complicated, intimidating and “not for them” to a mechanism that addresses their financial needs. Similarly, many OTC users reported that it was an agent who told them about the service or prompted them to make their first transaction.
While not the only method for raising DFS visibility, agents certainly create and activate initial awareness in a meaningful way for customers—in a way that simultaneously allows customers to obtain meaningful knowledge about the service and how to use it. The top reason nationwide that customers do not use mobile money is lack of knowledge, followed by a perceived lack of need (27 percent and 23 percent, respectively, amongst those who have never used any type of mobile money services). Prospective DFS users, particularly women, echoed these sentiments, sharing that they did not yet know enough about mobile money, did not have a relationship with an agent, or did not yet feel equipped enough to open an account.
- Comprehending DFS can be difficult for customers.
Agents often bridge the gap between the financial transaction that users want to make and their ability to perform it. And there is evidence as to why this agent function is important. Only 58 percent of Senegalese have sent a text, and just 35 percent are literate. Comprehending DFS can be especially difficult for women. Only 54 percent of women have sent a text, and 34 percent of women are literate. Qualitatively, women also stress that they need a person-to-person connection to help them overcome comprehension issues with DFS.
- Customers have never done DFS before.
One of the virtues of DFS, and a key part of the value proposition, is that DFS empower male and female customers to make financial transactions on their own, without assistance, in the privacy of their own surroundings, wherever and whenever they choose, and, more importantly, without the hidden costs of transportation and loss of business. However, there is still a steep learning curve associated with this virtue of DFS that can be intimidating and even a deterrent for people who are so accustomed to cash and not as fluent in mobile phone functions.
Hands-on conditioning by an agent leads new users to be better equipped in some cases and to want to complete transactions on their own, without assistance. After the initial learning curve, customers see how a transaction is done and how they can do it right, and then they try it on their own. Many active new users consciously attributed their avid DFS use to an agent who took the time to advance their customer journey. In this case, an agent facilitates the customer journey in a way that gets a customer enjoying the virtues of DFS.
For other customers, particularly OTC users, it is the agent that keeps them coming back, and it is also the agent that stands in the way of them owning an account. OTC users shared that entrusting a transaction to an agent means there is no chance for them to make an error and lose money. Their perceived need for agent-assisted transactions brings them back, again and again, for their money transfer needs. Here, the dependence on agents perpetuates the use of OTC services (in conjunction with other factors surrounding perceived need and cost).
- There is always a chance that something could go wrong.
Consumers fear user error as much as system error. They do not want to make a mistake, nor do they want the system to fail on their transaction. Fear of what could go wrong can be polarizing and can even keep people from opting into DFS to begin with. Users who are willing to go to an agent have moved past some of their fears of system error, but those who repeatedly depend on an agent still do not have enough confidence to overcome their fear of making mistakes as they try to transact.
A large majority of mobile money and OTC users (62 percent), including both men and women, go to the same agent every time. Proximity is the top reason for repeat use (27 percent), followed by speed (23 percent) and, related to the agent-user relationship, courtesy (17 percent). Three quarters of users (76 percent) turn to an agent when something goes wrong with a transaction. Only 29 percent turn to a provider.
- Agents are accessible.
Over half of consumers know of a mobile money or OTC point of service within five kilometres of them, making agents within reach. Mere presence in a community tends to suggest that agents are a resource for consumers.
Furthermore, the Agent Network Accelerator Survey shows that agencies are open an average of 30 hours longer per week than are banks, giving consumers even more access to a trusted source. Agent expansion into rural areas means that new, underserved users also can experience the high-touch service relationship agents can provide.
What the agent role means for product adoption
Whether a user can ultimately operate a DFS account on his/her own, or the user insists on using an agent, there is a loyalty that grows between the two parties that underscores the importance of the agent in the customer journey (62 percent of mobile money and OTC users regularly use the same agent).
Agents are a critical component for fostering DFS usage because they are the face of DFS. They transform an arcane concept into an actual solution for customer economic needs.
Capturing the next wave of prospective consumers, particularly women and the poor, will require leveraging the agent community to offer the same high-touch relationship that built current users’ knowledge of DFS and their skills to use them. The challenge is for agents to become enablers for greater independent DFS use so that users are not dissuaded from having their own accounts.
There is no doubt that agents are the face of DFS in the eyes of the consumers with whom they engage. Agents provide a ‘last mile’ link to consumers; making agents DFS ambassadors is key to educating, training and coaching consumers on their journey to adopt DFS. MM4P consistently facilitates capacity-building opportunities for service providers in Senegal through diverse workshops and training seminars on best practices in agent network management.
For more information, contact Sabine Mensah at email@example.com.
About Mobile Money for the Poor (MM4P)
Mobile Money for the Poor (MM4P) is a programme launched by UNCDF in partnership with the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida), the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The MasterCard Foundation. MM4P provides support to branchless and mobile financial services in a select group of LDCs to demonstrate how the correct mix of financial, technical and policy support can build a robust branchless and mobile financial services ecosystem that reaches low income people in LDCs.
For more information, visit www.uncdf.org/mm4p or follow @UNCDFMM4P
InterMedia is a global research consultancy that partners with mission-driven organizations seeking to make an impact in people’s lives around the world. We give clients the data and tools they need to help them understand, engage and positively impact the key groups and societies they care about. InterMedia offers a full range of research and analysis, consulting, and fieldwork management and training services to strengthen development initiatives, measure social investments and enhance consumer engagement. The organization’s quantitative and qualitative research and mixed-method evaluations have engaged over 2 million respondents in more than 120 countries.
 InterMedia Senegal, ‘Financial Inclusion Insights,’ prepared for Mobile Money for the Poor, October 2015–February 2016 (n=2,845, 15+).
 Melissa Rousset and Irene Wagaki with Vera Bersudskaya, ‘Agent Network Accelerator Survey: Senegal Country Report 2015’ (n.p., Helix Institute of Digital Finance, 18 May 2016).