Consumer behaviors, especially financial behaviors, are often deeply entrenched in one’s lifestyle. They both influence and are influenced by a consumer’s responsibilities, obligations, needs, desires, and ultimately, what it takes to survive. A behavior is often so deeply rooted that a consumer can’t even remember how it began. And, sometimes, it is inertia and comfort that build the entrenchment, instead of actual value and utility.
Bringing consumers into the financial fold, meaning arming them with formal financial products, is very much about changing existing, entrenched consumer behaviors. And, changing consumer behavior begins with building an awareness of the product or service. It is only successful when a consumer ties the new behavior to an improved life.
When a consumer is aware of a product or service, s/he can start to build knowledge about it. With knowledge, consumers begin to evaluate relevance and interest, deciding if something is appropriate for them or has appeal. They then determine whether or not it is within their reach, and if they should try it. All of this leads up to their decisions to continue using it, or, revert to previous behaviors and practices.
To build toward greater financial inclusion, and ultimately greater financial stability, we need to inform the journey toward behavior change.
The best way to inform that journey is to start by listening, and observing consumers, learning what matters to them, seeing how behaviors become entrenched, identifying driving forces behind what they do and how they do it.
That’s why Mobile Money for the Poor (MM4P), a UNCDF programme, embarked upon a comprehensive research initiative in Zambia. MM4P supports the expansion of digital financial services (DFS) in LDCs.
Active since early 2015 in Zambia in partnership with FSDZ, MM4P has already initiated a number of activities with key DFS stakeholders to improve the offering of services to low income households. Part of this initiative is consumer qualitative research led by InterMedia.
InterMedia, a global research organization recognized for its expertise in financial inclusion, designed a comprehensive consumer discoveries program to inform financial product development, positioning, marketing and consumer targeting.
The program includes focus groups and in-depth interviews of consumers, and mystery-shops of mobile money agents. The focus groups and in-depth interviews provide insight into the minds and practices of consumers, from their own perspectives, while the mystery-shops help us experience the mobile money interaction process as a consumer would experience it. Conducted in Lusaka and the Copper Belt region, the research targets three important groups for building to greater financial inclusion:
o New accountholders, who recently felt the impetus to open an account
o Women, who often are kept from financial products
o Unregistered or over-the-counter (OTC) users who make financial transactions without an account
Having commenced in late September, the research will run through October.
The consumer discoveries components are designed to complement the national quantitative assessment of Zambians in the 2015 edition of FinScope, conducted by FSD-Zambia (link here). The research is also designed to enable financial services stakeholders in-country as they seek to bring products to potential customers, while deepening product usage among existing customers.
FinScope showed growth in the number of consumers who have financial accounts and are using formal financial services, but there’s less of a perceived need or ability to attain important financial services, and even insurance products.
These findings are fascinating and lead to more questions around the dynamics of Zambian consumers. We know that decisions around financial products are often tightly aligned with life circumstances, needs, perceived relevance and either personal or familial aspirations.
We know that the degree to which someone finds trust and comfort in adapting a new behavior—particularly a financial behavior—can be both a barrier as well as a motivating force.
And, we know that financial products contribute to greater financial stability only when the products are used.
Because of all this, we started the process by talking with financial services stakeholders, learning from their experiences, absorbing their needs, and understanding how research can help them become a part of the movement toward greater financial inclusion.
With that context in hand, we’re now spending time with consumers, talking with them about the various elements that build toward financial products changing their lives for the better. We’re learning what they know about financial products and institutions, whether they see relevance for them, and if they are interested. We want to assess whether or not they have access, if they want to embark and try a formal product, and, what types of actions, experiences or utilities will keep them using that product.
We’re learning if they are on the behavior change and adoption curve, where they are on it, and what type of interventions can build a new inertia that includes using formal financial services.
Watch this space for what promises to be fascinating findings about consumer lifestyle dynamics that matter for financial inclusion, the journey toward product adoption, and factors for evolving product usage to greater financial stability.
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. Our quantitative and qualitative research and mixed-method evaluations have engaged over 2 million respondents in more than 120 countries. For more information on InterMedia, visit www.intermedia.org.
Mobile Money for the Poor (MM4P) is a programme launched by the UN Capital Development Fund in partnership with the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida), the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The MasterCard Foundation. The programme 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 http://www.uncdf.org/mm4p
 Mystery shops are research exercises where a trained shopper assumes the role of a consumer and performs a series of tasks as a consumer, documenting the experience.
See a related post, Listening to Learn in Zambia, at the UNCDF website