Leveraging human centred design to improve digital financial services

  • Richard KENNEDY, Innate Motion
  • Lisa CHASSIN, PHB Development
  • Gilda ZARATE CHABLUK, Innate Motion
  • Karima WARDAK, UNCDF, MM4P


Richard KENNEDY, from Innate Motion, started the session with a human-centred interaction: he used three personality traits to describe himself and asked the audience to introduce themselves in the same way to the person next to them. He then proceeded to introduce the panellists.

Gilda ZARATE CHABLUK, also from Innate Motion, shared the definition of her professional title. A business humaniser is a person who aims to develop a business concept by placing the end users' behaviour at the centre of the process and developing solutions that facilitate this behaviour. Karima WARDAK, from UNCDF, introduced Mobile Money for the Poor (MM4P) which focuses intently on poorer and emerging economies where the commercial business case for digital financial services (DFS) is marginal, but has the potential to reach a mass majority of currently unbanked people. Lisa CHASSIN, from PHB Development, explained the organisation's activities in the field of digital financial services, including research and strategy, project management, training & coaching, and implementation support to financial institutions and other financial inclusion stakeholders.

Wardak explained that a major challenge to reaching scale through digital solutions is that a copy and paste model does not work; in other words, the design needs to be built from scratch in each market. Wardak introduced the Human Centred Design (HCD) process as a solution to deal with this complexity, concluding that HCD can have a profound impact on the final design and marketing of a digital solution for service providers, making it ideal for new ideas that need testing and improvement before being launched onto the market.

Chabluk shared the four steps of the HCD process: 1) Kick-off & strategic alignment; 2) Exploration and immersion; 3) Co-creation; and 4) Action plan shaping. The first step focuses on aligning objectives, clear formation of teams, planning of exact steps to be taken and agreements on how the team will work together. Step two includes the service providers talking to actual clients they want to serve through natural conversations, not as an interview. It is about building empathy, understanding the impact of a product and client segmentation based on specific impact needs of the product. Step three includes co-creation with the customers and with the developers, so as to design solutions based on exact needs. The final step entails decision making and concrete actions on which exact projects to embark on or develop further.

The session then zoomed into two MM4P case examples from Benin and Senegal, where the HCD approach was implemented. The Benin case focused on mobile money provisions with MTN, while the Senegalese case focused on digital pension payments for retired civil servants.

Chassin briefly described the context of the Senegalese case: Every month, around 30,000 retirees have five days to withdraw their pension, which causes congestion and discomfort to clients. At the same time, it is also argued that this moment also provides retirees with an opportunity for more social interaction. Chabluk explained that the HCD tested these two perspectives, and came to unexpected results. It was seen that
clients value recognition in their community the most, but do not care too much about the social interaction aspect. Further segmentation revealed that some retirees want a greater sense of belonging whilst others want reaffirmation. It was also revealed that some retirees want full control of their money whilst others prefer openness.

Wardak then presented the Benin case, where MTN wanted to work with motorcycle taxi drivers, the zemidjam, as ambassadors for mobile money. MTN's initial thought was that the zemidjam would need insurance. Chabluk then explained how the HCD process changed MTN's view through gathering deeper insights. For example: the zemidjam see their form of work as something temporary, and are saving for something better in the future. Furthermore, the HCD process revealed that the zemidjam are more organised than MTN assumed. For example: they have their own informal microloan systems in place and purchase fuel from micro fuel stations. Chassin described how the HCD process led to two clear directions for MTN to pursue: 1) The consolidation of the payment ecosystem; and 2) The digitalisation of saving groups (tontines) to facilitate saving for their future ambitions. Insurance was not further explored because the HCD research identified more pressing needs and aspirations.


A member of the audience asked the panel to explain why they saw the introduction of a mobile wallet to the zemidjam as an innovation. Chassin explained that the innovation lies in making a design that flourishes in a specific culture and context with handy add-ons. This influences the final design potential and accelerates growth. Chabluk shared an example of how the project may also, in the future, introduce digital credit to help the zemidjam start their business day. Another member of the audience was curious towards the accuracy of the early stages of the HCD process and how to ensure that the right clients are found. Wardak expressed that whilst samples are small, a lot of the effort goes into the piloting and interactive testing from 1,000 to up to 10,000 transactions; this provides in-depth knowledge and insight into the product's design. The samples are carefully selected according to pre-defined criteria specific to the project's objectives - being able to clearly define the target audience is also a key for success in this process. Wardak explained that the HCD process confronts service providers with the reality of the clients they want to serve, ensuring that the product offered is a good match.

Another member then asked the panellists to explain what they would have experienced if they had used the HCD process to understand how to best deliver insurance products. Chassin explained that at the start of the journey with the zemidjam, microinsurance was considered, so it was one of the potential products. However, the co-creation process revealed that this was not the zemidjam's core need; savings was seen as more important than savings insurance for their future aspirations.