Today there are close to 700 million mobile money accounts registered worldwide — a number that, if it were a population, would rank as the world’s third-largest country. East Africa continues to lead in digital financial innovations as well as account usage, with two-thirds of the combined adult populations of Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda actively using mobile money. With the proliferation of mobile financial services, particularly among underserved populations, it is vital that users be treated fairly and with dignity. In the momentum to define responsible digital finance and recognize providers of high-quality financial services, the industry must not forget the consumer.
Client Voices: Why We Listened
The Smart Campaign, a global initiative to create an environment in which financial services are delivered safely and responsibly to low-income clients, has long recognized that client perspectives are often underrepresented in consumer protection discussions. With the Client Voices Project, the Campaign questions whether the industry’s assumptions about what constitutes problematic treatment rightly reflect what clients themselves worry about.
The dual objectives of the project are to solicit input from low-income clients about what they consider good and bad treatment in their interactions with financial service providers and to assess the prevalence of consumer protection problems among these clients, using quantitative surveys. The project is designed to act as a catalyst for financial service providers, regulators, industry associations, consumer advocacy groups, and others to improve client protection in ways that are grounded in client feedback.
Based on a survey of over 1,200 people in three districts in Rwanda, this report delves into the experiences of individuals who use digital financial services (DFS), the main client protection issues they are concerned about, and the impact and prevalence of negative experiences. We find that mobile money enjoys a high degree of satisfaction and trust from clients in Rwanda, even though 40 percent of clients report being targeted by fraudulent schemes, which have become increasingly sophisticated.
Customers report wising up to scams and fraud, but with a continuous influx of new mobile money users and fraudsters who innovate quickly, the threat is real and constant. Fraud represents the greatest potential to damage customer trust and engagement with mobile money in Rwanda.
However, there are many ways that DFS operations and practices can be improved to better protect clients and strengthen trust. Client recourse mechanisms, for example, represent an important area for improvement: many clients shared that they feel helpless and unsure about what to do after realizing they have been duped. Additionally, for business models that rely more on the mobile interface than on human interaction, clients increasingly rely on agents for information and guidance. This presents an opportunity to provide better service, as well as a risk for poor client treatment.
We hope that providers, industry associations, support organizations, regulators, consumer protection advocates, and clients can benefit from these findings to create a stronger, more inclusive client protection ecosystem. We offer specific recommendations for many of these stakeholders.