What is It Like to be a ‘Digital Immigrant’ in a Developing Country?

> Posted by Caitlin Sanford, Bankable Frontier Associates

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As smart phones become much more affordable and digital solutions for the poor transition to app form, the burden is on new products to build trust and enable learning through intuitive interfaces designed particularly for this segment.

Marc Prensky coined the term digital immigrants to describe people who, as opposed to young digital natives, did not grow up immersed in technology from a young age. Mastering quickly changing technologies is a challenge for educated, fairly computer literate people. So, what is the experience like for digital immigrants who have learned all they know about technology from a basic Nokia phone?

The impact of technological solutions on development has been monumental, spurring innovations in health, finance, commerce, and a number of other sectors. However, adopting these new technological solutions does not always go smoothly for less tech-experienced users. At Bankable Frontier Associates, a research and consulting firm focused on financial inclusion, we have recently observed the struggles and triumphs of low-income users of new tech-enabled financial services through our work in a variety of markets. One woman I met in Mexico had meant to withdraw her Oportunidades social benefit cash transfer, but accidentally donated all of her payment to a charity when she became confused by the steps on an ATM that kept flashing a donation option. As a coffee farmer in Colombia described:

“The digitization and all these new media, we do not understand how to manage it well. Many of us farmers simply don’t know how to use [the ATM], so we have to ask others to do it for us. The change has been sudden.”

To be clear, people who are new to technology in developing countries are certainly capable of mastering new interfaces and apps. And facilitating the effective use of new products, whether tech-enabled or not, is a core challenge in serving all client groups. To make matters more difficult, many currently available branchless banking products are poorly designed and fail often, and this can hold clients back.

The reliability problem

Unreliable connectivity breeds serious problems in the financial services space. The Financial Inclusion Tracker Surveys (FITS) found that 64 percent of Ugandan mobile money users, 52 percent of Tanzanian users, and 48 percent of Kenyan users have experienced a network failure while trying to complete a mobile money transaction. Such frequent network failures create opportunities for fraud without vigilance by client and provider. Network outages also mean that an important payment sent for an emergency might not arrive on time, making it difficult for users to build trust and satisfaction in the system.

What “should” be private will be social

In Tanzania about 20 percent of mobile money users report sharing their PIN number, and another 20 percent usually get help when performing a transaction, according to FITS. This seems to be common across countries. Clients often share their PIN number with family members, or may even ask a mobile money agent or security guard for help. Innovation in authentication systems will help users keep information confidential. Alternatively, new products could consider building in features to accommodate the reality of transacting socially, such as granting limited access for a “helper,” as some social cash transfer schemes have already done.

Beyond the interface to facilitating the entire user experience

Creating technology-based products and interfaces for inexperienced clients is not a new problem for designers. But cutting edge methods such as human-centered design are just beginning to enter the product design process in many emerging markets. As smart phones take off, our research suggests a few guiding principles that will make technology work better for clients:

  • Use appropriate images: A simple icon, like a star, can have a very different meaning in Pakistan as opposed to Ghana. There are many great resources on ethnography and anthropology in design.
  • Enlarge icons and text: The World Health Organization estimates that 1.3 billion people need glasses but do not have access to them. Clients often report to us that the writing in SMS messages is too small.
  • Test it first: With respect to financial services, we observe that, because their resources are so precious, clients often wish to test a transaction with a small amount to confirm it works before making an actual deposit, payment, or transfer. Products that can build in a “trial run” that allows users to mimic the entire transaction experience before taking the plunge with real money is a great way to enable learning.
  • Instant and easily traceable records: The paper receipt continues to be popular because we receive it right away and can keep it in our possession for easy access in case of a mistake. Many confirmations in branchless banking do not feel as easily retrievable to clients.
  • Make it fraud-proof: From SIM-swaps to phishing, fraudsters and scammers are exceedingly competent and have cracked a number of mobile money products. Companies building digital solutions for low-access markets might consider hiring hackers to test their own systems.

Reliable platforms and simple, intuitive interfaces are likely the key ingredients in ensuring that the benefits of tech-enabled products reach all users.

Have you read?

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