PROJECT OBJECTIVES

 

To increase access to and the availability of suitable financial services and lessen the financial constraints for smallholder farmers and small rural businesses, to promote economic opportunities in rural areas.

 

To promote financial literacy and capability development.

 

To safeguard consumer interests related to branchless banking.

Our Goals and Deliverables

 

To undertake research across two provinces (Isabel Province and the Makira-Ulawa Province) to assess people’s financial capability and constraints.

 

To analyse rural populations financial constraints and financial needs.

 

To identify financial capability development solutions which are innovative and cost efficient, as well as financial product opportunities that meet the needs of the target population.

Explore the Findings

TRUST & CONFIDENCE

Mobile Banking holds great promise for the Pacific Financial Inclusion challenge, however to work, mobile money operators must invest deeply into two things (1) understanding the rural market; and (2) building the coverage, liquidity reliability and capacity of the cash agent network.

 

A high-quality, convenient, reliable cash agent network is crucial for building trust and confidence across rural communities in both mobile banking and the formal financial sector, and is a driver of adoption. The global experience showcases many examples of the negative impact of mobile money providers who push hard to build out the cash agent network quickly, where sign up of new customers get ahead of the necessary infrastructure, connectivity, access, consumer awareness and capability. In the focus group discussions across Ulawa and Isabel, trust emerged as a more important consideration compared to accessibility, for communities wanting to adopt branchless or mobile banking. As one agricultural laborer from Isabel commented…

 

Materials without having a person come deliver to us an explanation are undesirable – The current materials are not relevant for ‘us fella’ as they are in English not Pijin, it is for city fella not farmer, and the Bank fella would not ‘give out’ materials to us.

 

Trust and confidence is built upon relationship. Rural communities draw heavily on the cultural value of reciprocal obligation. For the unbanked or under banked, an early bad experience with mobile money can have a far longer lasting negative impact.

 

36% of respondents who had used or managed a bank account expressed a concern with the level of trust in the bank / financial service provider.

 

However, a positive experience of even a few early adopters within a community can motivate many to trust the offerings and have confidence in the service provider.

 

TRUST emerged as a major theme during focus group discussions –

  • How could Village Chiefs check the credibility of Bank sales staff who appear in their communities – How do we know these people are not fraudsters?
  • Could the community have a voice in who Banks approach to be agents?
  • Can the Bank be clearer and less confusing about the process for appointing community banking agents?
  • Where can the community go to get information about the fees?
  • The only reason they come is to sell not to listen to what we need!
  • Who can show us how this mobile banking idea works?

 

For those consumers who are engaging with either mobile banking or formal financial services for the very first time, a high touch approach over the first 7-10 transactions (which for consumers in rural communities usually span over more than a year) is particularly important to build capacity.

 

Given positive developments emanating from Commercial Banks participating in the Financial Inclusion initiatives, and being successful at signing up new customers…

 

To what extent has the existing efforts by commercial banks to expand branchless or mobile banking (rural community experience to date) influenced rural community perceptions and expectations of the relevance of the formal financial sector?

 

To what extent are commercial banks & telecommunication providers open follow guidance geared toward more effectively building out the cash agent network so as to promote products and services for selected smallholder farmers and small rural businesses in a responsible manner (does no harm)?

 

The need to build, invest into and adequately monitor agent network quality cannot be underestimated. Furthermore, consumer testing of promotional or marketing material would strengthen confidence in the relevance and benefits of Mobile Banking for Rural Communities.

Gender

It is time to bring women into the conversation and close the gender gap in accessing mobile phone technology and financial services.

 

During many focus group discussions, women in Ulawa and Isabel expressed concern at the skill needed to use a phone for SMS and complexity of the mobile top up system, and had many questions about how mobile banking worked – but expressed a strong willingness to learn if someone would show them.

 

According to the Bankable Frontiers Association for the GSMAs mWomen programme, women represent nearly two-thirds of the untapped market for mobile growth globally. Women surveyed across low and middle-income countries on three continents believe that a mobile phone helps them lead a more secure, connected and productive life and value four things when it comes to financial services: convenience; reliability; security; and privacy.

 

Analysis of the consumer journey in Ulawa and Isabel, shows that women are just as likely to have access to a phone, have a bank account or try mobile money (once they become aware of, understand and have reason to trust it).

 

Mobile operators aiming to be market leaders in five years’ time must excel at bringing on new female subscribers. Getting women to try the service and building confidence and capacity through demonstration is key.

 

However from the focus group discussions, women expressed clearly that most financial service marketing efforts feature men (either exclusively or as the ones in control of the device or the money), conveying to some that mobile banking and other financial services are designed for men and not intended for women (to navigate alone).

 

Not only that, but existing mobile banking material was perceived as largely irrelevant (not in Pijin only English, pictures used are not of ‘Sol Fella’ and brochure content is not reflective of the  reality of people living in the outer provinces, especially women).

Cash In Cash Out

A key factor in expanding mobile banking and digital financial services, is ensuring there are enough locations where people can convert their electronic balance into cash and convert their cash into digital money. Because of the lack of access to formal methods of transferring money, people in these communities still rely on informal methods to send and receive cash (sending in an ‘open basket’) that pose cash security risks.

 

  • People currently send money via Boat (33%)or Plane (12%) most frequently
  • Only 9% feel very safe sending money by boat or plane.
  • People receive money through a family member (35%), or someone outside family (20%) rather than formal channels.

 

As one farmer from the Isabel Province explained…

 

From my experience, (Bank) came and tried to introduce us to that mobile banking, but nothing worked out here. From our experiences (Bank) officers give some awareness for us, sign up everyone, took money for opening account, but they never  returned. They never fulfilled all their many promises to us, like making easier place to save in bank, like installing cash machines here so we can easily get cash out. So we forget about (Bank).

 

Accessibility is key – to telecommunication, to infrastructure, to ATM & Mobile Banking Cash Agents.

Have Now Paying Later

The most common complaint by informal providers of credit (e.g. Canteen operators, Copra Buyers) in rural communities was the refusal to pay, to pay interest or to ever pay back credit. The experience shared by the majority of Copra Buyers and Canteen operators, was that in most occasions, if allowed, the borrower would leave the credit relationship to lapse. The consequence – most canteens who are more conflict averse operate as a subsistence business carrying large outstanding balances.  Copra buyers as sources of income in the community (as opposed to the goods provided by Canteen operators) operate more effectively in closing outstanding debts.

This is explained clearly by one Copra Smallholder Farmer on Ulawa…
“Most of us, the only way to get money is to … let’s say, go to the Copra buyer and ask how many bags of wet nut – to get the cash we need. This is the only way to get cash when you need cash. You have to make wet nut daily to get real money on the island. This is a big thing, as most disadvantaged families live without any cash on the island being in everyone else’s pocket! The buyers can run out of cash – then we all do. So without a banking system, what we usually do is borrow money from canteen or take goods before payment, or sometimes cash for community or church fundraising, and we repay.

Making Money

The majority of residents in Ulawa and Isabel grow crops primarily for consumption, rather than sale. This means that the same money is constantly recycled through the system – with minimal cash added to communities coming in. Qualitative research showed that many farmers were very interested in new options for diversifying income. Farmers face many challenges when selling their products, limiting their ability to grow their incomes. Due to low sale prices of product further complicated by high volatility in the market, farmers are unable to predict or rely heavily on the sale of copra to improve their financial condition. Information scarcity further complicates this problem as farmers are often unaware of market prices or changes in ship schedules. Growing mobile penetration poses an opportunity to close information gaps and increase market confidence.

Bank Accounts

Previously, the Solomon Islands were ranked as one of the most unbanked countries in the world, with reports of 80% of the adult population without access to formal financial services (Global Findex Report). Efforts since 2012 emanating from the four commercial banks success at signing up new customers (largely through mobile money products) and participation in financial inclusion initiatives under the leadership of the National Financial Inclusion Taskforce (NFIT), have resulted in 42% of the adult population now banked.[1]

 

From the most recent quarterly financial inclusion progress report of March 2015, shows the total number of bank accounts opened in the country by the four commercial banks has now gone up to 247,181 representing an increase of 159,439 over the December 2010 baseline figures of 87,742. This realizes the NFIT target of 160,000 adults has been numerically achieved. However more work now needs to be done in other important dimensions like: gender participation; access and availability of rural credit products to help rural communities generate income; cleaning up duplications, dormant and legacy accounts; and consumer confusion as a result of the pace of acquisitions through mobile banking channels.

 

There is no question that remote outer Islands stand to benefit greatly from more accessible, affordable and relevant financial services and the expansion of mobile money. However when account ownership numbers are further explored activity rates show there is more to be done to encourage usage.

 

In Ulawa, despite account ownership reported at 17%, activity rates were only 9%. In Isabel, where account ownership was reported as 25%, activity levels were only 17%. On both islands, there was far more dependence on the informal version of almost all formal financial products including money transfers, credit, savings and ways to cover end of life expenses.

 

The recent explosion of mobile phone ownership, combined with growth in Card Transactions and Point of Sale (POS) devices, mobile banking agent networks and smart cards has provided new opportunities to reach previously unbanked or under-served rural island communities. Outer Islands have extremely limited phone connectivity (even with the recent 2G to 3G upgrade in early April 2015) which will continue to present significant  barriers for financial inclusion even with the emerging role of mobile banking providing an entry point and on-ramp into the formal financial system.

 

Further analysis and ongoing stakeholder conversations are necessary to better understand the financial inclusion opportunities, drivers of consumer adoption, barriers and deterrents that need to be considered when creating financial services and economic opportunities for rural communities.

 

[1]. Central Bank of the Solomon Islands 2013 data

Where to Save

 

Where to save is a big question amongst the 80% of Solomon Islanders who live in rural areas or remote outer islands, where traditional banking is all but out of reach.

 

While mobile banking and digital financial services are providing emerging opportunities, the biggest challenge remains – How to conveniently deposit and withdraw ‘actual cash’ in the islands?

  • What ways do people ‘store value’ and ‘save’?
  • How do people secure cash?
  • Do savings clubs hold the answer?
  • What motivates people to actively save?
  • How could a well-designed financial product meet the saving needs, priorities and expectations of rural communities?

Getting Information

 

Agriculture, particularly copra, remains the backbone of the Solomon Islands.

The smallness and remoteness of the outer provinces has hindered economic development and opportunities in the Solomon Islands.

 

Distinct themes related to rural and remote community desired information and training include:

 

1. Business Diversification and Value Adding

Land ownership and title along with supply capacity constraints that impact export volume make the Solomon Island Smallholder Farmers price takers rather than price setters.

 

Desired information:

  • Information on niche crops (such as Organic or Coconut Oil) or diversification with cash crops (Taro or Root Vegetables) or
  • Information on alternate industries (such as Honey)
  • Information on Biofuel
  • Information on HydroElectricity

 

2. Understanding the Market

Remoteness results in high distribution and marketing costs, market access challenges and increased transport costs from rural communities to Honiara (domestic markets) or from Honiara (export markets).

 

Desired information:

  • Improved knowledge of domestic market requirements
  • Greater access to market price to successfully navigate volatility
  • Greater understanding of process and product preparation for export
  • Improved technical capacity to overcome trade barriers, including export and quarantine standards

 

3. Financial Capability Development

Specific topics related to consumer financial awareness and capability development included:

 

Desired information:

 

  • How Mobile Banking works beyond Bank promotions (unbanked have reported that they do not know enough about these services to be convinced to join up)
  • What to do if you have a concern or complaint with a Bank
  • How to keep better records (Copra Buyers / Canteen Operators)
  • How community & church funds should be managed and recorded to ensure transparency
  • How to spot fraudsters
  • How to access loans
  • How savings clubs should operate
  • What can be done if those hiring labourers do not pay as promised (both individuals and community based projects like road development)

ADB & Good Return, in partnership with the University of the South Pacific,

so far has invested…

31 Calendar Days spent on the ground in rural communities*

33,522 Air miles traveled **

640 Passenger Ship sea miles

615 Km traveled by truck on Ulawa Island

141 Gallons fuel in outboard boats on Isabel Island

108 Walking hours

63 Villages covered

614 People engaged in the Quantitative Survey (Isabel & Ulawa)

95 People engaged in the In Context & Qualitative Research

111 Translation hours

5 Sampling Maps

* consolidated calendar days community saw people from this project
** including international air miles covered by the team

Good Return’s Approach

If we want to meet the needs of the people we are designing for, we have to understand them…

Unfortunately, standard techniques of inquiry rarely lead to truly innovative solutions.

 

Human Centered Design is all about building deep empathy with the people who you are designing for – gathering, analysing and applying information gleaned from time in the field- to engage in unusual collaborations, spark loads of ideas, co-create prototypes with the people you are designing for and rapidly evolve and fine tune those through real time interactions and testing.

HCD Requires…

Human Centred Design requires new and deeper level thinking to identifying the key determinants and critical deterrents of behaviour.

 

Sometimes people are so accustomed to current conditions that they don’t think to raise concerns or ask for a new solution – even if they have real needs that could be addressed in new ways.

 

Familiarity and habit tends to surrender us to inconvenience and resolution – to ‘work arounds’ that force us to forget we are actually behaving in a less-than-optimal way!

 

Good Return is serious about going into the environment of those who we are designing for in the course of normal everyday routines – learning through observing behaviours unanticipated usage patterns, triggers of behaviour and ‘work arounds'; listening to their voices and hearing their experiences, perceptions and expectations; and witnessing current or possible problems or barriers inherent in products or services that may be unacknowledged to date but holds opportunity for a solution – so as to get a host of information and insights that support the development of tailor made solutions to match their needs, priorities and preferences.

Reporting Back: Stakeholder Workshop

On 21st July 2015,  Good Return facilitated a stakeholder workshop to report back our findings from this project. It was terrific to have such a mix of stakeholders all in the same room, participation ranging from representatives from the National Financial Inclusion Taskforce, Mobile Network Operators, Agricultural Extension Officers through to farmers representing the Rural Communities, Researchers, Designers and Facilitators.

 

Deputy Governor of the Central Bank Mr Gane Simbe, gave a warm opening address, urging workshop participants to examine findings and use them to create innovative solutions relevant to the rural communities of the Solomon Islands. It was also exciting to see the 4 big ideas emerge from the workshop brainstorming and design activities, which the team at Good Return are busy documenting.

 

The video and Prezi presentation below shows an overview and some of the highlights from the day.