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Designing for Bharat: Going beyond Access towards Adoption of Digital Financial Services

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

In 1998, astute interpreters of economic history and self-described provocateurs[1] Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore wrote the HBR article[2] that drew all eyes to the impending phenomenon of ‘the experience economy’- a natural successor to businesses progressively customising services to the extent of individualisation. A namesake book arrived a year later and the idea that experiences are the new drivers of economic value creation caught fire with business innovators and tech entrepreneurs in the developed world. Over the past two decades, Gilmore and Pine II have elaborated their thesis and explained the coming of the next phase of the experience economy- transformations[3]. The transformation economy, as it is currently understood, happens when businesses provide services, products and experiences that render economic value from the creation of meaningful customer experiences. These experiences go beyond successful fulfilment of immediate wants and affect their users in a way that changes their behaviour and improves their lives. They trigger reflection and integrate into the life of the user over time. Today in India, the digital financial services (DFS) ecosystem is at the cusp of bringing similar transformative change to the financial lives of the people of Bharat. The Bharat segment is a population of over 600 million Indians who lack access to the full range of formal financial services which meet their financial needs, generate wealth and maximise the overall potential of their money[4]. Although there are remarkable variations in the socio-economic lives of those counted in this segment, the people of Bharat are similar in that they depend on informal finance (mostly debt), prefer cash, are wary of formal financial institutions, lack key knowledge of formal financial services and have limited, albeit fast increasing, digital exposure. The growing DFS landscape in India has the potential to reach the Bharat segment, alleviate the handicaps of traditional banking and transform personal financial management up until the last mile. This transformation can be actualised only with the right mix of technology and design. Technology is critical to need appropriate and seamless delivery of DFS without extraordinary costs to customers or providers. India has strong pillars of technology such as secure payment systems, integrated APIs, authentication technologies, affordable and accessible internet, that can enable this. With growing smartphone usage, tools for financial management and wealth can now potentially exist in every person’s purse and pocket. However, availability is not the same adoption or acceptance. The Bharat customer is often unfamiliar with formal finance and lacks confidence in navigating smartphone based DFS. Many lack the primary mental models and skills necessary for optimum financial decision-making. More contend with pre-existing biases against reliability of mobile technology and intentions of providers. While technology is enabling access and availability of digital financial services, sharp and customer centric UX design can bridge the gaps in acceptance and adoption. Thus, technology and design together can create transformative experiences for skeptical and/or inexperienced users. According to ISO 9241/210, UX be defined as a “person’s perceptions and responses resulting from the use and/or anticipated use of a product, system or service”. Simply put, UX design is the meticulous science and art of creating user experiences that grab the intended user and consume their interest. While there are various heuristics to creating engaging UX design[5], a fundamental tenet is to identify the top psychological needs of the user with respect to a product (a DFS app in this case) and design UX to directly appeal to those needs. UX design must go beyond instant gratification. More so, when the product in question concerns the users’ financial lives; even more so, when it is about the precarious financial lives of the people of Bharat. UX design needs to be benevolent. It needs to hand-hold users, educate and empower them, build their confidence, and take them towards cultivating healthy, long-term financial habits. Without manifest focus on behaviour change, DFS apps will fail to deliver the transformative promise of formal, digital financial services to the people of Bharat. Informed UX design, tailored to the life contexts, personas, goals and aspirations and customer journeys of the people of Bharat, can prime users to absorb necessary information, allay their insecurities, shift their perspective on the relevance of DFS, and ultimately help them reimagine their relationship with formal financial services. Designing for Bharat is poised to be a complex challenge, but the potential difference it can make to the financial lives of over 600 million people is a goal worth striving for.

Designing for Bharat is an attempt by the Bharat Inclusion Initiative to develop and share insights on UX design that is contextualised to the People of Bharat with an objective to aid the founders, product managers and designers who are Building for Bharat.

About Bharat Inclusion Initiative (BII): Bharat Inclusion Initiative (BII) is an incubator platform at CIIE.CO that provides entrepreneurs the domain knowledge, training, financial support, mentorship, and market access they need to bring inclusive, for profit-business to life. BII’s core design is to promote technology-driven entrepreneurship towards the delivery of affordable services to the “Bharat Segment- the poorest 200 million households in India who survive on less than $5 per person a day” through programs, fellowships, and funding where possible. The program focuses on solutions leveraging technology, especially the India Stack. It integrates financial inclusion research with entrepreneurship and training to transform these solutions into scalable, viable and high impact businesses. We are keen on partnering with entrepreneurs who are driven by building next-generation digital services for India. Reach out to us at or ask your questions in the comments section below.

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