In the context of an increasing thrust on digital financial inclusion in India, this study examines the role of human touch points in assisting clients from low-income households in transitioning to digital financial services.
With policy makers and financial service providers are energetically pursuing digitization of financial services, India is at the cusp of a digital financial revolution. Yet, for certain segments of lower income household groups, going digital presents a series of challenges. According to the Financial Inclusion Insights Survey 2015, 45% of urban Indians and 51% of rural Indians have low levels of digital literacy. In this context, for financial service providers presenting entirely digital products like mobile wallets, online loans and mobile banking applications, it is an arduous task to transition users from cash-based to digital modes. Given the several pros and cons of deploying human touch in digital financial services, it is important for service providers to tread cautiously and arrive at an optimal mix of human-centric and technology-enabled digital financial solutions. This study, initiated as part of the CFI Fellows Program, will examine the various human touch points available in the context of digital financial inclusion in India.
The study aims to answer two broad questions – (i) the different human touch points of digital financial services available in India for the poor and (ii) the key challenges and opportunities for financial service providers in building effective human touch that is both sustainable and successful in transitioning the lower end customers from manual to digital modes of transaction. A supply-side assessment was conducted through interviews and field surveys with top management officials at financial entities, branch managers who deploy last mile agents, and last mile agents themselves. To capture a representative sample, the study examined a range of financial service providers of savings, credit, and payments products to primarily lower income households as well as the diverse channels of last mile agents they use.
Findings from the study suggest that “last mile consumers” in India are not yet ready to transition to digital financial platforms, primarily due to lack of awareness, low digital literacy, lack of access to smartphones and Internet, and infrastructure barriers. Agents play a critical role on behalf of financial service providers (FSPs), especially in facilitating transactions, who are otherwise unable to reach their last mile customers. Agents also play an important role in transitioning customers to digital platforms by encouraging customers to gain knowledge and comfort with the uses and potential of digital finance platforms. Moreover, properly-trained and informed agents are more effective at educating customers, which is essential in helping them reap the benefits of a shift to digital platforms.
Findings from this study provide insights into how financial service providers can design their last-mile strategies as well as improve the experiences of agents who are onboarding first time users of technology. The study throws light on the potential of agents to drive digital adoption and use given their unique position and role in the financial system. It also identifies the gaps in the current state of practice that hinder customer transition to digital financial services and active use of such services.