The World Bank estimates that about 2.5 billion people worldwide lack a formal bank account at a financial institution. In most of the countries where development organizations operate, the need for safe and affordable financial services is quite high. At the same time, mobile phone ownership continues to expand rapidly: Recent estimates by GSMA Intelligence put unique mobile phone subscriptions at more than 3.6 billion people globally. It is no wonder that articles in The Wall Street Journal and The Economist have recently proclaimed that mobiles offer a promising path for the world’s unbanked to gain financial inclusion.
More than 100 experts gathered at the Mondato Asia Summit last week in Singapore to discuss mobile financial services in emerging Asia. Participants heard from big names like Google, MasterCard, Visa, Discover, Amazon, MetLife, Uber, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, as well as from several companies that you may not have heard of yet but will likely soon, such as mHITS, a global mobile money remittance service, and Gatecoin, the first global digital currency exchange.
Speaker after speaker at the summit emphasized the importance of putting the customer first — commonly referred to as human-centered or user-centered design — in the development of any mobile financial service. It seems fairly self-evident that products should be designed based on what users want. Apple was touted as the gold standard for designing products based on an acute understanding of their customers’ wants, needs and aspirations. Yet, as anyone who has ever found themselves desperately trying to speak to a live person on a bank’s automated phone system knows, this is not always the case.