Reflections on a Human Centered Design Exercise at the MicroLead Peer Learning Conference

  • April 20, 2017

  • Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

Interview with Amos Odero of The MasterCard Foundation

Amos Odero, Associate Programme Manager in the MasterCard Foundation’s Financial Inclusion Team, spoke to us about his experience with rapid prototyping at the MicroLead Peer Learning Conference. Here’s what he had to say:

The MicroLead Peer Learning Conference was my first chance to work with rapid prototyping, and it also was my first visit to a MicroLead partner learning event. The human-centered design (HCD) session gave a good mix of in-session theory on client-centric financial product design, discussions with practitioners, and then an opportunity to see first-hand the pain points encountered by customers while managing their money using available financial products.

During the conference, groups of participants were asked to come up with a product that would mobilize savings of low-income people. So we started working on a digital product for informal savings groups, inspiring them to save. We created dummy screens and mockups of our proposals. Then my group went to a Tanzania Post Bank (TPB Bank) branch to talk to clients, get to know their challenges, and have them look at our solution and collaboratively work with them to further develop the concept.

We went to the Temeke Post Bank branch in Dar es Salaam in the middle of the day. It was crazy hot inside and crowded with customers trying to get their complaints addressed by the staff. We found a family – a man with his wife and sleeping baby – and we unleashed our savings group mockups on them.

The man said, “A relative sent me money by Western Union two days ago. The first time I came to the bank, they told me the network was down. I came a second time, and it was too late, they were closing so they turned me away. I came today for the third time and the network is down again. I just want to get my money. This back and forth takes time out of my activities and is costly as I have to pay for public transport to get here.”

Our big learning was: What we thought was a problem in need of a solution, wasn’t a priority for this particular customer. He wasn’t uninspired to save – he wanted to stop wasting time at the bank. I think a lot of low-income clients just want a solution that can help them organize their lives to deal with day-to-day issues. Practitioners often have ideas about a product they think will address the problems of low-income or marginalized communities. But have they really identified the problem?

Right there at the Post Bank, we started developing a new product using rapid prototyping and drew new mockups with feedback from the client. The idea that came to us was, what if from your phone, you could get a notification that you received money? And then the phone gave you the capability to send the cash to you in the form of digital money, which you could then cash out from an agent at a time and place of your convenience, send to someone else or save on your mobile money e-wallet? The app could even provide a map showing the nearest agents you could cash out from. You wouldn’t have to come to a specific bank to cash out.

Connectivity is one of the issues in digital financial service (DFS) platforms in Tanzania. You go to the agent, but the network is down, and it wastes your time. Or some agents don’t have enough cash float. The ability to know an agent’s status (network and float status) ahead of time would be a huge timesaver for the client. And the client we spoke with was really interested. That was our “a-ha” moment.

I work for The MasterCard Foundation where we work with financial service providers who were represented by the other team members attending the event. As we leverage technology to create digital financial solutions, we shouldn’t lose this direct touch with clients. Sometimes, you might not even need a complex innovative idea; you just need to fix existing problems that have been overlooked. If the network isn’t working, or customer questions aren’t answered in a language clients understand and in a way that satisfies their concerns, you won’t get far, especially in the bottom-of-the-pyramid segment.

Lack of trust in the financial system is a barrier for low-income clients. Product design should help address this issue via a meaningful engagement with consumers. I think this is sometimes what’s lacking in product development with hard-to-reach segments that FSPs are struggling to make a business case out of serving.

My other takeaway from the Peer Learning Conference is there’s a need for a platform to bring stakeholders together in a way that they can share experiences and learnings. This is especially true for those from small organizations working with limited resources to bring financial services to the hard-to-reach and underserved segments, mostly poor, rural and women. That doesn’t seem to be happening organically enough because, at the end of the day, these FSPs are competitors or might not have a budget to understand and develop products for underserved segments.

The Foundation and aggregators such as the UNCDF still have a role to play to create these spaces and to involve the communities with which we work – to bring practitioners and different stakeholders to the table to share learnings and experiences – and to elevate the voice of the client. FSPs need to work with the client to develop solutions and realize client lifetime value.

Review the presentations from the Peer Learning Conference, including those on client-centered design, HERE.

About The MasterCard Foundation

The MasterCard Foundation works with visionary organizations to provide greater access to education, skills training and financial services for people living in poverty, primarily in Africa. As one of the largest private foundations, its work is guided by its mission to advance learning and promote financial inclusion to create an inclusive and equitable world. Based in Toronto, Canada, its independence was established by MasterCard when the Foundation was created in 2006. For more information and to sign up for the Foundation’s newsletter, please visit

Follow the Foundation at @MastercardFdn on Twitter.

About MicroLead

MicroLead is a UNCDF-managed global initiative challenging regulated FSPs to develop and roll-out deposit services which respond to the rural vacuum of services. With the generous support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The MasterCard Foundation and the LIFT Fund in Myanmar, MicroLead works with a variety of FSPs and technical service providers to reach rural markets, particularly women, with demand-driven, responsibly priced products offered via alternative delivery channels such as rural agents, mobile phones, roving agents, point of sales devices and group linkages. This is combined with financial education, so customers not only have access but can effectively use quality services.

Follow us on Twitter @UNCDFMicroLead