Digital financial services toolkit for financial institutions

What are the greatest challenges facing financial institutions today?

The 2016 Banana Skins report by The Center for the Study of Financial Innovation (CSFI) and Accion’s Center for Financial Inclusion confirms what we at Accion regularly encounter as we support financial institutions across the world: “…the biggest risks facing the industry today stem from the need to change and adapt relatively quickly in order to keep up with the fast-paced digital financial services now available in the market and growing every day. This [requires] significant process changes: delivery channels, technology, more innovative products and services more tailored to clients’ needs.”

Equipping financial institutions to face DFS challenges

Following a methodical process to address these challenges at each step greatly enhances an organization’s chances of success. However, we often see organizations fall into one of two camps, as described by another respondent in CSFI’s Banana Skins: “One is the risk that service providers will lack the resources or expertise to take advantage of new technology, and may become sidelined as a result. The other is the hype factor: institutions rushing to adopt technology for the sake of keeping up with innovation, without considering how much it really benefits clients.” More often than not, as industry experts point out, financial institutions rush to match the competition and roll out services they have not properly planned for, or lack the capacity to operate profitably: “Roll-out of new technologies and channels would be increasingly well-executed if management teams and boards understood the ins and outs of the business models. Many institutions… are having to learn on the fly.”

Accion DFS toolkit for financial institutions overiew

Accion resources for financial institutions

The importance of these issues drove Accion to provide guidance that could help our portfolio companies, network partners, and others navigate these challenges with confidence, rather than learn on the fly. Our DFS Toolkit for Financial Institutions is built off the decades of experience of our Digital Solutions team, which offers direct support to financial institutions to plan, pilot, roll-out, and operate scalable and effective digital delivery channels for increasing the reach of financial services.

The Accion DFS Toolkit provides guidance to financial institutions to design and implement channels such as mobile banking, mobile point of sale, agent banking and other forms of branchless banking. The graphic above describes the key steps in the DFS Toolkit for Financial Institutions, from initial feasibility assessment to strategy and project planning, business case development, and implementation – from piloting to full-scale rollout and ongoing channel management – with regular risk assessment underlying the entire process. Embedded within the Toolkit are best practices, key activities, tools, and components that should be in place to allow digital financial services to thrive and scale. The approach is not prescriptive; rather, it is designed to help organizations remain agile, facilitating continuous improvements as monitoring and evaluation insights inform necessary adjustments.

We developed the Accion DFS Toolkit for Financial Institutions as a set of open resources that we hope can benefit not only our advisory clients but any financial institution working to advance financial inclusion. These resources provide a practical starting point to address some of the challenges financial service providers face when planning and implementing new channels for digital financial services. You can access a description of the DFS Toolkit for Financial Institutions, with supporting tools available for download.

The resources in our DFS Toolkit for Financial Institutions include

Methodology Rollout Approach: provides an overview of the DFS Toolkit methodology and description of the activities to be completed in each phase.

Draft Project Charter: template to document initial project planning and begin to outline objectives, budget, roles and responsibilities, etc. to ensure internal alignment and cross-departmental buy-in.


Internal Analysis: guidance tool to help a financial institution review the readiness of its existing infrastructure (policies, technology and business operations) to support the new channel, outline the required additions or changes to that infrastructure to successfully launch the channel, and assess the stakeholder buy-in and existing human resources capacity (availability and know-how) to support the different aspects of implementing and launching the channel.

External Analysis: guidance tool for the analysis of the regulatory, technological, competitive, and collaborative opportunities, as well as demographic and cultural factors that will help drive the adoption of the target channels.


Channel Diagnosis Framework: guidance tool to facilitate assessment and diagnosis of existing digital channels and understand how a proposed new channel will complement current offerings.


High-Level Business Case: Excel template helps financial institutions conduct a cost/benefit analysis of channels being planned. The purpose of this document is to help obtain board approval to proceed to the next step, to build a detailed business case and plan for piloting and implementation.


Overview Feasibility Study Findings: template to summarize activities completed in the feasibility study phase of potential new DFS channel deployment or channel enhancement, to be used to present results and provide recommendations to senior management or the Board.


Go/How-to-Go Decision Tool: template to summarize high-level results of the feasibility study and evaluate recommendations to make “go/no go” and “how to go” decisions regarding a potential new channel deployment.


By sharing the best practices, tools, and guidelines we’ve developed, we hope to advance industry knowledge to facilitate future development and use of digital financial services. Over the coming months, we will continue to share tools and templates that we’ve found valuable for implementing digital financial services. Please share feedback of your experience using these tools; we welcome discussions on your digital financial services initiatives!

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