Four reasons focusing on financial capability is good business

Expanding financial capability benefits financial service providers and customers

If you’ve never used financial services in the past, you’re going to encounter a significant learning curve when you finally get access. That’s why more institutions are rolling out products to support first-time clients and equip them with actionable tips and tools to simplify their experience. These new services aren’t just good for customers, they’re good for business. By helping consumers attain the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors necessary to make sound financial decisions — what we call financial capability — customers can become more informed and engaged. In other words, they become better customers.

For any financial institution interested in increasing customer loyalty, building better financial capability is crucial.

As we work with MetLife Foundation to expand financial capability through customer-centered innovations, we’re excited about the potential benefits for both customers and institutions. Here are four reasons why helping clients build their financial capability is a win-win:

1. Financial capability drives active use of financial products

Products that help increase financial capability, drawing insight from behavioral science, can encourage customers to use products more often, which translates to higher profitability for providers and greater usefulness to customers.

Take the case of Ahorro a la Mano, a mobile savings product and e-wallet from Bancolombia, the largest bank in Colombia. The bank discovered that if a customer does not make a transaction within the first month of opening the account, she is unlikely to make a transaction at all. It decided to use “nudges” to remind users to put money into their savings.

Bancolombia worked with Juntos, a fintech company that specializes in data science and behavioral insights. Juntos developed a chatbot named “Emilia,”  that could point out opportunities to use the product and makes special offers to encourage transactions within the first month. Because they provide individually tailored messages in a friendly, personal voice, Emilia’s nudges and reminders build trust with clients, and they become more likely to act on her suggestions.

2. Customer loyalty increases

As customers use their products more frequently, they are likely to become more loyal. Most financial service providers’ balance sheets and product viability calculations do not figure long-term customer loyalty into their calculations, but customers that stick with a provider over time are important to business success.

In September 2017, BBVA launched Bconomy, a digital platform meant to add value to the customer experience by giving them a full picture of their financial health. Fueled by data analytics, the platform uses behavioral insights to encourage positive behavior. Clients can see an overall snapshot of their finances, turning their bank accounts into financial management hubs. The tool ensures that customers continue returning to the platform and rely on BBVA as their primary financial provider. To date, the platform has had over 2 million users per month.

 3. Capable customers use more products

Part of the accepted definition of financial capability is a person’s confidence in using a wide range of products to meet their financial needs. Savvy institutions that promote financial capability also build appropriate follow-on products for customers. Institutions that ignore this strategy may see their first-time customers move on to other providers as they become more comfortable with formal finance.

Acreimex, a savings and credit cooperative in Mexico, has incorporated savings into payroll loan repayments so that customers who opt in can save painlessly while they repay their loans. Savings discipline is a key attribute of financially capable people, and automated savings is a tool that assists people to stick to their best intentions. Acreimex built this option by combining its two most popular products. It merged its payroll loan and savings services by rounding up repayment installment amounts and automatically depositing the excess amount into clients’ savings.

The combination of products resulted in significant increases in savings activity and balances. An evaluation showed that participants made about twice as many deposits and saved 30 percent more than those who didn’t participate. Additionally, 96 percent of savers chose not to withdraw the balances from their accounts throughout a 12-month pilot. 

4. Investing in financial capability is more effective — and less expensive

Traditional, classroom-based financial instruction is costly. Features that build financial capability are often cheaper and more effective because they generate direct and longer lasting behavior change.

When researchers analyzed more than 200 individual impact studies on financial education, they found that only 0.1 percent of the observed positive changes in people that had attended classroom-based financial education programs could be attributed to the programs themselves.

On the other hand, impact evaluations of financial products that incorporate behavioral insights to nudge client behavior consistently find statistically significant positive impacts. For example, in a study with Banco ADOPEM, researchers tracked customers who attended either a traditional accounting-based financial education class or a class that, in keeping with behavioral insights, offered simple rules of thumb in accounting. Both classes aimed to assist customers to separate business and personal accounts. In the end, the customers who received the simplified rules of thumb displayed more positive business outcomes — they saw a 30 percent increase on average in the level of sales during weeks with typically low sales and saved an average of 6 percent more in personal savings.

More and more institutions are thoughtfully designing products and experiences that not only match their customers’ experiences and lives, but also consider their attitudes, skills, and behaviors. Financial institutions that invest in building up financial capability are likely ensuring they will have customers that are more active users of their products, that are loyal for longer, and that will use a wider variety of products.

We’ll continue to share insights on financial capability based on research conducted by Accion’s Global Advisory Services team and the Center for Financial Inclusion as part of our project on Building Financial Capabilities and Strengthening Institutions through Customer-Centered Innovations project, supported by MetLife Foundation.

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