Eighty-two percent of Chilean nationals report being internet users, a figure significantly above the region’s 72 percent average. According to the same report, 99 percent of Chileans that use social media, access social media via a cell phone. Despite the prevalence of digital tools and usage in Chile, many microentrepreneurs continue to use notebooks to track their income and expenses, rather than digital tools that can help them to manage their business , maintain business records, calculate profitability, and plan for the future. These manual behaviors persist and are difficult to change.
In this context, Fundación Banigualdad is a nonprofit organization that helps low-income microentrepreneurs access traditional financial services, giving them greater economic opportunity and equipping them to endure instability. In addition to issuing microloans, Banigualdad provides users with basic training in finance, marketing, sustainability, and business strategy. Today, the Fundación has just over 35,000 clients.
One of Fundación Banigualdad’s clients is Ms. Cecilia, who owns a small shop where she sells everyday items like food, cleaning supplies, and small gifts. While Cecilia knows when her shop is making money, she does not know what her actual profits are on a monthly or annual basis. This is because Cecilia and her husband track sales in several notebooks. When making a sale, they simply reach for the closest notebook and record the item and price sold. However, this process makes it very difficult to balance their accounts.
This process is typical of many informal microentrepreneurs around the world. While this casual approach to tracking income gets small business owners through the day-to-day, it can hold them back from building longer-term financial health. Without knowledge of their profits, it is hard to make effective, strategic long-term decisions and better prepare for unstable times. Moreover, without an accurate picture of profitability it is difficult for informal microentrepreneurs to begin the process of formalizing their business—which provides greater opportunities for access to credit and government subsidies.
Caption: Felipe Armijo from Organizame shows Cecilia how to use the app to digitize the record of her income and expenses.
Organizame is a Chilean fintech company that was founded to help formalized small businesses track their sales and expenses digitally and issue electronic invoices. The Organizame website helps digitize business functions like cash flow management, bill payment, and credit applications to help entrepreneurs consolidate business transactions and send electronic documents. In tracking sales and expenses, the application captures significant data on merchant revenue streams that entrepreneurs can use to formalize their businesses and financial service providers can also use to assess credit capacity and offer credit at better prices.
While the Organizame solution is helping many small businesses, informal MSMEs like Cecilia’s were not among their typical users. The team found that informal merchants don’t actively search for a digital solution and even when presented with one, are reluctant to adopt them given lack of access to computers, high costs, barriers in trust, digital literacy, and knowhow. In sum, the team realized that the original Organizame solution was not suited to the needs of shopkeepers who are accustomed to using a notebook.
Organizame’s interest to meet the needs of informal microentrepreneurs and Banigualdad’s commitment to helping their clients run their businesses more effectively, brought these two organizations together for this partnership.
During the customer research phase, the organizations found the target segment not only needed a tool to help them reconcile their finances at the end of the month, but also needed support in analyzing and developing new business opportunities, setting and sticking to goals, and keeping their family and business expenses separate.
The Banigualdad and Organizame teams saw an opportunity to influence the record-keeping behavior of informal microentrepreneurs by helping them to separate family and business expenses, understand the importance of tracking income and expenses, calculate their business results, and monitor their accounts receivable.
Accion worked with Organizame to tailor their online business management tool to better serve Banigualdad’s informal, low-income clients. The app influences the user’s financial capabilities through several means:
Caption: Organizame’s app gives microentrepreneurs a view of their overall month-end finances.
- An app-based tool that enables MSMEs to digitize their business operations. While most microentrepreneurs in Chile do not have a computer, they have smartphones that they actively use for personal purposes, and to reach their customers and suppliers. Organizame, Banigualdad, and Accion decided to leverage that existing usage to develop a mobile application that would enable MSMEs to track their sales and expenses, and even issue electronic invoices — a first step to business formalization. The app consolidates their business transactions and automatically calculates monthly profits.
- In-app notifications that provide reminders and advice to ensure the tool is being used effectively. The app sends notifications and reminders to users at least once a week to remind them to keep track of their business transaction data in the app. In addition, the app monitors any inputted accounts receivable, and sends the user notifications when they come due. The app also sends reminders with key pieces of advice, such as keeping your family and business accounts separate.
Caption: The app’s gamified tutorials encourage and incentivize microentrepreneurs to record their daily transactions.
- Gamified tutorials that make learning how to record transactions digitally engaging and fun. Research has shown that simply educating entrepreneurs about the benefits of digital tracking is not effective in changing their behavior, but gamification of experiences can be more effective. The project team developed a gamified tutorial for microentrepreneurs to play within the application to encourage and incentivize them to register their daily sales and expenses in the platform. Immediately after downloading the application, users are introduced to a game that simulates a small fictional business. The user earns points as they complete tasks that help them learn how to use the app, like tracking the fictional business’ income and expenses. As users gain points, they can improve the virtual business. The game walks users through how to log sales by customer and how to keep track of what they owe their suppliers or what is owed to them.
The Organizame app was launched in April 2021 and five months after launch, it has been downloaded 1,660 times and 543 users have completed the gamified tutorials. To measure the impact of the tool on overall well-being of the users, we surveyed a sub-segment of clients prior to the launch of the tool, and again three months later to assess their overall feelings of well-being, ability to manage their business, and ability to manage debt.
Among the 554 merchants that responded to the survey, 44 percent downloaded the application and among those who have the application, 33 percent have begun registering their sales into the platform. The following findings compare the financial well-being of those that have downloaded and are using the application with those who have not downloaded the application. The second group does not serve as a perfect control group because the team targeted more mature businesses to pilot app, suggesting that impact may be overestimated.
Customer Spotlight: Rosita Corrotea
Rosita Corrotea is an entrepreneur from Coquimbo city in northern Chile who sells homemade cakes for birthdays and events. Her business is informal and she has been a Banigualdad client for almost four years. She knows how her business is going by the number of orders she receives but, before using the Organizame app, she didn’t really know how much money she earned per month. With the app, she can keep track of what she sells and what she spends on her business, and can calculate profits at the end of the month. Rosita has always been a person who likes to learn new things and found that using Organizame was very easy. She followed the tutorials and says that, “the application itself teaches her how to use it, it is easy to follow the instructions.”
Results of the survey show that overall feelings of well-being improved for both those that used the Organizame app, as well as those who did not, which may reflect that microentrepreneurs across Chile are slowly beginning to recover from the ravages of the pandemic. However, users of the platform reported a 17 percentage point increase in their satisfaction with their financial situation, while those that did not use the platform only reported a 5 percentage point increase.
Across all measures, users of the app noted an improved ability to manage their business when compared with those that did not use the application. Prior to use of the app, approximately 50 percent of merchants reported feeling their businesses were progressing well. Among those who used the app, that group grew by 16 percent whereas it stayed around 50 percent among those who didn’t access the app, suggested that those who used the app were more likely to report positive feelings about their businesses.
All businesses reported being better able to pay themselves a salary at the end of every month, but the change was greatest among those who registered for the app as compared with those who never registered for the app. Similarly, the number of merchants who reported that their businesses grew in the last year increased in all groups. But while that proportion only grew by 5 percent in the non-app group, it grew by 13 percent among merchants who used the Organizame app.
Finally, users of the app were also less likely to confuse their personal and business funds. While the group without the app reported a 3 percent decline in ‘mixing their business and personal expenses’ (perhaps an effect of the assessment process), the group using the application reported a 12 percent decline, suggesting the effectiveness of the application in helping people track their business and personal funds separately but also a slight overall trend in better organization of funds across both the control and user group.
The primary objective of the Organizame application was to change microentrepreneur’s business record-keeping behaviors to help them better manage and grow their businesses. Results from the survey found that even for those using the application actively, a notebook continues to be the primary tool for monitoring and tracking daily income and expenses. However, both groups did report an increase in their use of digital tools when managing their businesses — likely a result of changing digital behaviors during the pandemic. Not surprisingly, those that started using the app to monitor their finances reported a 24 percentage-point increase in their use of applications and computers when monitoring their expenses. The group without the app saw a 15 percent increase in the use of applications and computers. It will be critical for the Organizame team to continue
to find ways to motivate and incentivize users to continue recording their transactions digitally, as lasting behavior change takes time.
Savings and long-term planning
Usage of the Organizame application is also correlated with greater resilience. The proportion of users of the app who reported that they could survive less than three weeks with their current savings decreased by 17 percent over the treatment period. In contrast, that proportion stayed more stable among those who didn’t use the app.
Overall, Organizame’s app seems to help microentrepreneurs gain greater control over their expenses and even helps them to prepare for months of low sales — a critically important task for them to stay resilient in uncertain times. The Organizame solution provides low-income entrepreneurs with better insights into their finances, organizes their operations, and helps them make more informed decisions to grow their businesses and re-invest in their households.
While the app has had some preliminary benefits, there is still room for improvement. Usage data shows that only 28 percent of users are inputting their sales into the app regularly (seven times a month or more). Others are consolidating their daily sales and inputting their expenses into the app at various points within the month. The notebook continues to be the most prevalent method of record keeping. Through user research, we found that it is onerous for microentrepreneurs to record every single transaction separately in a digital app, as they may sell a high volume of low-price items each day, which are easier to note down in a notebook and transfer to the digital app in batches a few times each month.