Most of fintech startup Tienda Pago’s staff are very experienced with technology. Call center coordinator Rafael Urday Zea studied information technology in school; project coordinator Jose Luis Aldave worked on implementing technology in his previous job. But the clients they serve are not always as comfortable using tech. Tienda Pago, an Accion Venture Lab portfolio company working in Peru and Mexico, offers short-term financing to small store owners. They work through various product distributors so the shopkeepers can take deliveries — even when they don’t have cash on hand — and pay for the merchandise later in the week once they’ve had a chance to sell some of their products. During times when sales are slow, which many businesses have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, Tienda Pago’s platform has enabled mom-and-pop shops to stay open.
Like many fintechs operating in emerging markets, Tienda Pago does their best to keep their less-tech-savvy clients in mind, including offering customer support through a call center. When the COVID-19 pandemic spread to Lima, the call center became an essential communication tool for Tienda Pago staff to connect with their clients. The company expanded their call center and proactively reached out to clients to ensure that everyone felt comfortable using their digital platform. In his role overseeing the call center, Rafael takes pride in making tech accessible to all clients. “I like to be able to teach people who don’t have as much skill,” he says. “We have a lot of clients who are older, and they don’t have much experience in the financial system. At the same time, the distributors are often older themselves, and technology isn’t easy for them, so helping them over the phone and showing them that they can do this is satisfying.”
Maria Ramos Zamudio is a typical client. She’s raised five children and lived in different parts of Peru. She’s now located in Lima where she sells snacks and beverages from a tiny, rented space. She doesn’t have a bank account and hates to take out loans. But she’s managing well with her Tienda Pago account. “It’s easy,” she explains. “I have my code in my phone, they send me what I owe, get my code, and I go to the bank and pay.” Many Tienda Pago clients find it much more convenient and safer to use Tienda Pago’s phone-based tokens to manage payments. This way, they don’t have to take cash out in the street and risk robberies or loss. The ability to pay by phone has become even more critical during the pandemic as people avoid in-person interactions when possible.
Tienda Pago’s staff use more advanced technology themselves to communicate with colleagues in other cities across Peru and stay in touch while offices remain closed during the pandemic. They’re also relying on tech to manage client information and product offerings through the company’s propriety app. The app allows staff to quickly see where their clients are located, their lines of credit, how they’re paying, and which clients are in arrears. Staff can also see what kind of contact that their clients have received already — like training, relationship-building, and collection visits — so they’re better equipped to support their clients.
Tienda Pago was already prioritizing new technologies that are user-friendly for the clients and helpful for staff to gather more information before the pandemic. For example, says Rafael, “We’ve introduced a chatbot, which doesn’t require human interaction, and can give clients a solution automatically. Most people have a smartphone and an internet connection, so they can use it at any hour of the day.” As Rafael continues to discuss Tienda Pago’s technology, he gets at the heart of why social innovation is so important for serving low-income communities around the world — especially as these communities continue to face major challenges: “Without this technology, we wouldn’t be able to help them.”