Delivering Mobile Aid to Rural Pakistan
Reboot helps UBL, Pakistan’s second-largest bank, improve the distribution of emergency relief funds to flood victims.
After a natural disaster, rural communities are often twice disadvantaged. Not only are physical infrastructure of rural areas more vulnerable to damage, but there is often a lack of financial infrastructure for delivering emergency relief funds directly to those that need them most. Creative solutions are needed to better connect disaster victims to sources of relief funding.
After the 2010 Indus River floods, UBL distributed over 2.3 million prepaid debit cards to Pakistani households that had lost their homes. While this was an innovative first step, UBL realized that there was substantial room for improvement. Among a population unaccustomed to banking, the intervention faced critical execution challenges. For example, flood victims that did not how to use ATM machines, which dispensed relief funds from the prepaid card, were forced to pay up to 20 percent of their allocated aid to opportunistic officials.
Reboot was brought in to evaluate and improve UBL’s emergency relief distribution and mobile banking systems, to ensure that aid quickly reached those most in need.
Moreover, for low-income individuals, having access to financial services is critical to leading secure, productive lives. Savings enable people to achieve financial stability, and credit allows them to access new opportunities. For poor and rural communities, however, these services are often unavailable, due to a lack of interest from financial institutions in providing them.
Branchless banking has the potential to address both these challenges: It can streamline access to aid relief and bring life-changing financial services to anyone with a mobile phone.
Nearly the entire Pakistani population—89 percent—lacks access to any financial service. Any project addressing the “unbanked”, then, must acknowledge and embrace the immense diversity of this population.
In order to understand Pakistan’s unbanked, our team conducted field research in towns and cities across Southern Punjab, speaking to nearly 300 individuals in the contexts where they live and work. Our team analyzed these interviews to gain a complete understanding of the population’s habits and attitudes toward financial services, and developed a series of user archetypes that highlighted common themes and behaviour patterns that a branchless banking service must cater to.
A branchless banking system utilizes local, third-party retailers—known as agents—as the primary sales and customer service representatives. We interviewed, ‘ghost-shopped’ with, and shadowed agents across the region to uncover habits and pain points to target for improvement.
Finally, our team embedded with employees and executives at UBL, in order to understand their visions, capacities, and constraints in developing a better branchless banking network.
Reboot produced a thorough picture of the financial ecosystem of consumers, agents, and service providers, and identified opportunities for improving adoption of UBL’s service.
We conducted extensive user experience research on UBL’s most recent emergency deployment, during the 2010 floods, to determine where the system had succeeded, and where it had faltered. In so doing, we explored all facets of the program, from the strategic, such as brand perceptions; to the practical, such as beneficiaries’ ability, or lack thereof, to rapidly withdraw cash. In addition to specific program improvements, we designed a new model for integrating emergency aid deployments into branchless banking systems, to the benefit of both.
We also discovered that UBL’s network of human agents, the primary delivery channel for its mobile banking services and the only channel accessible by the poor, was not optimized. These independent retailers acting as the bank’s cash-in and cash-out points were often the sole human touchpoint between customers and the bank, yet they were not seen as a marketing tool by the bank. As the first point of contact for poor and often illiterate customers, they were in a strong position to explain the security that banking services could bring to their lives. UBL applied our insights to create a new team of specialists for providing agents with increased coaching and support.
By illustrating how branchless banking services can be designed for low-income users, we helped turn a commendable but unsustainable corporate social responsibility initiative into a long-term business growth area. Our team worked closely with UBL executives and staff to integrate the lessons of this project throughout the company, and see branchless banking as a fluid, adaptable service, rather than a static product. The result? Banking became more relevant and accessible to Pakistan’s poor, and millions of people transformed from helpless victims reliant on aid to economically empowered customers with a stake in their futures.