Warm Customer Engagement for Digital Financial Services

Archive: November 2014

Software Engineering, Legos and Car Cannons: An Interview with CTO and Co-Founder Dante Cassanego

November 28, 2014

Posted by Dante Cassanego

As Chief Technical Officer (CTO), Juntos Co-Founder Dante Cassanego feels his job is to be able to tell the rest of the team, “Yes, we can do that”–whatever “that” may be. We asked him to tell us more about why he loves being a software engineer. Our interview captured the commitments to creativity, big thinking and iterative design that are central to Juntos.

“To me, software engineering is like spending all day playing with Legos. I have a set of building blocks that I’m pretty familiar with–I know how they all fit together, I know how they work.

Each time I start a new project, in my mind or on a whiteboard, I draw a picture of the thing that I want to build and then I go about the task of building that thing, that picture that I want.

I particularly like software engineering as a discipline because it’s such a flexible engineering discipline. I’ll draw a metaphor that I use to help describe what I mean by that.

For types of engineering that have to do with the physical world, there are very important fundamental rules that you need to follow. For example, let’s say there’s a river you need to cross. If you were a structural engineer, you would probably build a bridge, starting with the pylons and the structure from the bottom. You need to put some fundamental things in place, you’ve got to check these things and make sure they work.

But in software engineering, there are no rules like that. If you just want to cross the river–forget the bridge–you can start by getting a big car cannon and shooting cars across the river. You can just try things. And then you can later learn what is ‘necessary.’

So software engineering is this really fungible medium that allows you to just try things and then iteratively arrive at stronger and deeper solutions.”

The Challenge of Simplicity

November 14, 2014

Posted by Dante Cassanego

The spread of smartphones seems inexorable. Already, a quarter of the world’s population uses smartphones and eMarketer expects that share to increase to a third by 2017. There is a flip-side, however, which is often lost in all the buzz about smartphones. Even three years from now, half of mobile phone users worldwide will still be using simple phones.

Although we have developed a native Android application as part of the FinCapDev competition, our core product still relies on SMS messaging. We designed this core product that can turn any phone in the world into a financial coach because those with basic phones often lead complex financial lives.

When designing messages for this core product we are limited to 160 characters. As we have blogged about before, we employ a user-centric design process that is informed by preliminary user research. Since our process is iterative, however, we seek feedback from users not just at the beginning but throughout our process.

When we were drafting these messages for our initial deployment in Colombia, we tried to maximize each message by making them as close to 160 characters as we could. We wanted to provide our users with as much information as possible that would help them better understand their new mobile bank account.

When we watched a video of one of our users reading aloud these first messages, we were shocked. It took her over 20 seconds to read a single message. She read haltingly, painfully slow.

This feedback helped recenter us around the needs of our users who are often not only new to banking but also relatively new to mobile phones. We realized the truth contained in the quote from Blaise Pascal, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” Keeping our messages simple proved to be more of a challenge than maximizing 160 characters. However, simple proved to be effective. Those who received messages from Juntos were much more likely to have active accounts and saw a significant increase in account balances compared to a control group.

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