Warm Customer Engagement for Digital Financial Services

Archive: June 2015

Texting People Out of Poverty

June 25, 2015

Posted by Dante Cassanego

Written by Laura Shin

Carmen Hernandez, 34, lives in Dallas with her husband and five children. Her husband works in construction, earning about $50,000 a year. Hernandez makes party decorations and tailors clothing, making $800 to $1,000 a month.

In February 2014, the family only had $300 in savings. That month, Hernandez began using a program called Juntos that sends text messages to her mobile, a basic cell phone.

Pati_phone_2 (1)The texts would ask her things like, “Do you want to save more?” If the answer was yes, she would respond with an amount, which would be deposited into her savings account. Or, they might ask if she had an emergency and remind her that she could use her savings. Or, they might just encourage her to continue saving.

A year later, the family savings was closing in on $5,000.

“All the messages they send really help me,” said Hernandez, with her 14-year-old son acting as translator. “If I didn’t use it, I would save less.”

The San Carlos, California-based company behind the program, Juntos, promotes financial inclusion and helps first-time bank account holders, or the “newly banked,” to manage their money. “Our hope is to increase active client rates and active balances in accounts,” said Katie Nienow, cofounder and vice-president of business development.

The company got its start in 2009 at the Institute of Design at Stanford, when a student named Ben Knelman (now CEO) created a simple app to help the school janitors. Initially, a janitor named Karina laughed at the idea that she could save on her $21,000 salary. But a year later, she had saved $2,000 by using the app. Juntos went on to win the innovation award for financial inclusion at the 2012 G20 summit in Mexico City.

In a pilot study in Colombia, participants working with Juntos ended up with 50 percent higher balances than the control group. Many users, who already feel connected to their phones—one referred to hers as her baby—end up feeling such a personal connection to the app that they respond with messages like, “I just want to thank you for your help. Your motivation has been very useful.”

The company now has 200,000 users, obtained through partner financial institutions, in Colombia, Mexico and Tanzania. A team of writers with backgrounds from psychology to design use behavioral economics and on-the-ground research to customize each version to the dialect and culture of that country. Juntos also has a version for users in the United States, which is targeted at recent immigrants who are new to the banking system.

“In recent years, innovations like branchless banking, mobile banking and mobile money have meant that banking services could be provided to the poor at cheaper cost, so access to financial services was becoming a reality for the poor,” said Nienow. But while banks have an easy time getting people to open accounts, customers often immediately let their accounts fall dormant, or unused. Dormancy rates for the newly banked range from 40 to 90 percent around the world.

People who don’t have active accounts may engage in behaviors that put their money at risk. They may keep cash at home, where it might get stolen. Or they may use risky or difficult-to-liquidate informal savings vehicles, such as asking a family member to hold their cash or buying inventory for their small business.

“When the poor have their money weighing too heavily on their minds, they’re not able to give their mind to other things with their full presence, which has implications for their job performance and their future earning potential,” said Nienow, citing studies that showed that people perform less well on IQ tests when money is scarce.

Dormant accounts also cost the banks, which spend time and money to develop, advertise and maintain them. That makes Juntos and financial institutions natural partners: the banks have customers that Juntos can target for financial inclusion, and Juntos can help banks lower dormancy rates.

After enrollment, which may or may not be automatic, depending upon the institution, a user receives a note from Juntos explaining that the service acts as a free financial coach. The company will try several different texts to see what gets the person to write back, then refine its algorithms based on the responses it receives. “We’re constantly testing different messages to see what resonates the best,” said Nienow.

Once a customer replies, Juntos will ask her if she’s interested in a particular aspect of the account. For instance, if she gets free health insurance for maintaining a certain balance, the company will send reminders of that.

Antonique Koning, a financial sector specialist at The Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), says that Juntos’s use of algorithms to analyze big volumes of customer data and continually update responses is innovative among organizations tackling financial inclusion. She feels that the Juntos platform helps people to believe in their banks.

“Providers need to become much more focused on the customers, better understand the customers’ realities, needs and preferences, and develop solutions that help,” she said. “People don’t trust the financial system because the system doesn’t speak their language.”


Originally published here on the Impact Journalism Day website. 

The idea behind Impact Journalism Day is to show that the media can also fulfill their role by reporting on inspiring solutions to the world’s problems.

Juntos takes innovative customer engagement platform to Africa through partnership with Tigo Tanzania

June 4, 2015

Posted by Dante Cassanego

SAN CARLOS, Calif. and DAR ES SALAAM, (June 4th, 2015)—
Juntos today announced their partnership Juntos partners with Tigo Pesa (1)with mobile money provider company Tigo Pesa in Tanzania, to provide new account support to Tigo Pesa customers through the Juntos innovative engagement platform. The partnership is the first step on a plan to expand the Juntos platform to markets throughout Africa.

“Tigo Pesa has established itself as one of Africa’s leading mobile money services and proved to be the ideal partner for our debut in Africa,” said Ben Knelman, CEO and co-founder of Juntos. “Through this partnership, Juntos is looking to help Tigo establish long-lasting relationships with its customers, increasing levels of usage in newly opened accounts and loyalty among current users.”

“We are excited to partner with Juntos on this digital innovation, piloting this free service for our customers”, said Ruan Swanepoel, head of Tigo Pesa.

Juntos designs mobile personal financial management tools that empower newly banked individuals to develop new financial habits and build confidence in their financial lives. These tools are designed by experts in financial behavior change and user-centric design and are delivered to users via a mass customized, automated, two-way SMS conversation. Juntos continues to demonstrate success: in a partnership in Colombia, the Juntos group had a 33 percent higher active client rate compared to the control.

“Omidyar Network is extremely proud of supporting Juntos’ journey in enhancing engagement of mobile money users across Latin America and now in Africa”, said Arjuna Costa, investment partner at Omidyar Network. “Juntos technology is addressing the last mile in the financial inclusion effort, which is really helping consumers to better engage with providers and take advantage of financial products to improve their lives.”

Tigo Tanzania is among the most forward-looking providers in Africa, becoming the first telecom to offer international money transfers with currency conversion and the first to offer free Facebook in Kiswahili. Africa has been at the forefront of financial inclusion through mobile money; there are 146 million registered mobile money accounts in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, only 61.9 million of those are active. In late 2013, the government of Tanzania pledged to increase the level of Tanzanian adults with formal access to financial services to 75 percent in the next six years.

The expansion of Juntos to Africa has been made possible through a recent round of investments closed in June of last year. Juntos raised US$3 million in its Series A financing round led by Aligned Partners and Omidyar Network.



About Juntos:

Juntos is a Silicon Valley tech company designing financial tools that drive engagement and usage of financial services among the newly banked. For more information, visit For media inquiries, please contact


About Tigo:

Tigo is Tanzania’s leading innovative digital lifestyle company. For further information visit or contact John Wanyancha, Corporate Communications Manager, at

How Can Communicators Better Engage an Audience on Mobile?

June 3, 2015

Posted by Dante Cassanego

“Mobile commands 24 percent of time spent with media but accounts for only 8 percent of advertising dollars spent.” A great article (below) by Geoffrey Colon brought attention to this fact. Which leads to the question, how can communicators better engage an audience on mobile? We believe the answer is not better marketing, but better design. To simply add more marketing to the wealth of communications that is already out there creates more noise. As Colon points out, “the fragmentation of attention due to an abundance of information only causes a domino effect.” Human centered design helps your audience cut through the noise, because you are offering them a product which sees and then meets their needs within social and cultural contexts. JUNTOS helps financial service providers deeply engage with their users on mobile. By using human-centered design to talk with users and identify their needs and wants, we can answer questions before users even realize they have them. That cuts through the noise.



The Biggest Takeaway from Mary Meeker: When Information’s Cheap, Attention’s Expensive 

by Geoffrey Colon

The most important insight I saw released in Mary Meeker’s 2015 Internet Trends Report is the following: “Mobile Internet use is growing faster than Internet usage in general: There are 2.8 billion Internet users, up 8 percent from 2014, and 2.1 billion mobile Internet users, an increase of 23 percent.”

This is a monstrous amount of transformational growth from big box desktops to slender laptops into a world of “tiny screens.” Much of our ecosystem is moving into this matrixed world at a blistering rate based on this other nugget insight: “The mobile ad industry is still short $25 billion. Mobile commands 24 percent of time spent with media but accounts for only 8 percent of ad dollars spent.”

What this means is there are a lot of communicators out there who still haven’t figured out how to engage an audience on mobile. The data shows it. Only 8 percent of advertising dollars are allocated to mobile experiences. Much of this might be because we’re treating communications like communications from the desktop era which was a replicant of the print world rather than the way it should be treated: as part of the modern world of design. Communications today is more about design than it is about marketing. If you really want to be successful in the 21st Century you will realize as a communicator, a marketer or a storyteller that you are now part of what is called, “The Creative Persuasion Economy.”

You will hear a lot about this term in the next two years. Why? Because it is reported that 30% of global jobs contribute to this area of GDP. That means there are a lot of people paid to persuade others to do something, make some sort of decision, take some sort of action, buy some sort of product.

The way to do this on mobile is not through more text or hard-to-read case studies. It’s not even through display banner ads. The way to approach this issue on mobile is through a mobile by design strategy which incorporates a 360 action plan that looks like this:

  • social by design conversation that includes a heavy entrenchment in social customer relationship management. Most brands think consumers pick their product on price alone. But social data suggests customers look more at customer service issues as a reason to get rid of a product and/or service.
  • content creation that inspires others to create their own user-generated content in response to your point of view. Your PR team can’t do it all nor should they. Communications design is all about how to incite your desired audience to take action and do the legwork of talking about you. Good modern communicators don’t have to say much because in a mobile first world, that information will be shared and distributed quickly as long as you can draw attention in a positive manner to your cause. Day-to-day work of modern communications designers is planning for what these experiences will look, sound and feel like.
  • on demand media creation and distribution. Don’t decide for your audience. Let them decide for you by offering them a diverse selection of video, audio, photographic and text formats that can be chosen based on their personal preferences.
  • using social data and paid social to generate awareness or “attention” while using paid search and organic search to capture customer intent. Social and search aren’t opposing forces. They are integrated accomplices. You shouldn’t just be running Facebook or Twitter campaigns without running Adwords or Bing Ads campaigns in tandem.

But before you jump up to begin designing those four areas noted, take one step back and start by answering this simple question my small scrum team at Microsoft always asks prior to designing any communications in an attention-stressed world:

  • How will the person we are trying to connect with engage with us on various networks and platforms if they only do it from a mobile handset?

Think about this and act on it for one week if you are more of a person locked to your desk with a big monitor. Go to work and do most of your consumption and sharing of media and experiences strictly on your iPhone, Android phone or Windows phone. Do you run into experiences on mobile that frustrate you? Are there opportunities to try to engage with those content creators in all areas of media or do they only operate on an owned environment like their website?

Modern design thinking is rooted in the human experience. The day and age of “build it and they will come” is a ticket to go find another calling in life. That strategy no longer works due to the fact that the world we live in currently and moving forward will be one of abundance. There will be abundant access to cash or business finance (though it’s not evenly distributed at this point in time), abundant technology (although this is not evenly distributed either) and of course, the issue we use design to solve for which is a world of abundant information (look at that glass device in your hands and think to yourself how it can answer any question via a search engine. Well, with the exception of the most complex issues).

This fragmentation of attention due to an abundance of information only causes a domino effect. The more information and devices, the more distraction. The more confusion, the more communications that are pushed to help alleviate the issue. The additional communications only causes more noise and frustration amongst your desired audience. Helping your audience by providing them with the most legitimate insights, solutions, services or superior products is a way to cut through that noise.

Communications infused with design is the solution.

Geoffrey Colon is a Communications Designer and Social Data Expert at Microsoft. Follow Geoff on Twitter or on LinkedIn for a group conversation around the intersection of communications design, technology and human behavior. 

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