Warm Customer Engagement for Digital Financial Services

Author: Dante Cassanego

The Power of Short SMS

January 23, 2015

Posted by Dante Cassanego

Constraints have the ability to “make us more than we were, rather than less than we could be.” A Beautiful Constraint , the new book by Mark Barden and Adam Morgan, calls our attention to this truth. Larry Page, one of Google’s founders, created the search engine’s home page with such simplicity because that was the extent of his coding abilities. However, that was what set Google apart from its cluttered competitors. They harnessed the power of their constraints and benefitted from it.

At Juntos, we took the limitations of a text message—160 characters—and turned it into an opportunity: a powerful personal financial tool. But based on further user research, we learned that even a 160 character message was too long. We watched a video of one of our users reading aloud these first messages and learned that it took them over 20 seconds to read aloud a single message. This feedback helped recenter us around the needs of our users. We then had the challenge of shortening our messages even further. However, shorter proved to be more effective (The Challenge of Simplicity). Accessible on any mobile phone via SMS, our products help families increase their savings and feel financial confidence and control. We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to reap the benefits that formal financial services offer, not just the wealthy. 89 percent of the developing world has an active SIM card, which makes SMS a reliable and effective delivery platform to mobile phone users all over the world. By working through a delivery channel that is accessible on any phone in the world — SMS, and recentering our design around what users need — shorter messages, we have developed a product with incredible results empowering users to change their financial habits. Constraints that at first appear limiting to product development have forced us to solutions that instead make us “more than we were.”

How A Text Message Can Help You Feel Different About Your Money #SpotlightOnChange

January 14, 2015

Posted by Dante Cassanego

A few months ago, American Express sponsored a documentary called Spent: Looking for Change, in order to help improve financial inclusion in the U.S. The movie has sparked a lot of encouraging dialogue around this issue. American Express also created short films in their Spotlight on Change series about companies involved in innovative solutions for financial inclusion. We are thrilled to be part of this series, and you can watch our video below.

People want to create a connection, and Juntos Finanzas helps consumers do that. Accessible on any mobile phone via SMS, Juntos works with families to increase their savings and financial confidence.

User-experience Design: The Link Between Design and Engineering

December 26, 2014

Posted by Dante Cassanego

This is a guest post written by Cristina Gorrino, who, as a user-experience designer, serves as the link between our design and engineering teams.

Things are always moving forward at Juntos. From our earliest attempts at creating our messages, the focus has been on iterative design based on feedback from our users . Although this philosophy extends across all parts of the company, the core remains with the development of our products. For us, this means a deep connection and collaboration between engineering and design.

On a weekly basis our designers set the course, detailing which new SMS experiences we want to test, and which existing ones need to be re-designed or removed. Their vision of how users will receive and interact with our text messages then gets queued up, ready to be integrated with our software.

In most cases, the new experience is scheduled to go live within a week. By the time it goes live, the design team will have the next iteration ready to be queued up and integrated. These quick iterations fed by the data we collect from our users are essential for finding the best way to talk with our users and to create content that engages them with information they can truly use.

To maintain agility in creating these experiences we’ve designed a process that does not require an enormous commitment of resources from our software engineers. Instead, they have built a highly flexible and configurable framework that can accommodate any design. My work as a user experience (UX) engineer consists of translating each design into this framework, and using the available building blocks to bring the designer’s vision to life.

The addition of an extra step in between design and engineering benefits both teams. The designers are free to create complex experiences and to run frequent tests without having to wait a long time for a finished product. And the software engineers are able to focus on keeping the framework working well and to develop new capabilities. If the data tells us that a set of messages doesn’t work, then we can remove them without feeling like resources were misspent.

Working within a flexible framework to continuously improve our products makes communication and connection between the teams essential. The point where a design reaches configuration is where all the “what if” questions get answered.  All the paths that the users can take through our messages get defined here, which often means several rounds of questions and comments back and forth between the UX engineer and the designer.

The idea is to create a product that is easy for the user to have a conversation with, so that the user’s responses will dynamically shape the experience they receive. Ultimately, it is the user who shapes our products and shows us the way to design the Juntos experience.  Their part in the feedback process gives us our cue to refine our products and gives us insight into new ideas we can explore.

Technology for Storytelling

December 12, 2014

Posted by Dante Cassanego

Storytelling is as old as language itself, but some people fear that storytelling is dying in the digital age. The argument that storytelling is becoming a lost art usually focuses on how technology has shrunk our attention span to the extent that we are now bored by any soundbite that cannot be summarized in 140 characters.

At Juntos, we believe that storytelling is actually one of the best applications of technology. The power of technology boils down to three things: 1) communication, 2) automation, and 3) scalability. Basically, technology allows you to connect with lots of people, over and over again. Despite being simple, those are really powerful tools when you’re trying to tell a story.

Many financial institutions use technology to try to tell their institution’s story to customers. What sets Juntos apart is that we offer our partner financial institutions technology that creates a space where customers can tell their own stories and feel that their financial institution is listening.

We do this through a messaging platform that takes advantage of technology’s strengths. Juntos facilitates communication with customers by allowing for SMS conversations that are personalized and two-way. Thanks to automation, our partners can do this type of high-touch customer engagement on a large scale for low cost compared to alternatives.

Our use of technology to enable customers to tell their own stories to their financial institutions helps our partners better meet the wants of their customers. A recent survey by the CGI Group indicated that a majority of financial consumers want their financial institutions to “see me as a person,” “provide me with wealth-building advice,” and “tell me what I am spending money on and how I can save.”

By creating a space where customers can tell their stories and feel that their financial institution is listening, Juntos helps our partners’ customers feel seen, feel known as a person. What’s more, because Juntos allows for a two-way conversation, we help our partners to provide personalized advice, even to their low-income customers.

Just as old as storytelling is the human desire to have our stories validated. At Juntos, we use technology to provide our partner financial institutions with a powerful new way to meet this age-old need.

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.

The Cost of Counting the Cost

October 31, 2014

Posted by Dante Cassanego

This is a guest post written by Kent Blake who interned with our engineering team during the summer of 2014.

Congressman Pat Schroeder once said “You can’t wring your hands and roll up your sleeves at the same time.” A 2013 study published in the journal Science indicates that poverty leads to handwringing rather than sleeve rolling.  In the study, participants were divided by household income and asked to consider a hypothetical scenario about how to pay for car repairs while completing various tests of fluid intelligence.

While the rich and poor participants scored almost identically on the intelligence tests when the hypothetical repairs were relatively inexpensive ($150), the poor participants performed significantly worse than their rich counterparts when the repairs required a larger financial sacrifice ($1500).  Simply requiring poor participants to contemplate a difficult hypothetical financial situation caused a drop in their cognitive function equal in magnitude to the effect of being deprived of a full night’s sleep or being a chronic alcoholic.

The takeaway?  The more people worry about their finances, the less cognitive resources they are left with to manage them effectively.

At Juntos, we seek to create tools to reduce handwringing.  By providing the right information in measured doses at the right time, we empower people to spend less time worrying and more time taking action.  From assistance with basic tasks like depositing and withdrawing funds to savings reminders and budgeting tips, our resources enable to people stop wringing their hands and start rolling up their sleeves and working to achieve their financial goals.

User-centric Design for Behavior Change

October 17, 2014

Posted by Dante Cassanego

Juntos provides our partners with a customer engagement platform that, unlike traditional forms of customer support, proactively transforms client behavior and drives engagement at massive scale. We blogged recently about the difficulty of changing behavior, especially financial habits.

Critical to the success of our products in changing financial behavior is our user-centric design process that allows us to understand how our users feel about their money.

Understanding emotions is crucial to changing habits. As Charles Duhigg writes in The Power of Habit, MIT researchers discovered a neurological loop at the core of every habit. This loop is made up of a cue, a routine and a reward. Attempts to change habits will fail if we try to change the routine without understanding the cue for that routine and the reward it produces.

Understanding cues and rewards is especially difficult when they are emotional in nature. To empower our partner’s clients to change their financial habits, we need to understand the emotions that accompany spending and saving money. The “deep-dive” interviews we conduct with potential users as part of our user research process allow us to capture the emotional aspects of users’ financial experiences.

In an interview with a taxi driver in his 30s in Mexico City, we learned that when he was in his taxi he kept his money out of sight until the end of the day. He was afraid that if he counted his money, he would be tempted to spend it on snacks or to go home early. When he was at home, however, he counted the all of his cash savings every day. Feeling his money in his hands motivated him to save more.

The deep-dive method allowed us to understand that the context where he counted his money mattered. In his taxi, he was surrounded by temptations to spend; at home with his family, he was surrounded by reasons to save. Understanding how the same cue can lead to completely different routines and rewards depending on the time of day is critical in reinforcing good habits and quitting bad ones.

We are able to transform the financial behavior of our users without interacting with their money because we understand their emotional cues and rewards. By providing our users with the right information at the right time, we nudge them to deepen their engagement with their accounts and empower them to realize their financial goals.

4 Insights from Behavior Change Books

October 3, 2014

Posted by Dante Cassanego

The core of what we do is focused on helping financial service providers who are facing low adoption and usage among new clients of their digital channels. We do so by designing mobile personal financial management tools that drive financial habit creation among these new users.

Changing habits is hard, especially when it comes to money. We make it easier for our users by applying insights from research on behavior change. As a data-driven company, we appreciate rigorous research. As a company that communicates with people on a large scale, we also admire popular science books. View the slideshow or read below to learn insights from four of our favorite books on behavior change

  1. Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein

    Key Insight: By framing choices in a way that takes into account human biases, people can be “nudged” to better decisions.

    Application: Juntos never interacts directly with our users’ money. Instead, we nudge our users to reach their savings goals through personalized text messages written with behavior change principles in mind.

  2. Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

    Key Insight: The human brain is divided like an elephant and a rider. The elephant responds to emotion while the rider responds to reason. When they disagree, the elephant wins. Changing behavior requires directing the rider and motivating the elephant so that they move in the same direction.

    Application: Juntos directs the rider by asking our users to pick a specific savings goal and motivates the elephant,by encouraging users to keep within sight a photo that reminds them of their goal.

  3. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

    Key Insight: There is a simple loop at the core of every habit consisting of three parts: cue, routine, and reward.

    Application: Empowering our users to form savings habits begins with cues in the form of text messages. These messages arrive regularly, helping to establish a routine. The most powerful reward that users receive is not the money saved itself but rather the sense of confidence and control that they feel in their financial journeys.

  4. Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

    Key Insight: Not only do human beings make certain decisions that are irrational, we consistently and predictably do so. Even when we know we need to spend less and save more, we repeatedly don’t stick to self-imposed budgets.

    Application: Our products help users stick to their plans not only by providing an external source of accountability but also by providing an external source of validation. Because our technology enables two-way conversations, we help our users feel that they are not alone in their financial journey.

What Does It Take to Be User-centric?

September 19, 2014

Posted by Dante Cassanego

“Customer-centricity is a concept that practically everyone agrees with, yet it takes a lot more than good intentions to implement.” – CGAP, “Customer-Centricity for Financial Inclusion”

Customer-centricity, user-centric design, human-centered design–all of these terms refer to the same mindset that places the customer or end-user at the center of an organization’s thinking. User-centric companies seek to provide solutions based on a deep understanding of the needs, preferences and behaviors of their users.

As the quote from CGAP captures, most companies would like to believe that they are user-centric. Many companies, however, will quickly confess that they wish they understood their clients better. For companies that want to become more user-centric, the most common question is, “Where do we start?”

At Juntos, our user-centric iterative design process begins with user research in the form of qualitative “deep-dive” interviews. As interviewers committed to user-centric design, we never use a questionnaire because we don’t presume that we know the right questions to ask. Instead, we develop a conversation that is guided by the user’s interests.

Allowing the potential user to guide the conversation leads to unexpected insights. Before we began designing products for partners in Mexico, we talked to potential users in Mexico City. In talking with one 30-year old man who had moved from a rural Mexican village to Mexico City, he told us that he took a three hour bus ride home to deposit his savings in the bank branch in his home town. He had passed branches of his bank in Mexico City but he doubted that the banks in Mexico City were connected to the bank in his little village.

This insight hints at just one of the many causes of the persistent problem of low take-up of products aimed at low-income individuals. Our user-centric design process, beginning with user research, allows us to capture these types of insights. By applying these insights, we are able to help our partner financial service providers drive engagement and account usage among low-income, newly-banked clients.


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