Emilia, Bancolombia’s Financial Advice Chatbot Inspired by Juntos

Emilia, Bancolombia’s Financial Advice Chatbot Inspired by Juntos

In a recent article published by Bancolombia, the bank highlights our partnership to offer warm, informative, and personalized conversations to Ahorro a la Mano customers. Mauricio Múnera, Director of Financial Inclusion at Bancolombia remarked, “Juntos is a pioneering endeavor,” commenting that the platform has been able to adapt to the individuals it serves.

Read the full article here.

En el artículo titulado “Emilia, la robot que ofrece consejos financieros a los clientes de Ahorro a la Mano”, Bancolombia resalta el trabajo con Juntos a través del cual se ofrecen conversaciones cálidas, informativas, y personalizadas a sus clientes. “Juntos puede considerarse un ejercicio pionero,” comenta Mauricio Múnera, director de Inclusión Financiera de Bacolombia, destacando que la plataforma ha sabido adaptarse a la realidad de las personas a las que sirve.

Lea el articulo completo aquí.

What Is Lost in a Digital Financial World — And How to Get It Back

What Is Lost in a Digital Financial World — And How to Get It Back

Written by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion. This is a re-post from CFI’s blog

A lot happens in even the simplest meeting between two people. Instantly, and without thinking, each person observes the other’s appearance and body language. As their eyes connect, they form impressions and make judgments about each other. Whether it’s a smile, a handshake, or the response to a question, the information and emotional content that passes in simple acts can be far richer than the words exchanged.

It has long been important for banking operations to ensure that when customers meet staff, whether at the teller window or in the marketplace, the interactions build customers’ trust and convince them to use the institution’s services. At the same time, crucial information about the customer would flow back to the bank.

For example, a loan officer visiting a business owner’s premises observes the customer and his business directly, while the business owner gets answers to his particular questions. When a teller provides cash at a window, the customer enjoys personal care while the bank has a chance to discuss other products that serve the customer’s specific needs. And when a staff member greets a customer in the market, she can remind her that her loan is due, letting the customer know that bank staff are paying attention—and increasing the likelihood of timely repayment.

In today’s digital world, however, customers may rarely or never interact with a person. Digital transactions are fundamentally different from person-to-person encounters. Information flows in precise, narrow and predetermined electronic packets: ID verification, account balance, transaction amount, receipt. No spontaneous exchange of additional information occurs. A digital transaction lacks a social aura. It is often simply a completed task.

As we work to extend financial services to the two billion, typically lower income, people around the world who are disconnected from the financial grid, we must rely on digital financial services. Business economics make digital delivery of financial services unstoppable. And, digital services can bring dramatic benefits—service for small ticket and remote customers, 24/7 availability, fewer errors, and faster responses.

It is undeniable that in the transformation to digital interfaces, valuable personal connections between financial service providers and customers are lost. But what exactly is lost, and how can that loss be mitigated or replaced?

Among the benefits that might be at risk in the transition to digital are:

  • Customer trust and comfort with the financial institution, especially if the customer is new, interacts infrequently with formal institutions, or comes from a socially disadvantaged group
  • The ability to respond efficiently to a customer’s specific questions, supporting successful use of financial products
  • Emotional and social connections that drive behavior
  • In-person assessments that allow providers to discover and address potential problems or find new opportunities
  • The wealth of market information—about things like political events, competitor moves, or problems with specific customer segments—that front line staff gain as they do their work

How can a financial service provider mitigate the loss of these benefits? There are many creative responses. Providers can integrate elements of technology while retaining personal interactions in some parts of their delivery systems. Alternatively, they can enrich the digital experience itself, making it more like a face-to-face interaction.

Finding the Right Place for Human Touch

With staff time freed by digital transactions, banks can choose to deploy people only where they will be of the most strategic value. They can identify the points in customer relationships where person-to-person exchanges really matter—whether in initial outreach, customer enrollment, or periodic check-ins. One of the greatest needs for person-to-person support is when customers have questions. Another is assistance using technologies for the first time. Perhaps financial institutions’ branch locations could become centers of problem resolution and learning rather than routine business.

Banks can provide staff and agents with digital tools to compensate for some of the weakness of human interactions—such as inconsistency, misinformation, or bias. Digital tools can help agents provide consistent information and gather responses efficiently from customers. When banking agents are equipped with tablets, their ability to provide accurate product information is improved.

Going one step further, digital tools could be used to create richer interactions with customers. As new apps and voice and video features expand communications capabilities, and as artificial intelligence advances, providers could create richer digital customer interactions with some of the same features that a person-to-person interaction provides. It is now possible to build interfaces with data flowing in two directions to answer customer questions, provide nudges and reminders, help build financial capabilities, and receive regular customer feedback.

This future is already closer than one may think. Juntos, for example, is a platform that allows financial institutions to carry on personalized, electronic conversations with customers through text messages. Juntos’s powerful data analytics can tailor messages to customer behavior. The friendly style of the messages suggests the presence of a person, and indeed, Juntos reports that many customers share personal news and even wish Juntos a Merry Christmas during the holidays. Through the two-way data flow, customers gain a sense of connection to the institution, support for financial discipline (via reminders), and information about products. At the same time, institutions hear from customers more often.

The financial inclusion sector has barely begun to explore these possibilities. It deploys technology mainly to select customers and perform transactions. But as these basic digital functions are increasingly available, the sector may soon need to focus on creating rich, multifaceted customer interactions that capture more of the benefits of a person-to-person interaction. Customer engagement, facilitated by a combination of technology and the strategic use of people, could be the next competitive frontier.


This post was also published on NextBillion.

Texting People Out of Poverty

Texting People Out of Poverty

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.

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. https://impactjournalismday.com/

REPORT: Unlocking the Promise of (Big) Data to Promote Financial Inclusion

REPORT: Unlocking the Promise of (Big) Data to Promote Financial Inclusion

“Real innovation sits where it looks the least glamorous and is the most painful.”

– Ben Knelman, CEO of Juntos


Earlier this month, Juntos’ work with financial service providers (FSPs) was highlighted in a report centering on the role of data in financial inclusion.  The report specifically mentions Juntos’ customer segmentation and customer engagement strategies.


Accion lists Juntos’ customer segmentation as an example of successful data-driven innovation in financial inclusion


According to Next Billion: “‘Unlocking the Promise of (Big) Data to Promote Financial Inclusion‘ [aims] to provide financial services providers with ‘actionable insights and first steps’ on how to better use big data to boost financial inclusion. The report, developed with the support of the Citi Foundation, points out a remaining gap between the vision and reality of leveraging this data. Its approach to bridging this gap was summed up memorably in a quote from Ben Knelman of Juntos Finanzas: ‘Real innovation sits where it looks the least glamorous and is the most painful.'”

Find the full report here.