Juntos Featured in Fostering Financial Inclusion Blog Series

Juntos Featured in Fostering Financial Inclusion Blog Series

Juntos was recently featured in Trulioo’s blog series, Fostering Financial Inclusion. You can see the original post here, as well as the full interview transcript below:

Trulioo: Could you share with us the early stages of Juntos, especially when it was still a dorm-room” idea at Stanford, and how it became what it is today?

Our founder, Ben Knelman, came up with the idea for Juntos as a student at the Stanford d.school [Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University]. For a class project, he worked with the night shift janitors to create basic financial management and planning tools for them. While rudimentary, these tools helped one of the janitors save $2K over the course of a year. For someone making less than $25K a year in the Bay Area, that was incredibly powerful. Ben knew there was something there he had to pursue – something about changing the way people think and feel about their money to improve their financial journeys.

Ben graduated from the d.school and met our other co-founders, CCO Katie Macc and CTO Dante Cassanego. After prototyping and iteration, they landed on the product we offer today: An automated conversation platform designed to build trusting relationships between customers and their financial institutions. We won an Innovation Award for Financial Inclusion at the 2012 G20 Summit in Mexico City, kicked off our first deployment in Colombia, and have since grown to work in 15 countries across 4 continents.


Trulioo: Was Juntos’ technology focussed on the financial services sector from the get-go?

The idea was always to focus on financial services. People don’t have trusting relationships with their banks anymore –consumer research shows that banking is now the single least trusted industry. For people that are newer to formal financial services or mobile banking, distrust is particularly high. As transactions have moved out of branches and personal interactions between banks and their customers have declined, trust has eroded further.

So while more people have access to formal financial accounts than ever before, usage and engagement continue to lag behind. We believe that is because relationships between financial institutions and their customers haven’t transitioned well to the digital world. That’s the problem Juntos exists to solve: we help financial institutions position themselves as trusted partners in their customers’ financial lives with warm, long-term conversations that feel personal and human.


Trulioo: To what extent is inactivity in the interactions between customers and their financial service providers an issue?

Dormancy is definitely a major issue; we see it as a clear symptom of the lacking presence most financial institutions have in their customers’ lives. Rather than treating the symptom (trying to re-activate customers that have left), Juntos focuses on the root cause. We provide customers with guidance, tips, and key account information in extremely accessible mobile channels (primarily SMS and WhatsApp). Our two-way conversations are designed to build relationships before customers stop using their accounts.


Trulioo: When did you realize that financial institutions and their end users needed an engagement solution like this? 

We recognized Juntos’ potential early on from our first pilot with Bancolombia. The results were really encouraging: we saw double-digit response rates to our messaging, and meaningful increases in account usage compared to control groups that we didn’t engage. Bancolombia remains a Juntos partner to this day, more than 5 years later.

Beyond aggregate results, we saw the power of our solution for end users in the individual conversations themselves. Customers shared their hopes, goals, and dreams with us. They asked questions. They told us how much they valued the messaging. It’s hard for me to choose just one example, but here’s a user response that I like:

Thank you very much. More than saving, I feel like someone in the world is watching out for me.


Trulioo: According to McKinsey & Company, efficient and specialized customer journeys typically generate greater revenue growth, as well as customer service cost reduction. How does Juntos lay the groundwork for a satisfying customer journey?

Juntos invests heavily in localization and content customization to match our partners’ specific goals. At the start of every new engagement, we conduct in-country user research, gather all relevant product information, and train local customer support teams to handle inbound questions that fall outside our automated platform’s guardrails. This approach ensures that we deliver better experiences and journeys for end users, which ultimately grows long-term revenue for our partners.


Trulioo: Customers around the world expect personalized advice and information, especially when it comes to their financial services. How has Juntos been able to do this when some would call automated solutions programmed?

Juntos enables customers to take conversations in whichever directions are most useful to them. For a small percentage of questions or requests that fall outside of our automated guardrails, in-country support teams take over. This approach allows Juntos to deliver experiences that feel natural and human at the scale of millions of customers.


Trulioo: Do you see customer engagement solutions like yours entering the customer success space even more in the next decade? If so, how?

Absolutely. The approach of “close branches, throw an app at customers, and hope they use it” isn’t viable on its own. Financial institutions that don’t invest in proactively engaging their mass market customers will lose them to competitors that provide better experiences. Banks are increasingly recognizing this, and will grow investments in customer engagement solutions.


Juntos currently covers 15 countries and we imagine that coverage will continue to expand. What challenges has your team experienced while tailoring your technology to different cultures and languages around the world?

We’ve gotten quite good at rapid translation and localization of content to support the international growth you mention, but there has definitely been some trial and error. Coming out of the Stanford d.school, we rely on human-centered design principles that put the end user at the center of our product. That means that our conversations have different flavors in different regions.


Juntos has found, though, that customers behave and react to content more similarly across similar socio-economic groups in different regions than across different socio-economic groups in the same country. For example, conversation experiences that work well with low-income users in the Philippines are more likely to work with low-income users in South Africa than middle-income Filipinos. That phenomenon is fortunate for Juntos, because it makes it easier to scale our business across diverse cultures.


Can you share with us a success story where Juntos solved a problem for someone who was financially underserved?

We have many! For example, during one partnership in East Africa, we engaged a chicken farmer who signed up for a transactional account with a bank as a prerequisite to applying for a loan and investing in his business. In the same year, his region experienced a severe drought and his father passed away, events that were very disruptive for him emotionally and financially. He lived far from the bank’s branches and had not heard from the bank since he opened his account, so he grew skeptical that the account was right for him.


Juntos messaging reminded the farmer of the value of his account and taught him how to use its digital features in lieu of traveling to a branch. Over time, he developed more regular savings habits, and he sent Juntos this message:


Thanks for the friendship you have continued to show me. Ever since I joined your service, I can now afford a smile on my face. I did not know that there could be a [financial service] that would help a low income earner like me.


This type of conversation-based technology could have use cases that stretch outside of financial services. Does Juntos have any plans to reach different markets in the coming years?

I definitely see some applicability in other industries, but our focus will remain on financial services and insurance for the foreseeable future.


Whats the next step for Juntos in 2019 and are there any exciting updates on the horizon?

We’re actually looking to establish our first US partnerships this year, which I’m really excited about. We see a lot of potential for the US market. In the past, banks here were reluctant to try a solution like Juntos. Chatbots, though, have gained widespread acceptance and adoption recently (e.g., Bank of America’s rollout of Erica). While Juntos serves a fundamentally different purpose than traditional chatbots, which are primarily reactive cost savings tools rather than proactive relationship-building solutions, the category has been established. I’m encouraged by early conversations we’ve had, and am looking forward to growing in our own backyard for the first time!

Banco W: Work Differently with Your Customers

Banco W uses proactive, automated, two-way SMS conversations powered by Juntos to help its customers along their financial journeys. Check out this quick video they produced to see Juntos in action!

Banco W Head of Marketing Maria Fernanda Escobar Posada sat down with us to discuss in more detail how Banco W builds trusting relationships with its customers. Interactive, mobile conversations are a key piece of its engagement strategy.

“Juntos has shown us a different way of interacting with clients, of recognizing their needs and expectations, and answering them to build better relationships.” 

Juntos Partnership with Vodafone Highlighted in Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth Report

Juntos Partnership with Vodafone Highlighted in Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth Report

The Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth released a new report that highlights Juntos’ work in North Africa. The paper, “The Next Frontier in Financial Inclusion: Moving Beyond Access to Usage,” spotlights Juntos’ partnership with Vodafone to help build stronger digital relationships:

Many Middle Eastern and North African markets have mobile penetration rates of 100 percent. Logic says such accessibility would translate into payments usage, but it has not—partly due to lack of consumer trust.


To address this challenge, Mastercard partnered Juntos, a mobile messaging service devoted to building mutually beneficially relationships between financial service providers and their customers, and the region’s leading telecommunications provider, Vodafone, to develop a responsive consumer messaging and education service. The end goal would be to build long-term trusted digital relationships with consumers resulting in increased and recurring customer payments usage.


Consumers engaged with Juntos to explain their cash usage pain points, difficulties in their financial lives, and key savings goals (e.g. paying for a wedding or education). By engaging customers in dialogue via two-way SMS messaging framed around their specific financial needs, Juntos and ultimately Vodafone were able to improve consumer understanding of how to use payment products and enhance their trust.


The resulting increase in transaction volumes raised Vodafone revenues while empowering customers and deepening their digital relationship with the Vodafone brand. Putting in perspective that behavioral change takes time, the initial uptake was very high—96 percent of consumers stayed enrolled throughout the program. Furthermore, among active consumers, monthly transactions increased five to eight percent, mostly attributed to an increased number of peer-to-peer (P2P) transactions.

Check out this blog post, written by Mastercard Director of Product Operations Dan Salazar, to learn more. You can also access the full white paper here: https://newsroom.mastercard.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/The-Next-Frontier-in-Financial-Inclusion_Access-to-Usage-Final.pdf 

Behavioral Analytics: The New Frontier?

Behavioral Analytics: The New Frontier?

Over the years, banks’ analytic capabilities have dramatically evolved. At first, analytics were descriptive, focused on answering the question “What happened?” Eventually, banks began to leverage predictive analytics to answer “What will happen?” Most recently, analytics have moved from predictive to prescriptive to answer the question “What should we do?” So, what lies ahead for financial institutions?

In a podcast interview with Worthix, former FICO CEO and Research Fellow Larry Rosenberger asserts that Behavioral Analytics are the new analytics frontier. He outlines four key pillars that make up Behavioral Analytics:

  • Behavioral Economics – Understanding cognitive biases inherent in how people make decisions, and designing incentives accordingly
  • Behavioral Psychology – Learning how people motivate themselves to create long-term, sustained habits
  • Advanced Gamification – Leveraging human-centered design principles to build systems that reward sustained engagement
  • Bilateral 1:1 Dialogue – Delivering customized, personal conversations to customers with minimal friction

Juntos, which was born from a project at the Stanford d.school, relies on many of the principles embedded in the first three pillars to deliver the fourth pillar. Extensive user research at the beginning of each project feeds into a human-centered design process to create conversation sequences that encourage behavior change.

For example, Juntos may design dialogue to learn why a customer is motivated to save, and then share savings reminders and tips related to that motivation. Or it may employ a strategy that identifies existing customer habits, and then builds on them to form the basis of new behavior (e.g., encouraging customers to make a deposit on their way to the grocery). According to Rosenberger, banks that can use new technology like Juntos to deliver frictionless experiences stand to win and retain relationships: 

Focus groups, to this day, are expensive. If you can have a conversation using technology and ask questions to make better, appropriate offers… you can understand more about [your customers] so you can tune your communications, offers, and experiences to be more effective.

One big bank I spoke to couldn’t imagine how to manage these millions of bilateral conversations because their mindset was back in old technology. They didn’t understand what can be done today with smartphones and SMS’s… You can take advantage of fast, cheap and comfortable conversation vehicles to make this happen, and figure out what’s the next question to ask based on where the conversation has gone.

You can find the full podcast episode here!

Takeaways from our Digital Engagement Summit

Takeaways from our Digital Engagement Summit

At the end of October, Juntos hosted a range of partners and other industry leaders at our San Carlos Headquarters for our first Digital Engagement Summit. Over the course of two days, a diverse group discussed common challenges and best practices for building strong customer relationships around the world. The group brought a truly global perspective: attendees traveled from countries such as Zambia, South Africa, Colombia, and Jamaica to join the conversation.

It’s impossible to boil down all the rich insights and ideas from two days into one short blog post, but we’ll do our best! Here are a few themes that stuck out:

  • Relationships, not just transactions, need to become digital – Mobile banking has obviously increased the ease and convenience of using formal financial services. Customer trust and loyalty, though, were left behind in the branch for many. As people navigate digital financial products, the institutions that serve them need to find a way to rebuild meaningful relationships. Touchpoints pushing promotions and transactional notifications alone are not enough.
  • Put blinders on, and find the practical value in AI – There is tons of hype around AI, and for good reason. It has the potential to dramatically increase efficiency and inform better decisions. It can automate responses to FAQs and save costs. AI cannot, however, build relationships with people on its own. By augmenting AI techniques like machine learning with automation and human intelligence, financial institutions can take a wholistic approach to engaging its customers that feels personal and natural.
  • Invest in customer journeys, not just moments – Trust takes time. It is built up in the accumulation of small moments over the course of months or years. Optimizing individual campaigns or messages is important, but pales in comparison to the value of having ongoing, warm, and empathetic conversations with your customers.
  • Listen for the whispers before you hear shouts – If you sit back on your heels and wait for customers to make themselves heard, you probably won’t hear them until they’re shouting at you. Instead, be proactive and encourage feedback. Ask customers if their accounts are working for them. Offer important information, even if they don’t go out of their way to ask for it.
  • Let your customer inform your design – It’s tempting to assume you understand your customers and can design products and communications for them better than anyone. Try not to get caught in that trap. Your customers know themselves better than you do, so let them inform your decisions. Constantly test and prototype new ideas with your customers, and force their behavior to guide design.
  • Use mobile channels your customers are already comfortable in – Moving customers from a branch or agent into the mobile app is a big leap. To help them cross that chasm, communicate with them in mobile channels they’re already using and comfortable with. Conversations via SMS and WhatsApp, for example, can serve as great bridges between the physical and digital banking worlds.

The group visited the Stanford d.school to learn about human-centered design principles.