How Financial Services Providers Used Interactive Mobile Messaging to Help Thousands of MSMEs Grow

Micro and small merchant training is a critical undertaking in developing nations where these businesses are the biggest drivers of economic growth and job creation.

However, massive gaps in business management skills and financial literacy are limiting their potential. In an ideal world without resource constraints, all merchants would have access to in-person training programs, with dedicated instructors helping them learn and implement best practices.

In reality, these programs can only reach a small portion of the populations that need them. This is why we need a new approach to scaling access to training in developing economies.

In an effort to enable equitable access to entrepreneurial education in Colombia, the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth partnered with Juntos Global to launch an innovative training program involving interactive, long-term mobile messaging powered by Juntos Global’s Conversational Account Management (CAM) platform. The program enlisted financial institutions interested in strengthening their small business client bases.

The premise of conversational training is simple: imagine if each person, including those at the ‘base of the pyramid,’ had a committed relationship manager helping them achieve financial security. Financial institutions around the world are already using Juntos’ CAM platform to extend guidance to millions of customers in need of support.

In order to find out what would happen if the same concept was applied to merchant training, 134,647 Bancolombia and Movii customers from micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) were enrolled in the training program. The training was delivered in weekly modules via SMS and WhatsApp, encouraging interaction throughout the learning journey. The curriculum covered a range of topics critical to business growth and financial security, such as recordkeeping, pricing, savings, advertising, and digital troubleshooting.

Just 2% of enrolled users opted out of the messaging, meaning that more than 132,000 merchants received weekly tips and coaching over 10 months. Of that group, 15,989 users actively engaged in the conversation, sending 64,603 message responses. Nearly 4,000 of these responses were users sharing specific actions they had taken to improve their businesses as a result of the training. This is likely a fraction of the total number of changes MSMEs made when considering unreported actions.

Further, a clear business case emerged for banks to provide training services for their merchant customers. Program recipients gave Bancolombia an NPS of 69, more than three times the industry average. Many users also thanked Bancolombia and Movii, with one saying “you are training me and motivating me with my business.”

Juntos identified five key learnings and considerations for future programs:

  • Framing content around short-term benefits and actionable tips drives stronger program engagement
  • Training within the context of a financial product is more effective than generalized education
  • Persistent age and gender divides in digital literacy and engagement with mobile messaging need to be intentionally addressed
  • WhatsApp has strong potential as a channel for merchant training, especially once near-term operational challenges are resolved
  • Financial institutions stand to benefit significantly from investing in training for their merchant customers if they make content engaging and relevant

The program clearly shows there is an opportunity for financial institutions to scale merchant training via interactive mobile messaging. In the context of available financial products and a functioning business, conversational training allows the merchant to put educational skills to immediate, practical use. Additionally, mobile messaging does not have the same barriers to scale as in-person or even online learning, making education much more accessible. This conversational training program in Colombia is a valuable launching point for larger efforts around the world.

Read the full white paper to learn more.

TymeBank Launches New Conversational Education Service to Support Customers During COVID-19

Johannesburg, South Africa, June 1st, 2020 – TymeBank announced that it has launched a new financial literacy educational service to help its EveryDay accountholders navigate their financial lives amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. The new service, powered by United States-headquartered Juntos Global’s Conversational Account Management (CAM) platform, engages TymeBank customers in interactive SMS messaging. Accountholders receive financial literacy tips, advice, and reminders, and are encouraged to ask questions and share their experiences for customized learning and support.

Within the first month of the program’s launch, more than 25 percent of accountholders offered the service had already engaged with it, sending an average of five text message replies during this time period.  To date, customers have focused their learning on budgeting, saving, and access to credit in addition to learning more about TymeBank’s online and mobile banking capabilities to avoid non-essential in-person activities during South Africa’s COVID-19 response.

“Wow! What great advice,” said one responder. “I really like the way TymeBank communicates and also shares advice with its customers.” Another replied, “I feel confident that you are going to help me. Thank you very much. I trust you.”

In the face of the generational challenge posed by COVID-19, TymeBank remains committed to its mission to help South Africans achieve their full financial potential. To that end, TymeBank has made its SendMoney service 100% free for a specific period of time and maintained its market-leading interest rate on its GoalSave savings product despite reductions in interest rates by the Reserve Bank, which saw other banks reducing the rate at which their clients can save.

Juntos’ CAM platform further advances TymeBank’ financial inclusion goals by carrying thousands of simultaneous conversations with bank account holders such as this recent example:

TymeBank: Welcome! To start, tell us about your current budgeting practice.

User: I dont know… because [this is] my first account of my life

TymeBank: Thanks! To help you create an effective budget that is easy to maintain, we’ll send one simple tip each week for you to try.

User: Ok thank you a lot and I appreciate that because it means a lot to me

“We’re here for our customers,” said Tauriq Keraan, CEO of TymeBank. “Our partnership with Juntos allows us to support our customers by providing educational tools that will improve their financial journeys, and therefore their lives. With the Juntos Conversational Account Management platform, we can personalize the way we deliver essential banking to our customers, at scale, to match this difficult moment. We’ve seen extraordinary engagement with the service so far and are excited to keep the conversations with our customers going.”

TymeBank is South Africa’s first digital bank, with over 1.75 million customers signed up since its launch in February 2019. Using just a cellphone and South African ID number, a customer can open an account and receive a personalized debit card in three minutes. Juntos’ CAM platform then engages TymeBank customers in ongoing, two-way messaging conversations that build trust and confidence in the account.

“In today’s COVID-19 environment, Conversational Account Management is giving banks the means to communicate directly with every customer in two-way conversations that are both personal and scalable,” said Juntos CEO Ben Knelman. “People need that support now more than ever. We’re thrilled to partner with TymeBank to bring that capability to its customers.”

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How Banks Can Be There for Their Customers During and After the Pandemic

As governments and communities across the world work together to help slow the spread of COVID-19, the bulk of the world’s business and households are simultaneously facing huge changes.  Bank executives, specifically, are managing through not one but two major challenges.

  1. Ensuring teams can continue to operate as effectively as possible – providing the guidance and the tools to operate the business largely remotely.
  2. Managing the needs of their customers (individuals and businesses), most of whom are bracing for potential financial hardship or already confronting unexpected changes in their financial lives.

For many banks, this second concern is more complicated than the first.  Many customers, whose comfort with financial products may be constrained to begin with, need reassurance and information as the news headlines introduce more fear than most have experienced in their lifetimes.

McKinsey published a paper this month called Leading a consumer bank through the coronavirus pandemic,”  offering an excellent prescription for helping banks through these tough times.

“Delivering on customer expectations while adapting the operating model to the reality of the current pandemic will be an unprecedented challenge for banks. In our view, it is highly important for banks to make their genuine concern for their customers clear and to make customer interactions with the bank as easy as possible.”

A large portion of McKinsey’s concrete recommendations center on  the urgent directive in the current environment for banks to invest in relationship-based banking that “shows customers that you care for them.”  What does that look like?  McKinsey outlines the following: :

“Start reaching out to clients proactively…

“Create opportunities for human interactions for distraught customers who just want to talk through their concerns…”

“Establish help lines for customers who need support during remote (mobile or internet) transactions.”

“Serve [customers] in unexpected ways. Especially during a crisis…finding that their bank is prepared to help in unexpected ways will go a long way toward reassuring them.”

Investing in Relationship-Based Banking

If money were no object, bank executives could assign relationship managers to spend whatever time necessary with each and every customer not only to provide counsel and empathy, but also to educate them about how financial products can help them through the crisis.

Unfortunately, it’s unthinkable in today’s reality for banks to hire and train relationship managers to support every customer in their massive retail and SME portfolios. Instead, leading banks are investing in new digital processes and platforms for providing reassurance, counsel, and two-way, personalized experiences for all of their customers.

Conversational Account Management (CAM) is a growing category of digital solutions in the banking industry that combines technology with human intelligence to create engaging and personalized two-way mobile conversations with bank customers at massive scale.  CAM gives banks a warm and personal – yet scalably digital – way to engage every one of their customers with information, attention, and care.

CAM allows banks to proactively establish long-term communication with each customer via mobile channels like SMS or WhatsApp, creating a foundation of relationship between the bank and its customers outside of any sales moments — just like good human relationship managers would do.  CAM gives banks a direct connection with the customer to deliver effective product information and education.  It gives them a way to scalably listen to their customers and create warmly differentiated customer experiences that set them apart from typical mass market retail banking environments — without having to hire.

In today’s COVID-19 environment, Conversational Account Management is giving banks the means to communicate directly with every customer in two-way conversations that are both personal and scalable.  Banks today are using CAM at the center of their Covid-19 strategies to:

  • Proactively communicate key updates on products and policies,
  • Scalably address questions and concerns without the need of call center or branch staff
  • Minimize surprises to customers in rapidly changing environments,
  • Encourage fraud-prevention measures,
  • Support customers in the adoption and usage of digital channels
  • Give customers space to share their experiences and financial concerns
  • Establish ongoing brand presence in a high-value and non-sales setting, ensuring their customers know the bank is with them, at their side.

CAM allows banks to scalably invest in stronger relationships with their customers.  And in both good and bad market conditions, stronger customer relationships mean higher lifetime values in banking portfolios, with measurable benefits that include increased loan uptake, savings deposits, and digital transaction growth.  Most importantly in banks’ immediate realities, investing in relationship-based communication drives much-needed trust and retention during a highly emotionally challenging time.

The Path Forward is Paved With…Relationships=

No one can predict the post-COVID-19 future but many believe there will be a new normal in which physical visits to stores – and banks -remain diminished.  This puts continued pressure on bank executives to find effective ways to build relationships with their customers in an ever-increasing digital world.

As McKinsey emphasizes in their report, the winners in digital banking tomorrow will be those who invest today, to accelerate out of the downturn: “Banks that encourage and support customers now will be well positioned to increase the use of digital channels in the future.

Conversational Account Management is a growing part of that digital future.  CAM allows banks to establish digital customer communication that delivers not just the quality but also the unprecedented scale of human connection and empathy required by situations like today.

Nearly every banker we have talked to across the globe during the pandemic is focused on the exact right thing:  Keeping their employees safe and supporting their customers through hard times.

We urge bank executives to consider how Conversational Account Management strategies can help them scale the human connection customers crave in their financial lives.  We’re here to help.

About Juntos:
Financial Institutions around the world use the Juntos Conversational Account Management (CAM) platform to proactively engage their customers at scale.  Juntos combines advanced technology with human intelligence to create engaging, one-to-one, long-term conversations with consumers in high-impact digital channels like WhatsApp, SMS, and Facebook Messenger.  Banks across four continents have used Juntos to power Conversational Account Management with millions of customers in 26 languages, driving increased uptake and retention of financial products.  Juntos’ mission is to build enduring and trusted relationships between banks and their customers to make financial services simpler, warmer, and more successful.  Learn more at https://juntosglobal.com.

Juntos recognized as One of the Top 10 Customer Experience Solution Providers

Banking CIO Outlook Magazine, in conjunction with a panel of CEOs, CIOs, VCs, and industry analysts, has put together a list of the ten most promising customer experience solution providers in the industry. The list intends to help financial institutions find innovative technologies that can help them thrive in a digitized banking world. Juntos is honored to be recognized as one of the top 10 customer experience solution providers.

Top 10 Customer Experience Solution Providers logo

Click here to read the article, and here to see the complete issue featuring other solution providers like Blend, 360 View, Backbase and more.

How To Overcome The Greatest Barrier In Banking

What does it take to change people’s financial behaviors for the better? Mondato explains in this article how financial services providers are increasingly relying on a tactic called ‘nudging.’ The article features Juntos as an example of how nudging, when combined with other engagement strategies and innovative technology, can help close the trust barrier between customers and their institutions.

Trust Sand

So what exactly is nudging? Nudging is a behavioral design concept which emphasizes positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions building on existing behavior to influence decision-making. The Mondato blog asserts that nudging can be far more effective and cost-efficient than traditional financial incentives or penalties. Heavy-handed nudging done in isolation, though, may cause fatigue effects that decrease customer engagement


“Inherently, nudging requires a longer-term strategy with other communications layered under it… Promotions can be really effective, especially done with the right customers at the right moment, but they have to be a part of a longer-term strategy rather than as a silver bullet.”  Jack Parker, Senior Client Services Manager at Juntos


Here at Juntos, we believe that long-term, warm conversations build trust and engagement with customers. Once this foundation is built, Juntos incorporates nudging, along with a range of other techniques, to influence positive financial behavior change.

You can read the full article here.

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!