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.

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