Baffled by behaviors: understanding nuanced barriers to adoption

Annabel Schiff

Snapshot 2: Which attitudes, behaviors, experiences, and beliefs—including non-digital and non-financial ones—influence DFS adoption and ongoing satisfaction? is one of 16 Snapshots designed to address a range of questions within the digital finance space. These questions cover a number of client, institution, ecosystem, and impact level topics. The Snapshots give a current view of “What we Know” about the topic in question, highlight “Notable New Learnings,” and call attention to “Implications” for future research and investment.

Why we wrote this Snapshot

Understanding what drives customers to adopt and regularly use a product or service—be it a mobile phone, a savings account or agricultural technology—involves more than understanding needs. Behaviors, attitudes, experiences, and beliefs play an instrumental role in driving, or hindering, adoption and use.

Distrust of formal financial institutions can negatively impact perceptions around—and use of—formal financial services.  A 2016 study showed 70% of bankable adults in Nigeria save outside the formal financial system citing reasons such as corruption, instability, and distrust for keeping their money away from banks. We have also observed that cultural norms affect the adoption and use of financial services. Early research into the use of M-PESA in Kenya found that some men denied their wives access to a mobile phone—and therefore an M-PESA account—because they feared their wives would either use it to hassle them for money or to call and receive money from other men. Recent research by GSMA found that safety and harassment issues in Egypt are a significant barrier to mobile internet adoption, especially for women. This will likely have a knock-on effect for customers seeking to access digital financial services across mobile internet platforms.

While Snapshot 1 focused on understanding the financial needs of the poor, and how digital finance can address these needs, this Snapshot focuses on understanding attitudes and behaviors—such as those mentioned above—in the hopes of delving deeper into dynamics of adoption and use. In combination with an understanding of needs, unpacking the unique behaviors of low-income individuals will allow the digital finance community to appropriately design and deliver services that customers will desire, trust, and use on a regular basis.  

What we found

As with financial needs, behaviors that influence adoption are multifaceted, context specific and often unexpected. While there are a vast array of behavioral factors influencing adoption, this Snapshot focuses primarily on the impact of social norms, social networks, and social relationships. From restrictive social standards imposed on women—such as limited mobility outside the home—to the power of “social proof,” the research highlights the enduring importance of social relations and cultural norms in the communities in which we work.

Moving beyond behaviors, evidence suggests that while positive experiences using digital finance build trust, negative experiences can erode it. From complex user interfaces, to poor customer service and privacy and security concerns, it is clear that more work is needed to build services that customers will intrinsically trust and use in place of the existing informal and formal alternatives.

Looking ahead, the Snapshot also highlights the importance of building out an understanding of digital, online behaviors and how these might influence adoption. As more daily interactions move online—from streaming music to chatting with friends across social networks—an analysis of these behaviors and experiences is of equal importance. Along these lines and together with the expansion of smartphones, the introduction of apps and increasing use of digital attributes (from chatbots to data), Snapshot 2 also calls attention to the need to ensure that consumer protection practices are developed in tandem with these technological innovations.

Read Snapshot 2 for more details on our findings.