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From Ideation to Iteration: Human-Centered Design of Micro-Savings in Nigeria

Five lessons from LAPO Microfinance Bank’s experience using HCD to revamp their child savings account product
Flyer for My Pikin & I account, showing a mother with son in graduation cap.

In 2019, LAPO Microfinance Bank of Nigeria undertook an audacious goal to onboard over 168,000 savers in three years through a child savings account. To help them meet this goal, management decided to use a Human-Centered Design (HCD) process to evaluate and revamp their offering. The My Pikin & I account, which means "My Child and I," seeks to motivate consistent savings through incentives including microinsurance for mothers and scholarships for their children.

With the support of the Scale2Save program and IDEO.org, the LAPO team conducted a two-phased HCD process. The first phase involved research, synthesis and ideation, and the second phase was prototyping, iteration and refining. Immersive research techniques such as observation, interviews and focus groups were used, followed by synthesis of findings to draw persona maps and insights that fed into the ideation activities.

Here’s what we learned through this process:

1. Make sure you have a specific strategic outcome in mind that human-centered design can address. In the case of the My Pikin & I product, the goals became clear upon holding initial stakeholder sessions with LAPO Microfinance Bank’s senior management teams. They sought to attract new clients and motivate them to save consistently, thus helping them attain the MFI’s goal for deposit mobilization. HCD was needed to realize that goal as it centers on clients’ personal needs and aspirations while meeting the institution’s strategic goals.

Poster in crowded market promoting My Pikin & I product.2. Keep it simple. Co-creating with customers requires simplified prototypes. Twitter logo The HCD process helped LAPO Microfinance Bank make communication materials more accessible to its target audience. During the prototyping exercises, customers suggested rewording the messaging to show the benefits one incentive at a time rather than providing loads of information in one poster.

3. Find out what motivates your clients and capitalize on it. Immersive customer interviews helped the LAPO Microfinance Bank team realize that the ability to save was not enough of a motivation for customers. They needed to see tangible benefits from the start in order to save consistently. So the team added a microinsurance incentive, offering premium-free coverage against accident and critical illness, that is tied to consistent savings behavior. According to the product roadmap, LAPO Microfinance Bank plans to extend the cover to include health insurance.

The design team was also intrigued to discover that customers preferred to keep their physical cashbooks as evidence of their savings rather than rely on the fully digitized system the team had designed. This finding provided an opportunity for LAPO Microfinance Bank to build trust by offering a redesigned physical cashbook, thus reinforcing the physical attachment to the cashbook as well as providing a savings tracking tool. Complementary evidence of transactions is also provided via SMS confirmation.

Tablet displaying visual pitch for My Pikin & I product4. Customer-facing agents and personnel require the right tools, not just training. LAPO’s “aha” moment came when they realized that staff didn’t actually need more training on how to explain products’ features to new customers. What they really needed was a handy tool for onboarding customers. The design team created a visual pitch of the My Pikin & I product that spoke to the target customers’ aspirations, needs and concerns. The videos serve as explainers and are displayed on a tablet as part of the customer onboarding process.

5. Take advantage of the transformative potential of the HCD process. At its core, HCD is a highly collaborative process. Twitter logo LAPO’s team brought together people from many different departments, including savings, research, agency banking and customer service. They all participated in prototyping exercises with customers, using the feedback they received to adjust product design. This experience brought about organizational transformation for LAPO Microfinance Bank, as it helped to impart new skills, break hierarchy barriers and develop more innovative mindsets.

Next steps for LAPO: Experimentation Phase

After going through the HCD process, LAPO Microfinance Bank implemented the My Pikin & I product with a heavy on-ground presence of agents and roving staff. These agents continue to complement the bank’s physical and digital banking channels, especially in rural locations.

Their efforts have been successful. Since the products’ re-launch in 2019, over 125,000 new customers have joined LAPO Microfinance Bank and opened My Pikin & I accounts. However, the microinsurance incentive has not experienced a proportionate increase in uptake, with only 7,400 insurance takers. For LAPO Microfinance Bank to optimize the My Pikin & I product fully with its go-to-market strategies, the next step would be an experimentation phase to study which insurance benefits are most effective in sustaining a positive savings behavior.  

Ultimately, the human-centered design process should be incorporated as an ongoing way of doing business, as it can help the MFI keep its clients’ needs and desires at the forefront, while also working towards the institutions’ goals. Twitter logo

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