Financial Literacy in Practice

This document is in live draft mode.

We are living through a golden age of financial innovations and banking technologies, the so-called FinTech revolution. This flurry of activity and investment has helped to increase attention on the long-standing global issues of financial literacy and access to banking and credit systems. As today’s new systems grow in complexity, and as economic opportunity increases for those who have access, we must take action to include the “Bottom of the Pyramid” in this ‘digital dawn’. Across emerging markets, this is especially pressing for women and enterprising youth who run small ventures without the benefit of secondary school education, and less in many cases.

Below is our diagnosis of the issue and a proposed shift in approach, which we will begin testing for soon. This is a massive economic and social topic, so naturally there’s many points we’re bound to miss out the gate. We hope that our proposals are broad but exact enough to enable rich conversations, as well as the identification of other needed, high-potential products.

This is version 1 of our paper. We have posted it here for ease of access. If you wish to add comments or make suggestions, please visit the Google Doc.

What is financial literacy?

Being financially literate means having an understanding of financial principles and practices, as well as being able to effectively use this knowledge in day-to-day life. Main areas of application include personal expense tracking, household and business budgeting, purchase planning, debt maintenance and investment. Timeframe analysis and the comparison of cash flow projections give context to these activities.

Diagnosis

In order to spread and deepen financial literacy among people with the least formal training (and the heaviest daily pressures), the tools for practicing financial management must be creatively fused with content that helps build up a person’s financial knowledge over long periods of time. To be exact, the user’s process of continuous learning must be explicitly supported through a simplified method for creating robust records of daily and planned transactions. The inability to spare a moment for personal learning due to the extreme pressures of physically demanding work, family life and adverse social conditions is as true across Africa and India as it is for large percentages of citizens anywhere in the rest of the world.

There’s one thing though that separates these groups globally, who otherwise have the same needs to acquire financial literacy without missing any days of work. And it’s this “inattentional blindness” (coupled with mobile market incentives) that has led us all to miss an obvious, still arduous, but strategically sound path for achieving our common aims.

In the Western countries the button or flip phone has become a relic, something mainly seen in the hands of seniors. In the rest of the world, these devices are the primary mobile technology owned by the “BOP”. Therefore, the design of accounting tools must be drastically simplified in order to operate on “feature phones” while retaining all of the higher-order powers available to users of desktop computers and smart phones. The retention of quality while greatly amplifying access is rule number one in the game of disruption, according to the late Harvard professor Clayton Christensen.

Starting with these devices isn’t meant to exclude other groups. Soon enough everyone is more easily and effectively served, across all devices, once the new business models and product designs are allowed to emerge from the bottom up. In cases like this, we are not reaching “new segments” with old products re-formatted for their different needs. Whole new models of product creation and distribution are called forth, based on the extreme demands of the targeted consumers. Because these groups never had access to products like these, and because meeting their requirements in a novel way creates a paradigm shift for an industry, we call pursuits of this sort “Market Creating Innovations”. They break new ground and create new terms and conditions for industry competition.

This also describes the process of “Category Kingship” as outlined in the book Play Bigger. The authors encourage companies to deliberately frame and narrate their operations, their products and their product categories in a unique and integrated way, in order to assume Captainship. As we’ve prepared to bring our innovations forward, we realized that thinking about how to Play Bigger serves as good preparation to pursue an MCI only when the New Market is allowed to shine back on the company and shape it for a specific type of success. As current Director of the Christensen Institute Efosa Ojomo tweeted recently, “When creating a market, the product and the market are one and the same.” So, the product design is wholly determined by the latent demands of the “non-purchasers” who are eagerly awaiting access to a product on their terms. With that piece set down, how a company chooses to design and frame its brand will dynamically interact with the product/market to shape a new category in search of its Leader. First mover status alone is not enough to retain the title. An inspiring and achievable vision for the category that makes room for countless contributors to play and profit in the new space is the requirement to lead. Whoever can offer the best vision early on proves another maxim, “When creating a category, the vision and the category are one and the same”.

The remainder of the article is broken down into four parts:

  • Requirements for the New Market
  • Current Conditions for Market Creation
  • New Product Proposal
  • Vision for the Future

Requirements of a Remedy

The employment of these target groups varies widely but with strong themes. Be they farmers, tradesmen, labourers, small retailers or vendors, there are common elements to their daily lives that provide parameters to any potential solution. We’ve drafted a short list to reflect in technical terms the practical needs and preferences of mobile-only users

1. Durable and Portable* Contact Information

2. Simple and Reliable Methods for Exchanging and Updating Contact Information with Version Controls

3. Secure Transaction Records Fully Controlled by Owners

4. Customizable and Shareable Transaction Templates

5. Embedded and Discrete Access to Educational Content

6. Learning Records Must Have All the Same Integrity and Benefits of Transaction Records

8. Persistent Access to Learning Tools at All Times

Drawing from the insights of the Boundaryless team, we propose the creation of a “2 Engine Architecture” for a platform we are dubbing BASICS – the Business Assistance System for Individual and Community Success. The two engines in future-proof platforms are 1) the Transactions Engine and 2) the Learning Engine. Although not commonly used in tech circles today, the term ‘engine’ is intended to make the concepts of software systems and sub-systems visceral and relatable to non-technical contributors. A platform is a set of rules and operating procedures, most often nowadays put into motion using software. BASICS, like all platforms today, will begin as a software system but shouldn’t be viewed solely in those terms. It’s a set of evolving rules helping guide the slow creation of digital tools, physical devices and other local offerings.

The Transactions Engine (TE) is built to securely provide the platform’s primary value proposition, in our case the day-today recording of expenses and incomes. The Learning Engine (LE) on ,the other hand, is built to support each user’s personal growth and advancement. The LE does this by assisting the user with the discovery, saving, grouping, retrieving and presenting of information and media. For software created using BASICS, a copy of any screen or block of data can be saved via the LE into folders, and every folder belongs to a Box. All boxes remain under the strict control of users at all times.

The design of any LE is fairly universal, while the functions of a TE are very particular to the purpose of a platform. At London Street, we are focused on supporting the main daily ‘Jobs To Be Done’ of our target users, the so-called “bottom billions”. This is not a derisive characterization. We view this group’s needs and requirements as the foundation of a ecosystem of products and services which people of all kinds require but currently can not access due to the lack of choices and over-design of options.

Daily Jobs To Be Done

1. Rapid Cash Flow Projection for Multiple Scenarios

2. Fusion between recording transactions for internal bookkeeping and ability to issue receipts and invoices

3. The need to quickly switch “hats” or create new ventures and projects on the fly

4. Simplified performance reporting across combos of categories, tags, projects etc.

5. Lightweight but secure method for forming work teams and assigning read/write permissions for groups of records

6.

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