Anuj Bhati and Laxmi Gunupudi
Anuj Bhati and Laxmi Gunupudi

Apr 01 2016

Samwad- A Platform for Continuous Financial Literacy

Samwad- A Platform for Continuous Financial Literacy

More than half the world’s population does not have access to proper financial services such as formal credit, insurance or a savings account. To address this problem, in several developing countries, Governments are taking major steps towards financial inclusion of disadvantaged and low-income segments of society by enabling and increasing access to financial products. However, access to institutional finance alone is not enough to secure their future. With access, it is equally important that they are empowered to make the right choice of a financial product based on their need and the risk associated with the product. Hence, financial inclusion is incomplete without appropriate financial literacy. The two are interlinked. Despite having made significant progress on financial inclusion, 3 out of every 4 Indians are not financially literate. The reasons are not difficult to decipher. Financial literacy is still primarily being delivered through traditional class room based medium of delivery and it has its own limitations. However, in the case of classroom based medium of delivery, it is very difficult to customize content for individuals based on their context and background. With every change in content, redelivering the same in classroom mode is very expensive. It is also extremely tedious to cover large population of target audience. Classroom is thus, not a viable mode of delivery to conduct continuous learning programmes and there is a need to explore the alternatives such as Information Communication Technologies, ICTs which have huge scope and potential in efficient delivery of continuous literacy programmes.

Samwad is a platform for intuitive and interactive communication, which can be leveraged for continuous literacy programmes. It is a low-cost solution, with the vision of anytime, anywhere access to enable fruitful continuous learning. At the core of Samwad, are‘ SMS’ (Short Message Service), ‘IVR’ (Interactive Voice Response – Voice-based applications) and mobile applications that can be utilized as conduits in disseminating knowledge to mobile phone users with low literacy and low digital skills. Hence, Samwad through its interactive channel hopes to educate the masses with the vision of a brighter digital India. It also caters to individual needs by customizing the content based on the context he/she is embedded in.

With a primary objective of assessing the effectiveness of this interactive platform, a Proof of Concept (POC) was undertaken in the specific case of financial literacy which is the need of the hour. In this study, a sample of 1,383 people, from the state of Karnataka, has been engaged in a basic financial literacy programme. Participants were identified and recruited from ten financial institutions who gave their consent for engagement. This programme delivered content and information on basic aspects of financial management. Content designed by the RBI was used as the base content and was customized for individual participants based on their demographic characteristics. SMS and IVR modes of communication were used to interactively communicate with the users. Response data was analysed to study two kinds of behaviour – response to the SMS messages versus non-response; sustained engagement in a continuous learning programme.

Data shows that 383 out of 1,383 participants responded to the conversations (28% response rate). From the analysis of this data we have some interesting findings on the factors that influence response behaviour of individuals in such programmes.

Age

Age was found to be a significant factor. But the impact is only marginal. Maximum responses were received from users around 40 years of age. Beyond this benchmark, with the increase in the age of the respondent, the chances of responding and communicating with the platform marginally reduced. This is particularly significant as it is projected that by 2020 the average age of an Indian will be around 29 years2. Hence, the next few years present a great opportunity to also create a financially literate young population considering that a large segment of the population would be within the age group that is more amenable to get educated over this channel.

Gender

When we analyse the case of at least one response from the individuals, we find that gender is a significant factor and men have more propensity to respond compared to women. However, when we analyse sustained engagement, there is no significant difference between men and women. This implies that both men and women have equal propensity to engage in such programmes.

Education

Education level was found to be significant and with increase in education level, the odds of obtaining responses was reducing. The response rates were higher for people with no formal education. This is in line with our intentions to reach out to a large segment of people who are unbanked and who do not have any formal education.

Medium of Delivery

In both the cases, communication mode was found to be a significant factor that influences response behaviour and SMS mode was used more for responding compared to SMS&IVR or IVR. This shows support to the fact that people prefer asynchronous modes of learning in the context of such continuous learning programmes.

Language

For a continued conversation, language was a significant factor. In the case of sustained engagement, we find that the odds of obtaining responses in English was more compared to conversations in Kannada. When we just consider the case of at least one response, language was not found to be significant. There could also be some issues with local language message display and input in some phones.

Incentive

Both the analyses suggest that the incentives are great motivators to engage participants with the programme. When users pay for responding to the SMS, it costs them money. Hence it is observed that the response behaviour improved for the sample of the people who were incentivized. This suggests that sustained engagement is possible when respondent does not incur any cost.

Findings from the study support the fact that age, language and educational qualification are indeed relevant for contextualization. Findings suggest that SMS channel provides the flexibility of asynchronous learning, content updation and redelivery, which are very important aspects in continuous learning. It can reach out to a large number of target audience. The results of the study also indicate that the effectiveness of the medium in engaging people in meaningful conversations in learning is not influenced by gender or age. Analyses highlight the effectiveness of this medium in reaching out to people with lower education levels. Some of the challenges faced during the implementation helped us understand the need to introduce trainings on using SMS channel. Some of the regulation related problems also increased the difficulty for the users as they had to respond to a different number during the interactions. This is primarily because in the current scenario of regulations, users cannot respond to a toll free number through SMS. They have to incur costs in this process. Incentivizing their SMS costs encouraged them to participate in the programme. Hence, the findings suggest that regulators can look into permitting toll free SMS for notified services of national importance such as financial literacy. Overall, the objectives of the POC have been successfully accomplished.

1 http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/TaCorCVYR4HTGCTnAtpQHL/Money-matters.html
2 Basu, Kaushik (25 July 2007). "India's demographic dividend". BBC News.

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