Beyond Financial Behaviour – Rethinking Our Approach to Innovation

Ignacio Mas

My all time intellectual high comes from having my preconceptions torn apart. I could not hope for a better start to the New Year, when my understanding of innovation in the financial sector was shaken by Ignacio Mas’ argument against “productitis.” Ignacio is a renowned consultant on mobile money and technology-enabled models for financial inclusion. He argues that we are suffering from an obsession to continuously create products that provide a variety of financial planning options to people. But, the more fundamental challenge of how to enable people to plan in the first place remains unconsidered. What we need, therefore, is a framework or a tool that enables customers to effectively plan their finances and consequently find right products to meet their needs.

When I meditated upon this further, I realized at the core of this argument lies the belief that, instead of providing predefined choices to people, we need to provide them the flexibility of creating their own choices. Only then will they be motivated to adopt new behaviours. This also reflects on the current state of our society where we have moved on from the need to have an array of options to choose from, to a strong desire to create our own choices.

We need to rethink our approach to the design of financial products and services. Instead of going with the assumption that designing intuitive user interfaces and overcoming literacy barriers can make financial services more accessible to the poor, we need to enable them to start using financial tools more effectively. We not only need to understand their financial practices, habits and decisions, but more importantly, attempt to comprehend the mindsets that drive these behaviours. A deeper insight into how users think about their finances, needs, and goals could help us make a huge leap forward. This would be beneficial both for the financial inclusion of low-income populations, as well as to ensure broader uptake of financial products by the middle class.

If this holds true for financial services, we may also need to revisit our thinking around innovation in other areas. In times to come, products, services and systems that align with existing needs and behaviours of users may no longer be considered transformative. What will be valued is the design of frameworks that help users to imagine new possibilities around what they can do with their lives.

About Ekta Ohri

Ekta Ohri has a background in Architecture, Visual and Critical Studies, and Anthropology and is interested in exploring links between design, culture, and lived experience.
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2 Responses to Beyond Financial Behaviour – Rethinking Our Approach to Innovation

  1. Divya Datta says:

    Very interesting point of view Ignacio and Ekta. I am going to go on a tangent and pose a question if you may, about how everything new and intentional leads to several consequences – some desired some questionable or objectionable. How does one then traverse or avoid this phenomena. For instance by providing certain kinds of financial services, how are we impacting / encouraging the materiality quotient among people. This is not to say interventions may be no good – but to realize that sometimes could be double edged swords. It may seem far fetched over time some value changes do occur – and therefore I think it is incumbent upon innovators to think about an ethical framework which anticipates and halts these questionable consequences.

  2. Ekta Ohri says:

    Very good point Divya, while challenging our existing innovation paradigm we do need to think about such ethical frameworks as well.

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