This post was originally published in English and Spanish by FinEquityALC.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, social protection programmes had to react fast to provide continued support to the most vulnerable. For many programmes, this was the push they needed to digitise.
Digitisation offers the potential to reach more people quickly. But the experience of a financial education programme in Chile highlights the importance of keeping our focus on the services provided to the individuals we seek to support throughout the digitisation process – not just the number of people we reach.
From in-person to digital delivery amid a global crisis
A 2020 evaluation of a financial education programme in Chile found that women’s financial health was deteriorating during the COVID-19 crisis.
More than half the women who took part in the study were in debt – most in order to pay for basic daily living costs, like food and cleaning products. With limited access to saving or investment products, these women were even more vulnerable to the financial shock of the pandemic.
The financial education programme, run by the Chilean Ministry of Social Development and Family’s Solidarity and Social Investment Fund (FOSIS), had supported over 34,000 people (90% of whom women) between 2012-2019. The programme consisted of eight in-person workshops.
When the crisis hit, after 10 years in existence, the programme had to digitise. FOSIS, the Institute of Peruvian Studies and Satori took on the challenge to design and implement a pilot, trialing new technologies and virtual trainings.
Drawing on programme evaluation data, the pilot aimed to support participating women to ‘Make a personal and/or family budget that allows them to plan financial goals based on greater knowledge and understanding of their attitudes and financial options available to them.’
We developed a Web App with UX intuitive design, interactive modules with audio-visual aides, practical exercises and evaluations, and a system to monitor the user’s learning journey.
Each group of 25 App users was assigned a financial advisor to accompany them from accessing the App to completing the course. The advisor had direct WhatsApp communication with the user through a button installed in the app. Each week, there was a group video call with the financial advisor.
The pilot ran from August to December 2021 with 519 participating women from three regions across Chile, yielding positive results. 86% of users completed all modules – 63% within the planned 20 day-period. Participating women increased 40% in the financial abilities index compared with the baseline survey.
Below are four lessons to emerge from the pilot programme that can inform scaling efforts.
The impact you want to achieve must be the starting point, not the technology
It’s no good starting with the technology you want to use. First, you must ask, ‘what do we want to see happen?’ And then work backwards to identify the best tool to achieve those results.
This also means customizing the tools for the target users. Studies showed us that 77% of the women accessed the internet primarily through their cell phone. And 74% used WhatsApp. The main reason for not having used the internet in the last 12 months was a lack of know-how or the cost of connecting.
Using technology isn’t necessarily a lot cheaper than face-to-face
The cost per user of moving from in-person to virtual methodologies reduced by just 8%.
Around 30% of participants required personal support to access and use the App. And feedback from their financial advisor was key to their completing the course.
Thus, to achieve the desired results online, it was necessary to invest significant resources in user support. The technology alone wouldn’t work.
Behind each social technology is a person who will use it. If we just rely on technology without thinking about the user – their needs and capacities – then we will end up excluding people.
Digitization is an opportunity for more continuous learning
Using digital platforms to deliver social programmes represents an opportunity to get real-time data on users and with it, a greater understanding of their needs. This data can be used to personalize and improve the programme.
Learning can then be used to reach a greater diversity of people and to expand coverage. The lessons learned from this pilot are a starting point for other interventions that work in the most vulnerable segments prioritized in the National Financial Education Strategies.
Scaling should focus on amplifying the impact achieved
Beyond scaling up the intervention by expanding the coverage of users, the scale should focus on amplifying the impact achieved on users.
The pilot established a minimum capacity floor for women to plan their finances. However, it is necessary to delve deeper into issues such as over-indebtedness, limited access to savings and investment products and the equitable distribution of the financial burden, otherwise women would be left halfway to advancing towards closing gaps in financial inclusion.
Ivonne Villada is a co-author of the Call to Action on Scaling Impact.