Commercial banks serve poor and low-income customers largely through transactional and savings accounts. This customer is always keenly interested in their balance, as any overspend brings penalties and embarrassment. Many poor customers find it so onerous and expensive to use their accounts, that they withdraw all the money once a month, and uses cash rather than the account.
Absa, a South African bank majority-owned by Barclays, wrestled with this and other issues regularly. The bank routinely experienced a weekend- and month-end crunch in their banking halls, when low-income customers came to the branch to inquire about balances and do their banking. This happened despite the fact that for customers, it can be quite expensive to get to a branch – up to $2.80 in taxi fares. In addition, Absa’s records indicated that about 50% of its low-income customers had registered for mobile banking and thus had access to their balances through their mobile devices. Despite this service, usage was low – only about 20% of those registered used their accounts – and focused mostly on airtime top-ups. Even though using a mobile device to check your balance could have saved customers money and been more convenient, it was not a feature commonly used. Read more about how Absa empowered its customers with accessing their information using games.