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Currency of Trust: Consumer Behaviors and Attitudes Toward Digital Financial Services in India

In the past few years, India has made tremendous progress in building infrastructure and regulatory frameworks that encourage digital innovation in financial services, but adoption and usage of new offerings have been slow to take hold and scale. This report aims to bring the voice of the consumer to the forefront of the discussion around adoption and usage of digital financial services in India, in the hopes that a deeper understanding of consumer behaviors and aspirations will help unlock higher usage and provide services that are more relevant to consumers’ real needs. It report focuses on understanding the current context and behaviors of a diverse sample of Indian consumers—covering 30 communities across urban, semi-urban, and rural areas—regarding their digital consumption and readiness for digital financial services on key issues, such as ease of use, trust, and social collaboration. Among the most relevant behavioral insights surfaced by these deep interactions with Indian consumers are:

  • Even though smartphone adoption is expected to reach a projected 54 percent of the Indian market in the next three years, a large portion of surveyed consumers—especially those in rural areas—indicated they are comfortable with keeping their basic feature phones. This is primarily due to the greater resilience and longer battery life of lower-end phones, but also because internet access is not seen as a priority for these consumers. This means digital financial services providers will need to cater to both technologies in their offerings in order to broaden their customer base.
  • Adoption of mobile apps is driven by data efficiency and usage within consumers’ social networks. The survey found that Indian consumers are frugal when it comes to data usage and look for creative ways to save data, such as constantly alternating between 2G and 3G depending on the function in use or pooling resources to set up shared Wi-Fi hot spots. Consumer adoption is also influenced by the number of individuals in their social network who use the same app. This means digital financial services apps need to be lean in data usage and leverage pervasive platforms, such as Whatsapp or UCBrowser.
  • Current digital financial offerings are seen as overly complex even by savvy consumers. Surveyed consumers consider those who use financial service apps to have a specialized skill and cite difficulty grasping financial jargon in product offerings and legal terms and conditions. According to the research, consumers’ lack of trust in their own abilities is one of the biggest hurdles today for adoption of digital financial services. Lowering the stakes for consumers to experiment with digital offerings is a must for providers. Prototyping sessions revealed that simple actions such as removing jargon and complex user interfaces, communicating in local languages, offering easy proof of transaction and grievance redressal, and using bank correspondents to onboard customers, can go a long way in building consumers’ confidence to transact digitally.   

Currency of Trust” leverages in-depth interviews with consumers and human-centered design prototyping to surface other key behavioral insights like those mentioned above, revealing why Indian consumers are slow to adopt digital financial services. In addition, it also groups consumers with similar personality traits, socioeconomic status, and access to technology, into five key “personas”, offering a pathway through which providers can initiate or increase engagement with their digital financial services.


Sarah Corley
Sarah is DFI's Community & Professional Development Manager, and is responsible for providing opportunities for capacity building of DFS professionals and DFI alumni outside of our online course provision. She has over 19 years of experience within the learning and capacity development within the development and health sector, and is passionate about being a catalyst for change.

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