“Microfinance institutions? How are those different from banks? What services do they offer? Are they connected with the government? What do I need to apply for a loan? How could I qualify?”
Based on our interviews and conversations with taxi drivers, tri-shaw drivers, shop owners and others, the questions above are some that Myanmar citizens have around financial access and microfinance institutions.
One challenge that remains for expanding financial inclusion is the lack of financial literacy among citizens needed to understand financial services and products. Due to this lack, many are unaware of how to utilize services available to them and distrust financial institutions. Most of them have thus, never had bank accounts or used formal financial services, not to mention they are prone to dangers of receiving misinformation.
Financial education has been met with skepticism when it comes to demonstrating any impact on financial literacy. Contrary to what previous singular studies may reveal however, financial education does make a difference. Rigorous impact evaluation studies, including meta-analyses,[i]have determined that financial education has a strong positive impact on financial literacy as well as a positive, measurable impact on financial behavior. Despite the fact that financial literacy programs vary in their interventions across different program types, the general effect is positive, even factoring this heterogeneity.
While there may be workshops and literature to aid consumers in understanding financial information and concepts, the reach is somewhat limited. ThitsaWorks would like to leverage the opportunities of digital growth in Myanmar and the existing technology that people are already using to make financial literacy available on a wider scale. One way is through the use of a chatbot that can be integrated on platforms users are already using.
What is a Chatbot and What is the Impact?
A Chatbot is a computer program that conducts a conversation using auditory or textual methods, mimicking a live person and answering questions. You may have seen this when online shopping and a messenger bot appears and guides you through a process to find the right product you want.
Similarly, a chatbot for financial education would deliver key information relating to personal or business finance and could be developed through the messaging platforms.
According to Peter Rojas, Entrepreneur in Residence at Betaworks, “People are now spending more time in messaging apps than in social media and that is a huge turning point. Messaging apps are the platforms of the future and bots will be how their users access all sorts of services.”
The advantage of chatbots is that they can be developed on existing platforms that people are already using. So what we want to do is find the platforms where users already are — instead of making users go through the complexities of installing another native application.
Opportunities to converse with chatbots are growing, whether through our smartphones, tablets, home appliances, virtual personal assistants, or our cars.
We also believe a chatbot would be interactive and informative enough for users to feel armed with more knowledge, seek further information or even find a microfinance institution.
Currently financial literacy efforts in Myanmar are an operationally expensive endeavor and is usually conducted on a small scale. Participants are usually already connected with a microfinance institution which means two things: 1) Trainings are limited in capacity due to human resources and 2) participants that are not connected with an MFI are likely not receiving information they are seeking.
The most obvious benefits to delivering information through a chatbot can be summed in three words: accessibility, scale and interaction.
Accessibility: Chatbots are readily accessible because they exist on platforms users are already using. Once a user starts a conversation with the bot, the response is instantaneous. This allows them to play with and ask questions on-demand and also in private.
Scale: Unlike traditional mediums, chatbots have the capability to handle capacity. One bot can talk with hundreds of users at the same time. Information is not only accessible, but also has a wide reach.
Interaction: Chatbots guide users through a conversation, where users are learning through an interactive format, unlike static information that may be hard to navigate. Even more, if a chatbot is AI-driven, responses are tailored such that not all users would receive the same responses from the chatbot. The chatbot responds based off the input a user gives. From asking various questions to determine consumers’ information needs, the chatbot could provide information or triggers that could nudge consumers towards more desired behaviors such as accessing a formal financial institution.
Combining these three factors of accessibility, scale and interaction together, you have the potential for both wide and deep impact when it comes to delivering information. Even more, the finance industry is ideal for this kind of automation given that it is built on processing information. Because of the potential an AI-driven chatbot has in streamlining loads of data to respond to customers’ requests, the chatbot will only become more popular with financial services.
A Chatbot’s Value Added in Education
Admittedly, there is no silver bullet to wicked problems like the lack of financial knowledge and education. A chatbot is merely a tool and the potential of chatbots’ role in education is promising provided they are used for an appropriate purpose. As an emerging tool, chatbots have shown to be very useful for finding and disseminating information. ThitsaWorks’ chatbot’s added value is the ability to provide financial information and calculations in an accessible way. According to a recent survey conducted by Ubisend, an AI- driven chatbot building company, “consumers want chatbots to be purely functional and offer practical solutions rather than engaging a consumer with in-depth conversations.” Rather than provide loads of information at a time, we give specific tailored responses based on what the customer says, in smaller digestable chunks.
Cornell University developed a chatbot called CourseQ that allows students to send texts to various classrooms, departments and clubs. CourseQ has been trained to answer questions relating to assignments, due dates and events, and makes it easy to take polls. By having chatbots interact with students with more rudimentary and functional questions and tasks, the professors and tutors were more able to devote time with students on more complex problems requiring more creative input.
Similarly, when it comes to financial education, one could also make the case that a chatbot could teach a borrower how to calculate interest, while a human loan officer takes on the more creative task of coaching on a business plan or money management.
To keep up with current news on the development of the chatbot, including the product launching coming up soon, please be sure to follow us on Facebook @ThitsaWorks.
[i] Kaiser, T. and Menkhoff, L. (2017). The World Bank Economic Review. [online] Available at: http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/144551502300810101/pdf/WPS8161.pdf