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Financial Service Delivery to the Poor and Technology

We are conducting primary research to understand the ways in which rural and urban low-income households access and use financial services from formal and informal providers, including microfinance institutions.

Our work involves investigating ways in which the use of technological solutions to enable various aspects of financial service delivery can result in more cost-effective and scalable operations for providers, and cheaper, better quality finance for the poor. To this end, we are working on understanding the economic, social and design factors involved in effectively deploying technologies to improve financial service delivery to poor clients.


Current work: Managing Microfinace with Paper, Pen and Digital Slate


We are experimenting with a novel microfinance record management application that runs on a low-cost digital slate prototype device. The solution combines handwritten pen-and-paper input on ordinary paper forms, with immediate electronic feedback. Over a fifteen-month period, we designed and tested a solution that targets issues of data incompleteness, data inaccuracy and process inefficiency in managing the microfinance records of Self-Help Groups in rural West Bengal and Orissa in eastern India. Results from our initial field trial indicate that the use of the digital slate application to accept and process handwritten paper-based entries corresponds with significant reductions in meeting time and error rate, and improved data completeness. The digital slate solution performs as well as, and is strongly preferred over, a purely electronic alternative for record management. Our solution is able to achieve efficiency and quality gains, while also catering to the preferences and budgets of low-literate, low-income clients.


Previous work: Costing tool to evaluate financial viability

This Excel-based costing tool allows microfinance institutions to perform quick, accurate, cost-benefit analyses when evaluating different technology options to enhance their front-end data collection and management processes, prior to/during pilot implementation.

The tool is available here.


People involved: Researchers, Interns & Partners

Aishwarya Lakshmi Ratan, David Hutchful, Pushkar V. Chitnis, Kentaro Toyama, Mike Koenig, Indrani Medhi, Nimmi Rangaswamy, Sean Blagsvedt, Rajesh Veeraraghavan

Olga Morawczynski, Keng Siang Ooi, Matthew Phiong, Sunandan Chakraborty, Mahesh Gogineni, Shabnam Aggarwal, Angelin Baskaran, U. Vasudha, Carol Savia Peters

PRADAN, Ujjivan, Ekgaon/CCD, BASIX, Unitus, CGAP, FINO



Olga Morawczynski, David Hutchful, Nimmi Rangaswamy, and Edward Cutrell, The Bank Account is not Enough: Examining Strategies for Financial Inclusion in India, in Proc. of the 4th IEEE/ACM Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and International Development (ICTD) 2010, London, UK, IEEE, IEEE, December 2010.

Aishwarya Lakshmi Ratan, Sunandan Chakraborty, Pushkar V. Chitnis, Kentaro Toyama, Keng Siang Ooi, Matthew Phiong, and Mike Koenig, Managing Microfinance with Paper, Pen and Digital Slate, in Proc. of ICTD 2010, IEEE, December 2010.

Rahul De and Aishwarya Lakshmi Ratan, Whose gain is it anyway? Structurational perspectives on deploying ICTs for development in India's microfinance sector, in Information Technology for Development, Wiley, 10 September 2009.

Aishwarya Ratan and Mahesh Gogineni, Cost Realism in Deploying Technologies for Development, no. MSR-TR-2008-196, May 2008.

Aishwarya Lakshmi Ratan, An assessment of Pradan’s ‘Computer Munshi’ intervention to improve microfinance accounting operations, September 2007.

Mahesh Gogineni, Preliminary assessment of a pilot intervention run by BASIX involving the use of handheld devices to record microcredit repayments, June 2007.

Mahesh Gogineni, Aishwarya Lakshmi Ratan, and Shabnam Aggarwal, Evaluating the viability of a mobile phone-based, SMS/GPRS-enabled, client data collection channel for urban microfinance, May 2007.

aishwarya ratan, Deconstructing 4 microfinance myths, no. MSR-TR-2006-194, December 2006.


Selected Presentations

Towards gains in (contextual) efficiency and user experience. Presentation at the 'Innovations in Information Technology for the Client and the MFI' session of the Asia-Pacific Regional Microcredit Summit, July 28-30, 2008, Bali, Indonesia.

Cost Realism in Deploying Technologies for Development. (2008, 29-30 May). Paper presentation at the Conference on "Confronting the Challenge of Technology for Development: Experiences from the BRICS", Department of International Development, University of Oxford, UK.

Costs, Contacts and Convenience: Leapfrogging Access to Finance with Mobile Phone Technology. (2007, September 18). Presentation at the CGAP/ IFC/ VISA conference on "Next Generation Access to Finance: Gaining Scale and Reducing Costs with Technology and Credit Scoring", Washington D.C.

On microfinance (and technology), Techfest 2007, Redmond, USA.


Reports and Cases (unpublished)

Ratan, Aishwarya. 'A preliminary assessment of CCD and Ekgaon's MIS pilot intervention to improve microfinance operations.' December 2006.

Pichai, Hariprasad and Srikrishnan Ganesan. 'Study of Delivery of Financial Services in Rural Areas through ICT: An assessment of the NBFC Sanghamithra's Simputer pilot.' August 2006.

Medhi, Indrani and Aishwarya Ratan. 'Learnings from a usability test of Citibank's biometric-ATM prototype.' June 2006.