With the launch of the Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana, the Indian government has signaled its determination to make financial inclusion a reality in India. The attractive incentives to open accounts, easing of paperwork and initiatives by bank branches are ensuring that the targets are being met, in terms of numbers. However, there are certain setbacks in the implementation of the scheme, which the Finance Ministry has asked bankers to address. They are:

1)      Low coverage in at least 33 districts spread across under-developed states

2)      A majority of accounts that were opened have not been activated and therefore will not enjoy the incentives associated with account opening such as free accident cover.

3)      Over 75% of the accounts opened under Jan Dhan Scheme have zero balance and there is a need to ensure transactions in accounts.

Financial empowerment does not happen with the act of opening an account. It requires that customers actually use the account, and benefit from it. For the farmer who does not have easy access to a branch or ATM, mobile is truly the device which can put access to financial services at his fingertips. Mobile payments, online account management and mobile money transfer – which are conveniences for the city dweller, can actually be life changers for people living in remote rural areas.

Rightly, there are questions and apprehensions as to whether mobile banking will work for the rural user. Comfort with technology is one issue, and it can be addressed through education. But there is a bigger question that has remained unaddressed till date. Will a mobile based solution work in a world where the language of banking (and mobile applications designed for banking) is English, and such apps run only on smartphones? Even smart phones are not smarter when it comes to the Indian language support.

Mobile apps can be used by bank officers conducting camps in rural areas to capture customer information that facilitates account opening. Information can be collected through a vernacular language interface that is familiar and comfortable for customers, but it will get automatically converted into English, which remains the back-end language of the banking world. This will make the process of account opening faster, simpler and easier.

Customers can feel connected to their new bank account by downloading a simple, light application optimized for  low bandwidth that will run on literally any feature phone, smartphone running on any operating system. This mobile application can provide reminders through vernacular language voice or text interface to activate the account, log in to check balance or attempt one’s first banking transaction. The presence of a vernacular language interface can provide a huge comfort factor to people who are recent mobile phone users, as well as first time banking customers. It can help to build trust and loyalty towards the bank which literally talks to them in their own language and handholds them through the early stages of the relationship.

Ultimately, banks and customers benefit when the usage of banking services reaches a large scale, which makes it possible to provide more, zero-cost services.

At Anant Computing, we are passionate about helping corporate, NGOs and governmental agencies to design mobile applications that can talk to every user, in their own mother tongue. Our Anant Computing Platform allows you to develop your application in English, just once, and then generate high quality apps for every mobile phone, and operating system, in any Indian language.

(This blog was originally published in Thinking Aloud)