Groups getting to grips with digital saving

by Shelagh McLoughlin
9 April 2020
9 April 2020

Digital record-keeping for savings groups is inevitable but the road to implementation is not easy. This has been the case for both SaveAct — which has been running a pilot project to introduce an app for record-keeping to groups — and organisations working in other countries.

This was shared during a visit in March by three overseas savings practitioners who attended a midlands SG meeting to observe SaveAct’s app in action. The visitors, David Panetta (director of SGs at the SEEP network, a global learning organisation), Olga Lucia Ruiz Martínez (a programme director for LGP) and Anna Ferracuti, a programme coordinator for financial inclusion at the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), were all due to attend an international conference on savings groups last week in Durban that was cancelled due to coronavirus fears.

The WeSave app, which was developed in collaboration with Tronomy, enables groups to run their savings process and record proceedings digitally. Ultimately, members who use it will have access to details such as how much money has been saved, what loans are owed, meeting dates and constitution rules. The app also makes it possible for members to contact the SaveAct office for help, and it records the GPS location of groups so that SaveAct can keep track of its footprint.

Although the pilot has had its share of frustrations with buggy software, the app has been  welcomed by members as a convenient feature alongside ongoing paper-based recording.

At the end of the meeting, members were asked questions about their experience of the app and they expressed both satisfaction with its usefulness and reluctance to let go of the paper records they trust.

“We are not fully confident and not ready to use the app until SaveAct has tested it for bugs,” said one member. Another said she wanted to continue to be able to “see the money” and to socialise at meetings, but after working with the app she had realised that it wasn’t much different to recording on paper.

“I think there’s a lot of potential (in the app) and the group was very honest about the challenges we all face and the challenges that SaveAct will face,” said Panetta after the meeting.

“They speak very positively about the app for many reasons: saving time, transparency, that they’re keeping up in a digital age. And yet it’s secondary to the paper records, and I think that will be a challenge for SaveAct and any organisation that is developing and promoting digital record-keeping tools. The promise is quite significant but there will be challenges to adoption and developing the type of confidence that members already have with paper records.”

According to Jean-Pierre Andrew, who is managing the WeSave project, the response from members has been more positive than anticipated, despite the challenges.

“Our members have engaged with it, showing a willingness to move with the times despite the fact that infrastructure does not always allow smooth sailing (i.e. reception, cell phone range and the high cost of data)

Panetta said other moves globally to digitize SGs that were further down the road of development were encountering new challenges.

“The application, although challenging, is the easy part. The difficult part is the business systems that go behind it in terms of customer support, troubleshooting and ensuring that the system is stable and that people can get the support they need. It’s not simply (about) the record-keeping. If there are digital financial services or educational materials delivered, then operational and financial sustainability become much more pressing.”

Panetta was very positive about the saving part of the meeting he observed.

“It’s remarkable that not speaking a word of the local language, you can watch them go about their meeting and understand the operations perfectly because it’s so systematic, transparent and easily understood,” he said.

Ruiz Martínez works in Latin America with savings groups and said it was very interesting to see the model in another country. “This was the first time I had seen an app working in the field. It will be challenging to integrate it into a group and I can see how the dynamic could change, but the important thing is to keep the social dynamic that is already set in groups, as this will help with the challenges of introducing something new.”

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