Implementing Technologies for Financial Service Innovations in Base of the Pyramid Markets


  • Estelle Berger,

  • Cheryl Nakata

  • The authors contributed equally to the article.

Address correspondence to: Estelle Berger, 58 W North Blvd, Chicago, Illinois 60610. E-mail: Tel: 312.582.6104.


This study examines how information communications technologies (ICTs) can be implemented effectively to provide financial service innovations to the poor who live in developing countries, a market collectively known as the “Base of the Pyramid” or BOP. The BOP needs—but commonly lacks—basic financial services, a situation that perpetuates poverty. With a dearth of formal banks especially in rural areas of developing countries, the BOP has almost no access to savings accounts, credit lines, and other necessary services. However, ICTs have the potential to overcome cost, infrastructure, and other barriers to service delivery, and are being used to offer new financial services such as mobile phone banking to the BOP. The purpose of this study is to determine ways of successfully implementing these technology-enabled service innovations.

The study draws on the Socio-Technical View for theoretical girding, and uses case method to examine multiple ICT implementation projects in five sub-Saharan African countries (Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, and Uganda). The projects, which were carried out by a leading microfinance banking organization named Opportunity International, provided mobile banks, point-of-service, and mobile phone banking services to the BOP. Several techniques were applied to gather data in the field over a two-year period: depth interviews, direct observations, and internal document and data analysis. Multiple forms of evidence were triangulated against one another, and analyzed across cases until themes emerged and converged. In doing so, two specific forms of analysis, explanation building and cross-case synthesis, were employed to make sense of the data.

The findings, summarized as research propositions, collectively conclude that implementation is effective when the unique socio-human, governmental-regulatory, and market conditions of the BOP are accounted for, such that fit is achieved between the technologies and environments they are situated in. More specifically, effectiveness comes when implementation (1) addresses customer and agent limits with the technologies, and is accepted and supported by trained staff who monitor technology use and make responsive system adjustments; (2) exploits and promotes supportive governmental regulations and actions, as well as leverages sound electronic fund transfer (EFT) switches, whether government or bank established; and (3) accounts for low business capabilities and evolving market competition, along with the underdeveloped financial sector and financial literacy of the population. In sum, there are multiple factors that should be considered in the design and installation activities surrounding these technologies to ensure they provide cost-effective, quality financial services to the poor.