Case Study

Improving Financial Access for Marginalized Populations

How can design help create financial services that meet the needs of the world’s poorest communities?


Approximately 40 percent of the world’s population—2.7 billion people—are unbanked. Despite widespread efforts to bring banking to these people, many new financial services have found uneven success, especially among marginalized communities who need them most. The Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion (IMTFI) at UC Irvine supports innovative work to advance the development of financial services targeting these unbanked populations.

IMTFI partnered with Reboot to undertake a study of the barriers to financial inclusion for China’s marginalized communities and to propose second-generation financial products that could serve their needs. Our work was featured by the Center for Financial Inclusion and World Policy Institute, as well as by various media such as The Atlantic.

financial inclusion

Despite over three decades of strong economic growth, approximately 400 million Chinese are still without access to basic financial services. In recent years, more than 30,000 branches in poor and rural regions have closed, leaving more than 64 percent of these populations unbanked. Citizens at the bottom of the economic pyramid lack the means to save for their children’s education and protect their livelihoods through insurance. They cannot send and receive money or make purchases on credit, preventing many from realizing their full potential and improving their lives.

Mobile banking has the potential to change this status quo in China. High mobile penetration rates, extensive agent networks, and an intensive reliance on remittance payments in rural areas suggest China is primed for the deployment of the kind of national, mobile-based remittance system that has found success in countries such as Kenya, the Philippines, and Paraguay. IMTFI engaged Reboot to undertake an ethnographic study of marginalized communities in China to inform the design of mobile financial services tailored to these underserved populations.

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