Juntos was recently featured in Trulioo's blog series, Fostering Financial Inclusion. You can see the original post here, as well as the full interview transcript below:
Trulioo: Could you share with us the early stages of Juntos, especially when it was still a “dorm-room” idea at Stanford, and how it became what it is today?
Our founder, Ben Knelman, came up with the idea for Juntos as a student at the Stanford d.school [Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University]. For a class project, he worked with the night shift janitors to create basic financial management and planning tools for them. While rudimentary, these tools helped one of the janitors save $2K over the course of a year. For someone making less than $25K a year in the Bay Area, that was incredibly powerful. Ben knew there was something there he had to pursue – something about changing the way people think and feel about their money to improve their financial journeys.
Ben graduated from the d.school and met our other co-founders, CCO Katie Macc and CTO Dante Cassanego. After prototyping and iteration, they landed on the product we offer today: An automated conversation platform designed to build trusting relationships between customers and their financial institutions. We won an Innovation Award for Financial Inclusion at the 2012 G20 Summit in Mexico City, kicked off our first deployment in Colombia, and have since grown to work in 15 countries across 4 continents.
Trulioo: Was Juntos’ technology focussed on the financial services sector from the get-go?
The idea was always to focus on financial services. People don’t have trusting relationships with their banks anymore –consumer research shows that banking is now the single least trusted industry. For people that are newer to formal financial services or mobile banking, distrust is particularly high. As transactions have moved out of branches and personal interactions between banks and their customers have declined, trust has eroded further.
So while more people have access to formal financial accounts than ever before, usage and engagement continue to lag behind. We believe that is because relationships between financial institutions and their customers haven’t transitioned well to the digital world. That’s the problem Juntos exists to solve: we help financial institutions position themselves as trusted partners in their customers’ financial lives with warm, long-term conversations that feel personal and human.
Trulioo: To what extent is inactivity in the interactions between customers and their financial service providers an issue?
Dormancy is definitely a major issue; we see it as a clear symptom of the lacking presence most financial institutions have in their customers’ lives. Rather than treating the symptom (trying to re-activate customers that have left), Juntos focuses on the root cause. We provide customers with guidance, tips, and key account information in extremely accessible mobile channels (primarily SMS and WhatsApp). Our two-way conversations are designed to build relationships before customers stop using their accounts.
Trulioo: When did you realize that financial institutions and their end users needed an engagement solution like this?
We recognized Juntos’ potential early on from our first pilot with Bancolombia. The results were really encouraging: we saw double-digit response rates to our messaging, and meaningful increases in account usage compared to control groups that we didn’t engage. Bancolombia remains a Juntos partner to this day, more than 5 years later.
Beyond aggregate results, we saw the power of our solution for end users in the individual conversations themselves. Customers shared their hopes, goals, and dreams with us. They asked questions. They told us how much they valued the messaging. It’s hard for me to choose just one example, but here’s a user response that I like:
“Thank you very much. More than saving, I feel like someone in the world is watching out for me.”
Trulioo: According to McKinsey & Company, efficient and specialized customer journeys typically generate greater revenue growth, as well as customer service cost reduction. How does Juntos lay the groundwork for a satisfying customer journey?
Juntos invests heavily in localization and content customization to match our partners’ specific goals. At the start of every new engagement, we conduct in-country user research, gather all relevant product information, and train local customer support teams to handle inbound questions that fall outside our automated platform’s guardrails. This approach ensures that we deliver better experiences and journeys for end users, which ultimately grows long-term revenue for our partners.
Trulioo: Customers around the world expect personalized advice and information, especially when it comes to their financial services. How has Juntos been able to do this when some would call automated solutions “programmed”?
Juntos enables customers to take conversations in whichever directions are most useful to them. For a small percentage of questions or requests that fall outside of our automated guardrails, in-country support teams take over. This approach allows Juntos to deliver experiences that feel natural and human at the scale of millions of customers.
Trulioo: Do you see customer engagement solutions like yours entering the customer success space even more in the next decade? If so, how?
Absolutely. The approach of “close branches, throw an app at customers, and hope they use it” isn’t viable on its own. Financial institutions that don’t invest in proactively engaging their mass market customers will lose them to competitors that provide better experiences. Banks are increasingly recognizing this, and will grow investments in customer engagement solutions.
Juntos currently covers 15 countries and we imagine that coverage will continue to expand. What challenges has your team experienced while tailoring your technology to different cultures and languages around the world?
We’ve gotten quite good at rapid translation and localization of content to support the international growth you mention, but there has definitely been some trial and error. Coming out of the Stanford d.school, we rely on human-centered design principles that put the end user at the center of our product. That means that our conversations have different flavors in different regions.
Juntos has found, though, that customers behave and react to content more similarly across similar socio-economic groups in different regions than across different socio-economic groups in the same country. For example, conversation experiences that work well with low-income users in the Philippines are more likely to work with low-income users in South Africa than middle-income Filipinos. That phenomenon is fortunate for Juntos, because it makes it easier to scale our business across diverse cultures.
Can you share with us a success story where Juntos solved a problem for someone who was financially underserved?
We have many! For example, during one partnership in East Africa, we engaged a chicken farmer who signed up for a transactional account with a bank as a prerequisite to applying for a loan and investing in his business. In the same year, his region experienced a severe drought and his father passed away, events that were very disruptive for him emotionally and financially. He lived far from the bank’s branches and had not heard from the bank since he opened his account, so he grew skeptical that the account was right for him.
Juntos messaging reminded the farmer of the value of his account and taught him how to use its digital features in lieu of traveling to a branch. Over time, he developed more regular savings habits, and he sent Juntos this message:
Thanks for the friendship you have continued to show me. Ever since I joined your service, I can now afford a smile on my face. I did not know that there could be a [financial service] that would help a low income earner like me.
This type of conversation-based technology could have use cases that stretch outside of financial services. Does Juntos have any plans to reach different markets in the coming years?
I definitely see some applicability in other industries, but our focus will remain on financial services and insurance for the foreseeable future.
What’s the next step for Juntos in 2019 and are there any exciting updates on the horizon?
We’re actually looking to establish our first US partnerships this year, which I’m really excited about. We see a lot of potential for the US market. In the past, banks here were reluctant to try a solution like Juntos. Chatbots, though, have gained widespread acceptance and adoption recently (e.g., Bank of America’s rollout of Erica). While Juntos serves a fundamentally different purpose than traditional chatbots, which are primarily reactive cost savings tools rather than proactive relationship-building solutions, the category has been established. I’m encouraged by early conversations we’ve had, and am looking forward to growing in our own backyard for the first time!