The JAM trinity, consisting of Jan-Dhan-Yojana, ie, bank accounts for everyone, a unique electronic Aadhaar ID, and mobile banking facilitated by UPI are all in place. Indeed, we have come a long way with 80 per cent of the population having bank accounts, 1.25 billion Aadhaar IDs, and the ever-increasing use of digital payments and mobile banking accelerated by UPI, which has made cash transfers simple, direct and without leakage that was rampant in the past. Yet, we are far from declaring victory.

Just ask yourself how many of you are paying your household help digitally or when we look around, we find that many of our older relatives do not feel comfortable using their smartphones for banking transactions or even digital payments for autorickshaw fares, day-to-day shopping and chores. Cash is still king. There appear to be two major missing features in financial inclusion: convenience and safety. Even as digital payment apps become easier and simpler to use, they are still not as intuitive as using cash.

Furthermore, after a digital transaction, many users are afraid of whether the transaction really took place or not, especially when it comes to receiving a payment in their bank account. Fear of fraud and tampering with one’s hard-earned money is a severe deterrent for many. When we attend conferences on financial inclusion, most participants are sophisticated and understand these issues. The solution that is offered is that we need to create digital literacy. But that is easier said than done.

How do we do it effectively enough so that the fears and misgivings many people have, are not merely alleviated but are, in fact, eliminated? We certainly cannot offer classes or group camps in digital literacy. Back to Radhika, our protagonist in this chapter. Radhika is part of a tribe of Digital Didis. They are not yet a reality, but part of a solution we propose is employing an “army of young women” and calling them Digital Didis.

Who is a Digital Didi, to begin with?

She is a literate young woman who could be in college or even high school. She could be a homemaker, a freelancer, or someone who runs her own business out of home in beauty, personal care or even food. She could be doing anything as long as she has the required digital literacy and the time to dedicate even an hour or two a day to being a Didi.

What does she do?

She’s a digital helper that anyone could feel comfortable approaching in malls, on buses and trains, on the street and in stores to help them with any digital transaction. A helper Didi. A trustworthy Didi. A Didi would patiently show and help people how to carry out a transaction and assure them of its safety. She’s human and inspires trust.

Who approaches a Digital Didi?

Absolutely anyone who needs help completing a digital transaction can approach a Didi. A Didi’s clientele is gender, age and class agnostic. From literate elderly people who are simply wary of technology to men from the BOP with limited literacy to women who have neither literacy nor digital know-how, a Didi is there for all. There may be people who are fearful of transacting on their own because they worry about losing money. Having a human being present during the translation and, in fact, helping them close it, gives it legitimacy and a sense of closure – that the transaction did go through because a “person” confirmed it and not a machine. The fact that she is a woman and the fact that she’s called a “Didi” and not a “Madam ji” or something else formal are both intentional. Her gender evokes trust almost immediately, and calling her Didi, or sister, gives her respect even before she starts to transact for her customers.

How would the Digital Didi system work?

Each transaction that a Didi facilitates could be tagged with Digital Didi’s identity for accountability and incentives. For instance, each Didi has her own QR code. Anyone approaching her needs to simply scan the code and access the Didi app, where the Digital Didi transacts on their behalf. Didis would be paid a small stipend by banks or financial institutions, and this would be something Didis would do not necessarily full time but in their downtime, as they walk about doing their other daily chores, including going to or back from school or college, shopping or other leisurely activities. She could be anybody and a Didi. She could be a homemaker, a tailor, a factory supervisor or even a teacher opting to be a Didi in her downtime. The number of hours or even minutes that a Didi works is entirely up to her. Her “shift” starts the moment she dons her uniform over her clothes and ends the moment she takes it off. It’s entirely up to her how long she wants to be a Didi. Some days, she may have a few hours; on others, just ten or twenty minutes. The use of Didis would reduce the need for opening up many bank branches and hiring full-time employees, and the funds released from these savings could help employ many Didis whose presence will become ubiquitous.

Over time, people will begin to know and trust a few Didis who will become their regular go-to Didis for help with mobile financial transactions. Radhika, for instance, spends an hour every morning helping people before she goes back home to resume her chores. Later in the day, before she has to pick her children up again, she dons her waistcoat again and turns into a Didi. She does it at will, working more hours on one day, fewer on another. When her children are home on holiday, she doesn’t go at all. Being a Didi means making some money on the side and achieving a modicum of financial independence. She doesn’t struggle to ask her husband for money when she needs it; he is a considerate and kind man, but just having her own money and not having to ask him makes Radhika happy. Being a Didi keeps her socially active too. She recalls her pre-Didi days, when she only had a few neighbours to talk to. But now, she meets new people every day. She’s made friends with some of her regulars, who know her routine and seek her out often. From carrying out an entire transaction for her older clients to showing them how to do it to finally reaching a stage where they just make the transaction and check with her if they’ve done it right, Radhika has come a long way, and so have some of the women she’s helped. In fact, inspired by her, three young girls in her neighbourhood have also turned into Didis. They practise after college hours and on the local trains during their daily commutes. She likes being called ‘Radhika Didi’ and the respect she gets. Helping people is cathartic, listening to them and their struggles has given her a newfound appreciation for her own life.

What happens in the long run?

The most effective method by which we learn is imitation. When mobile phones were introduced, no one offered classes on how to use them. People learn how to use them by watching other people. Now mobile phones are being used effectively not only by the rich and middle-class people but even by many poor in villages all over the world. As people begin to build trust by interacting with Didis, many will slowly learn how to carry out digital transactions on their own. Young women who become Didis will not only earn some money on the side, but their experience of successfully helping more and more people will build their confidence and make them stand out for more attractive formal jobs. The Digital Didi programme makes a very strong case for women’s empowerment as well. It gives them financial independence and a sense of worth. Most importantly, it could pave the way for more significant work that Didis go on to do within or even outside the financial system.

Excerpted with permission from Fintech For Billions: Simple. Human. Ubiquitous, Bhagwan Chowdhry and Anas Ahmed, Penguin India.