Shaping the user experience of digital banking with local knowledge

When we teamed up with Bank of Kigali – Rwanda’s largest commercial bank– to help them rework the UX of their mobile app it would have been easy to produce an identikit ‘Monzo/Starling/Revolut for Rwanda.’

Having done that, could we all then sit back and see the new Bank of Kigali product enjoy the same success as those UK challenger heavyweights? Would Rwandans have the same ‘wow, banking can be enjoyable’ moment as new Monzo users did back in 2015?

Well, no. Let us explain why…

It’s something we say a lot, and we’ll say it again – design without understanding context of use is pointless. How can you make something meaningful without knowing how it’s going to be used?

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Attitudes to money 🤔

This might seem an obvious thing to say, but any time we work on a project based somewhere other than the locations we know a lot about we know that there’ll be some learning to do.

The only way to design sensible features was to know what local attitudes to money were.

When we started to dig into the BK team’s knowledge of typical Rwandan attitudes to money and banking, we found some big differences which needed to be taken into account.

Rwandan savings

Only around 20% of Rwandans save using a bank 🏦


Saving 💰

UK banking apps have a big focus on saving – it’s common for people to squirrel away pots of money for future purchases or bills. You’ll see these front and centre for regular review when you log in.

In Rwanda this behaviour isn’t as common. People often use loans to fund large or even smaller purchases. It’s equally common to loan money to/from friends and family on a regular basis.

Rather than seeing what’s saved, keeping on top of what you owe and being able to send money to people is a much more important experience for a Rwandan market.

Keep it secret 🤫

Cultural habits are important to stay on top of as well. While people in the UK aren’t exactly likely to share their bank balance openly, people in Rwanda tend to be even more cautious of privacy.

Concealing balance figures in the app as standard gave users more control over who might be able to see account details in their app.

It’s a simple change but one that reflects the specific needs of users whose use case is slightly different to those we’re used to for a variety of reasons.

Money transfer 💸

We learned from the BK team that typically Rwandans have multiple accounts with the same provider, often in different currencies. Paying in different currencies, as well as sending money to people in other countries, is very common.

The banking experience needed to have multiple easy ways to quickly make payments to lots of different people using a variety of different methods.

Cards and electronic payments 💳

Whilst we use physical cards all the time and are moving towards acceptance of digital payments via mobile phones, mobile payments have been adopted across many African countries for some time now.

Rwandans use debit or credit cards far less frequently and often use mobile money to buy goods and services. It’s a whole digital payment system that doesn’t happen in the UK at the same level, and something that needed to be focused on when designing the Bank of Kigali product.

Don’t take anything for granted 🧐

The ultimate goal was to understand how Rwandans typically relate to finances and money, adapting features to this while exploring new ways that could simplify their operations and transactions. Everything we learned from the BK team affected how we designed the app together.

We couldn’t take anything for granted – and you never should. A good UX designer should put aside their own lived experience when designing a product.

Whether working with someone in your home town or across the world, each audience has its nuances and particular relationship to the product; so don’t forget to keep them in mind every step of the way!