Interview of Sanjay Podder, MD, Accenture Labs India: ‘Tech apps to financially empower women’

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New Delhi | July 18, 2018 1:31 AM

Accenture Labs and Grameen Foundation India have collaborated to develop two new applications that help overcome barriers to financial services adoption among low-income women and other populations in India.

Accenture Labs and Grameen Foundation India have collaborated to develop two new applications that help overcome barriers to financial services adoption among low-income women and other populations in India. Sanjay Podder, MD, Accenture Labs India, in conversation with BV Mahalakshmi reveals that the collaboration with Grameen Foundation India is part of its Tech4Good initiative to apply disruptive technologies to address complex social challenges and help in financial inclusion programme. Excerpts:

What is Accenture Labs’ focus area?
Accenture Labs is the dedicated technology R&D organisation within Accenture, focussed on developing innovative solutions through exploration and discovery. The Labs are located in seven key research hubs around the world and in Bengaluru. It collaborates extensively with Accenture’s global network of innovation centers, studios and centers of excellence across 35 countries. The Labs in Bengaluru also leads Accenture Labs’ global focus on the Accenture Tech4Good programme, where we drive and scale technological innovation for social good, and apply exponential technologies to transform the way people live and work.

Can you elaborate on the collaboration between Accenture Labs and Grameen Foundation India? How are the challenges being addressed?
Accenture Labs has been collaborating with Grameen Foundation India (GFI) since 2017 with an aim to increase adoption of financial services among low-income women and to improve financial capacity and decision-making for and by the poor. There are broadly three challenges this project is addressing — increasing awareness of financial products among low-income women with high levels of illiteracy; understand the behavioural traits of low-income women so that the microfinance solution can address their needs while building their trust and engagement with front line microfinance officer; and increasing adoption of microfinance solutions among low-income groups in India.

How is tech enabling this aim?
Accenture Labs leveraged its expertise in emerging technologies such as AI, AR, speech recognition and computer vision and combined GFI’s expertise in human-centric design through its e-learning platform, G-LEAP, to solve the challenge of financial inclusion. Accenture Labs has developed two applications. Emotional Analytics for Social Enterprises (EASE) is an AI-based web and mobile app that helps microfinance advisors gain real time insights on the emotional and cognitive status of their clients, based on video and audio inputs. The tool, for instance, can help detect whether a woman applying for loan is being pressured to do so by someone else or whether she would find it to be of genuine use. Similarly, Grameen Guru is a smart phone-based multilingual chat bot that leverages AR for clients who can’t read or understand written materials. Using the app, a user can hold their phone over a brochure that details available financing options and the Guru virtual assistant prompts a conversation in the local language to explain the material.

How will these applications implemented on ground?
GFI will roll out EASE and Grameen Guru, targeting low-income group women across 300 villages in Maharashtra and Odisha. These new technologies will enable GFI to work even more effectively for economic empowerment of women.

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