DigiCash | Research and UX

A research project for a fintech startup to find an MVP solution that helps cash users go digital.


The aim of this assignment was to conduct needfinding research for a rapidly growing fintech startup in South Africa (herein referred to as DigiCash in order to preserve their anonymity).

This company already has various financial services available on their mobile app that helps both buyers and sellers make transactions like online payments and digital transactions more securely and easily.

The brief

South Africa has created innovative financial solutions for money management, but there is still room for improvement. Your task is to understand the role of cash in South Africa and to propose an MVP solution that can go to market. 

Using cash has various challenges like safety and recently health concerns as well. Your challenge is to find ways to help people in South Africa turn their cash digitally and manage their money conveniently and safely. You will need to understand the South African ecosystem and ensure financial inclusivity in your proposed solution.

Flight plan illustrating the workflow and design methodology for this research project.

Project overview

To start the project, I added a flight plan to the research plan document to plan how I might allocate my efforts effectively in this short timeframe.

Research plan

Research objectives
With this initial research sprint I aimed to use the time to gain a foundational understanding of the problem and user space to create informed and user-centric recommendations that can guide the initial release of an MVP solution.
objective 1
Defining the problem space.
  • Learning about the current financial landscape in South Africa.
  • Learn about the DigiCash ecosystem.
  • Understanding how competitors are approaching this problem.
Objective 2
Defining the user space
  • Defining the main user group.
  • Identifying user pain points.
  • Identifying users' unique needs.
Goal 3
Understanding the user’s context
  • Learning about user mental models and behaviours.
  • Learning about the users’ physical environments.
  • Learn about the users’ technical environments.
Goal 4
Formulating actionable insights
  • Formulating recommendations that are quick to implement in the creation of an MVP 1 solution.
  • Identify gaps that can be targeted in future research efforts.

Research methods

By following a double diamond inspired approach, I aimed to quickly get a holistic understanding that can be used to inform the creation of a user centric MVP solution through a triangulated approach that aims to improve reliability and validity within the project constraints.

1. Secondary research

Conduct a literature review to study the problem and user space by through credible online sources.


  • Leverage the research and insights available online to speed up the process of gaining contextual insights.
  • Identify competitors who are trying to solve similar problems.

2. semi-structured interviews

Conduct remote semi-structured one-on-one interviews with 2 participants in the key user group.

Analysis of findings done through a thematic analysis approach and then compared with findings in secondary research.


  • Gain a deeper understanding of the behaviours and needs of users.
  • Validate findings uncovered in the secondary research.

3. Competitor analysis

Conduct a SWOT analysis with the competitors identified in the methods above.


  • Quickly learn about opportunities and challenges from existing solutions.
  • Identify market gaps to ensure a competitive edge.

Risks and limitations

As the timeframe is short for this assignment it has some inherent risks and limitations which will need to be kept in mind during this initial phase.

  • Access to information and research participants might affect the timeline.
  • Participant sample size might yield limited insights that aren't generalisable.
  • Insists gathered from this report are high-level and will require further validation.

Research findings

Executive summary

Empowering the millions of people who use cash in South Africa to go digital by leveraging the solutions already available with the DigiCash systems.

“Cash is still king in South Africa”, at least for now. This is due to various social nuances and hurdles that the various user groups who predominately transact in cash face.

By following a triangulated research approach, I discovered that it is possible to gain access to this sought-after market by paying attention to these user needs which include reducing our reliance on banks and ensuring that the entire cash transaction cycle—including the customer and the seller—are facilitated.

By the DigiCash e-wallet, we can reduce the reliance on bank accounts which has historically been a barrier to financial inclusion by providing a platform that enables the digitisation of cash. This also means that users will be able to leverage the existing transaction capabilities of the DigiCash ecosystem to ensure that both the customer and seller are empowered to benefit from digital financial solutions.

Desktop or secondary research done in a literature review.

01. Literature review

4 sources of information were chosen that gave a reliable and diverse perspective on the use of cash in South Africa.

11 themes were then extracted from their content to inform further research efforts and guide the design recommendations.

User groups overview

By conducting research into cash use in South Africa, I identified three key groups of users who use cash most often.

01. Low income groups


  • Local venders don’t accept digital payments.
  • Lack of access to the right banks.
  • Don’t have the required documentation to open a bank account.
  • High [perceived] banking fees.
  • Unclear value propositions to switch to banking services.
  • Lack of financial education.

02. High income groups


  • Tax evasion.
  • Physical savings and investments.

03. informal business owners


  • Tax evasion.
  • Don't have the required documentation to open a bank account.
  • Transaction fees.
Proto persona highlighting information about the key user group such as pain points and needs.

Proto persona

Low income groups were determined to be the main users of cash in South Africa [by frequency of use and reliance on cash]. The following is a high-level overview to highlight what the main user group might look like based on research findings.

Secondary research findings overview

Understanding the current financial landscape of South Africa and how users approach cash is key in creating more user-centered designs that are able to provide solutions that can convince cash users to switch.

Cash use in south africa

“Cash is still king” in South Africa. But this is quickly changing because of easier access to better digital financial solutions. There are however several factors that are still hindering adoption of digital financial services that should be considered to motivate users to make the switch.

The seller and the buyer both needs to be enabled

One of the main reasons many still prefer cash is because many informal businesses don't accept digital payments.

banks have to overcome bad reputations

"In order to succeed, FNB will have to overcome a strong attachment to cash only transactions, general mistrust of banks, paperwork problems, and low margins."

Cash is seen as easy to use

"Cash offers many benefits and consumers’ attachment to cash will not change significantly until digital payment alternatives can compete with these perceived benefits."

the future of payments

Even though cash payments are still considered to be the main tender in local trade, digital solutions that understands the users are quickly changing the way people work with money. This will enable financial inclusion which leads to economic growth.

the buyers are driving change

"51% of South Africa's informal enterprises had in counter strong customer interest in the card payments."

Gone are the days of looking for a bank

"I'm not convinced commercial banks have the solution to financial inclusion."

convenience is the future

Many users are seeing the drawbacks of using cash and like the convenience of digital solutions.

low cost banking is key

"A good mobile banking app followed by low-cost cash withdrawals are most important to Africans choosing a bank."

customers are demanding digital solutions

"63% of respondents pay with their mobile phones in store or plan to do so in the future."

Competitor review research done in a SWOT Analysis framework.

02. Competitor review

A high-level competitor review was done by using the SWOT framework with the goal of understanding the current financial landscape and learn from the work of other companies to find opportunities.

Competitor space:

A variety of competitors who provides a solution in the transactional process were chosen based on the references of relevant sources.

  • Makuru, Selpal, Mpesa
  • TymeBank was seen as a viable competitor in the banking space.


  • Competitors are reliant on various payment partners that enables financial inclusion.
  • Many competitors provide money transfer service across Africa. This is likely to facilitate transfers to family members.
  • Many competitors give preference to cellphones as the primary platform.
  • Competitors understand that users demand low fees.

Developing a solution

How might DigiCash help?
I conducted a gap analysis to understand how we can leverage existing DigiCash systems more effectively to provide a solution that keeps both the seller and buyer in mind to ensure more successful adoption.
1. Current state

The DigiCash e-wallet provides a simple alternative to bank accounts by enables people to quickly and easily store, send, and withdraw money with a secure digital wallet on the mobile app.

2. Future state

By increasing the current system’s flexibility we can augment it by removing constraints such as the need for a bank account to leverage the DigiCash ecosystem to enable cash-only customers and sellers to move to digital services.

3. The gap

The current system is reliant on the need for bank accounts to enable key features like the DigiCash e-wallet and does not facilitate cash users.

This reliance on bank accounts to conduct transactions currently disqualifies cash users.

4. Potential solutions
  • Enable cash deposits into a user’s digital wallet through the payment partners DigiCash already have.
  • Increase the variety of payment partners users can use.
  • Add in demand and common functionality such as buying airtime and paying bills to support convenience.

Future state customer journey

To illustrate my recommendations for an MVP solution, I created a simple customer journey map that illustrates a common scenario for the primary user group based on the research findings.


You are working on a farm in the Eastern Cape. You have just received your salary in cash from your employer and you are going to head to town to convert your cash into digital money to commence your shopping for the month.

A customer journey map that illustrates the user needs and pain points in completing an action based on the research findings.

Wireframes - Customer journey scenario

The following wire frames aim to illustrate the interaction the actions that the user in the customer journey map took on their DigiCash mobile app while completing the task of digitising their cash at the Pick n Pay till point.

UX Wireframe designs illustrating the customer journey

Closing thoughts

Understanding the current financial landscape of South Africa and how users approach cash is key in creating more user-centered designs that are able to provide solutions that can convince cash users to switch.

recommendations to support adoption

Findings from the research suggest that there are a few things we can add to the current  system to meet the needs of the cash users and give DigiCash an advantage.

Financial education tips

Research indicated that there is a big lack of financial education and that users want it.

enabling and gamifying saving

Many users were seen to have a hard time saving digital money, therefore a solution for saving is essential.

Expand the current payment Partner list

Include payment partners that are more accessible to lower income and remote user groups.

Next steps

A short study like this is great for uncovering high level needs, but further investigation is required.

Research into the legislative and cross-border constraints for cash

Help mitigate legal issues like money laundering and terrorism.

Further research on the high salary range user group

This research was mainly constrained to one user group and requires a deeper study.

Deeper understanding of the lifecycle of cash

To ensure that the interface will work effectively in a user's unique environments, it is recommended to conduct an observational study to understand how cash is used.


After sending a document with links to the research plan, research report, and appendix containing the research synthesis artefacts, the project concluded with discussions around the findings with the client team.

I am pleased with the insights and artefacts that I was able to produce in this timeframe to help create a foundation on which an MVP solution can be created. I would be excited to see the research and design iterations that might follow this initial phase of work to create an even richer understanding of the user and problem space, as laid out in the "Next Steps" section above.

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