“In December 2015, LIFT and Yoma Bank signed an ambitious partnership with the aim to increase agricultural productivity and improve rural livelihoods in Myanmar. Through a combination of risk sharing and technical assistance, LIFT provided Yoma Bank with the incentives and tools to develop and launch new financial products for rural SMEs [Small and Medium sized Businesses], smallholders, and other agri[cultural] value chain players.” – LIFT Semi Annual Progress Report, 2016-2018
As the lead UI/UX designer of Yangon, Myanmar-based Yoma Bank’s design team, my typical day job focused on crafting software designs and building a team for the bank’s foray into digital experiences. The bank has a mission to bring the country’s un- and under-banked citizens into the formal financial space.
It was a nice break from the norm, one day, when a LIFT associate crafting the organization’s semi-annual report approached me for some photography work. The assignment had two parts. The first, and more complex, was to ride along one of the bank’s associates for a little qualitative design research and to photograph the tractor-buying experience for the bank’s hire-purchase online-loan application. The second was to take some photographs for the bank’s online bank account application.
Hire Purchase Agricultural Loans in Myanmar
The Myanmar economy is still in the early stages of development, and much of the country’s productivity comes from its agricultural sector. With an eye toward boosting economic output at the ground-level, organizations like LIFT structure investment tools to help poor farmers buy the equipment they need to grow their agricultural output.
This is where Yoma Bank’s Hire-Purchase Portal came in. Designed by my colleague Thuya Ko Ko Lwin and crafted by one of Yoma Bank’s digital teams, the HP Portal is a quick way for a farmer to get a loan at the dealer without having to visit a branch to do paperwork.
This is a huge help for farmers who often travel hours to get to a city where tractor dealers are located. Because banks are only open on weekdays and close at 3pm, often farmers and those that accompany them from their local village would have to spend the night in the city before heading home the next day.
For most farmers, the cost of a tractor represents several times their annual income. They often comes with a local expert from their village, family members, and backpacks full of cash for the down payment. They also have low levels of literacy, so the entire sales experience involves a lot of group communication and alignment before everything is signed. For many, the idea of using a tablet to get a loan is an incredibly foreign experience. This process, however, creates a significant improvement in the process for those who use it.
As a photographer, my task was to capture this process for LIFT to use in their annual report. Yoma Bank has invested in bringing “human-centered design” into the core of its culture, and my goal was to capture the human aspects of the tractor-buying experience. While the bank’s day to day work may be highly technical, it is at the human level that success is measured.
Online Bank Account Application
The second photography task was to capture the sign-up process for Yoma Bank’s online account sign-up. Because the bank has a limited number of branches, it has focused heavily on digital channels as a means to grow. LIFT’s annual report wanted to capture and describe this process as well.
Online sign-up and interaction is a huge part of making banking accessible for the un- and under-banked population. To tell this story, I wanted to avoid sterile, stock photography for this document, so I decided to get out of the office to shoot the process in a realistic environment.
We chose some of the outside street-food stalls to capture the images. The colorful plastic furniture created a nice background effect, and this environment helped us situate the photos in a more realistic for the bank’s customers.
From a photography perspective, this represented a few challenges. During part of the process, the customer captures a photo of her national ID card, and in another part of the process takes a selfie with it to verify ownership. We wanted to show this part of the process, but since my coworker, Su Yee Yee Hnin, was the model and we were photographing her actual ID card, we needed to make sure that the actual information on the card was legible.
Shooting with a shallow aperture, I staged photos that would naturally blur the text on the ID card. Later, I increased the blur in photoshop to the point that nobody could read the text.
Balancing the lighting on phone screens was the first, and a bit of post-production work was required on the photographs. These shots also require a lot of un-realistic phone-holding to properly frame the shots. By staging my model, the phone, and the background, I was able to get the elements needed to tell the story, even if in real life it looked a little funny.
For organizations like LIFT and Yoma Bank, telling stories to investors about the impact that they are creating is important. These organizations help improve people’s lives, and the narratives they take back home help their operations stay sustainable.
Personally, it was a lot of fun to ride-along to a tractor sale in Yangon. I hope to have more opportunities like this in the future.