Loans for Burmese

Providing affordable access to
emergency cash

User research
Service design
Interface mockup ZigWay


The Opportunity

ZigWay is a micro-lending startup that provides low-interest loans to working Burmese. Since most of the population (80%) is unbanked, rather than use the traditional high-interest village loan brokers when they need a small amount of cash to get through the week, they can go to a ZigWay agent and borrow a small sum of money.

How it works

When people need cash, they go to a local shop where there is a ZigWay agent and ask for a small loan. After giving their information as proof of re-payment, the agent submits their request via a mobile app to the bank. If approved they can pick up their cash from the agent. This process could take as little as a few minutes to a couple days. After that, they come to the shop regularly to pay back a portion of the money they borrowed. 

My Role

I was the sole designer on the team and the first UX Designer. I worked closely with the founders to understand the user research they had already completed as well as documented the ongoing insights they gathered as they met with users in they field. I designed the site architecture, user journeys as well as the the low and high fidelity mockups.

User Research

The Landscape: Mobile and Banking

In 2010, due to government regulated sim card prices (2000 USD) only about 5% of the population could afford to have a mobile phone. However, things have changed quickly in recent years. Currently a sim card costs about  1,500 Kyat or just over 1 USD and nearly everyone has access to a mobile phone. 

However, the banking system has not been as quick to reform and today only a small percentage of people have a formal bank account. Most people keep their money under their mattress or invest in gold or gems which can be pawned when they need cash. This is because the banking system in Myanmar has proven unreliable in the past, so people don’t trust it and because you have to have credit to get credit.

With the increase of smartphone ownership, more and more people are using mobile banking services like Wave Money to send and receive money safely, pay bills and make loan payments.

The People

While there are many people involved in the process of managing the lending of money and repayments, I chose to focus on three of the main players as I developed my personas: the individuals who borrow the money, the agent who submits the application and the loan officer that processes the loan request. 

Each persona is a composite of typical individuals involved in each stage of the lending process highlighting some of the daily challenges they face. Interestingly, whenever possible, the money is lent to the female head of household because traditionally the women manage the finances.

Loan Officer User Journey

When a loan is submitted it goes though an approval process. The loan officer carefully checks all the borrower’s information, which the agent has submitted through the mobile application. If approved, the loan is then sent higher up the chain and disbursed. Alternatively, the loan can be denied. A third option is that the loan is pending until all the appropriate documentation, such as the photo-signature and guarantor are obtained. Occasionally, an individual may not qualify for the amount requested but the bank may extend a counter offer. 

When a loan is late, the loan officer looks into the reasons for the missed payments and then does what she can to facilitate the repayment of the loan. She may call the borrower, make a house call or even renegotiate the terms of the loan based on the borrower's unique circumstances.

Borrower User Journey

Below is a storyboard depicting the borrower’s journey as they navigate from needing money to obtaining the money to repaying the loan. In this scenario, Thet Mar Oo (the borrower) realises she needs money as her husband doesn’t have work this week and she needs to pay for her son’s school fees. Her friend tells her to speak to a ZigWay agent at her local shop. The agent takes her information and photo as proof of repayment and submits the loan via a mobile application to the bank. The loan officer approves the loan, which Thet Mar Oo will repay within the agreed upon time.

Site Design

Architecture of a Lending Platform

Making sense of all the information is the first step when designing a user friendly interface. I started by sorting all the known information, filling in the gaps when possible through research and then mapping the outline of the site. 

One of the challenges was that there were many unknowns. We weren’t sure whether certain processes would be automated or manual or how many checks and balances we would need. Some of these variables we knew we would only discover through trial and error while others were dependent upon bank policies and government regulations.

Initial Sketches

As you can see below, initially we had planned to use vertical navigation as it is a common pattern on banking applications. However, it soon became clear that it took up too much screen real-estate. In the end, we went with a horizontal navigation where no matter what the screen resolution, all navigation options are immediately available. Another consideration was what information is most important and needs to be accessed most frequently. I wanted to keep key information available to the loan officers on the first page, with clear indicators where they should head to next if they needed more detailed information. 

Feature Mapping

Compiling the style guide helped me to keep the UI design consistent and kept me sane - saving me a lot of decision making. All elements and spacing follow an 8pt grid, again, reducing the number of decisions I had to make and keeping things consistent. In addition we made a list of features and components that was our initial staring point for defining what features we needed and what they needed to do. Some made the cut, some didn’t. Of the ones that did, some will probably need to be revisited and revised again.

I am particularly interested to find out how our off-line button works. We wanted a way to inform users when they were off-line and when they were online. Although the application will continue to function if they are off-line, the changes will not officially be completed until they are back online.

Initial Prototypes

As I worked on the web mockups I invested considerable time thinking through the interaction components - what each symbolised, how to name them meaningfully, and how a lot of information could be accessible and clear at a glance.

The repayment schedule works similarly to a calendar application. Adjustments to loan details can be made directly in the repayment schedule. In this way, the whole trajectory of the loan is visible at a glance and changes made to payments or dates can be seen in real time.

UI Design

Our goal for the final design was that it would be consistent and easy to use. We wanted the loan officers to have everything they needed at their finger tips, especially for the Individual Loan page, as they need all the information about the borrower on one page, so they can decide whether to approve or decline the loan request.

One thing to note about the photo signatures, is that they serve as collateral or proof of repayment. In order to secure a loan, they will need to have four photos - a picture of the borrower holding a paper with the amount borrowed and date, their identification card, a photo of a friend that can vouch for them and lastly, a photo of them shaking hands with the agent. Without these photos the loan will likely not be approved.


In regards to potential impact, the market here is huge. The majority of Burmese make a daily wage of about 3600 Kyat per day (3 dollars) which is often used to support a whole family. Many are trapped in a cycle of debt fuelled by immediate survival needs and compounded by black market money lenders charging between 20% and 50% monthly. Access to low interest loans will help them to make ends meet and also to build up a credit history.

We will need to track: How many people borrow loans, pay-off their loans or default, take subsequent loans, and encourage their friends to get loans. We will need a high level of adoption in order to be profitable, as interest rates are low.

We will also need to continue to support agents in the villages - getting regular feedback from them and providing training where needed. For example, we discovered that it takes some training to get the agents to understand how to enter the data on their mobile phone, including how to take quality photos. Also, we may need to tweak the method we have them enter dates of birth, as they only understand the Burmese calendar, which doesn’t correspond to the western system of dates.

Moving forward, a deeper understanding of cultural nuances will allow us to make adjustments to the lending-repayment user flows as well as to further refine the user interface.